Home to quirky productions such as “La Zombiata” and “[Expletive] Shakespeare,” Somerville’s Davis Square Theatre has long been a popular destination for comedy, music, and theater enthusiasts. But significant changes are on their way. In addition to an ongoing face lift and upgrade in equipment, starting Sept. 12, the familiar venue will be known as The Rockwell.
Rebranding isn’t uncharted territory for the theater, which has undergone name changes in the past. The basement space, which has a marquee on Elm Street, opened as the Boston Baked Theater in 1987, later transforming into Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway. Somerville entrepreneur Ken Kelly bought the venue in 2010 and renamed it Davis Square Theatre two years later.
Kelly, a restaurateur known for the Independent, Foundry on Elm, Saloon, Brass Union, and River Bar, died of cancer last December, and his family is carrying out his plan to name the venue The Rockwell, after a secondary school in Ireland he attended called Rockwell College prior to moving across the Atlantic.
“Ken had a vision for the space, and the theater was a part of that vision,” said Rockwell director Damon Leibert. “It could be possible to have a nightclub or a bar, but I like to think what we’re doing is something that’s better than that. The theater is most appropriate for an audience that’s sitting down and respectful of the space, and that’s a commitment [Kelly] made to the community.”
The refreshed space will feature new flooring, paint, and lighting in both the lobby and theater. The Rockwell will also start producing original content in the fall, in addition to continuing to host performances by local acts, organizations, and theater companies.
“It’s a unique opportunity to see world-class artists up close,” Leibert said. “We’re not going to turn into condominiums, and we have that ability to maintain [the theater] as an arts space when other venues are at the whim of their landlord, tenants, and so forth. The angle we’re going for is continuing the theater as it has been, but adding in programming to augment what we currently offer.”