Five years ago, Milton Theatre sat vacant, a 100-year-old relic dormant in the heart of downtown Milton.
Today, the theater is on pace to host more than 300 events with 60,000 people coming through the doors in 2019 alone.
The theater celebrated the milestone by – what else – putting on a show. At a July 6 celebration, Latin music group Hot Sauce Band and Dame Edna impersonator Scott Mason entertained the crowd.
It has been quite a turnaround, spearheaded by the theater’s management team, The Calliope Project.
“Personally, it’s remarkable to me,” theater Director Fred Munzert said. “I came here and poured my heart into it. To watch what has happened, it’s been remarkable. I feel privileged to be a part of it.”
Munzert, a veteran of theater production, moved to Milton to run day-to-day theater operations. He said, surprisingly, the theater looks much the same as it was when it reopened. “It was dirtier. The seats were a mess, so we had to remove them,” he said. When he arrived, Munzert said he wanted to preserve the character of the theater. “I want it to look like it’s been through some things and has a story to tell,” he said.
In 2018, the Calliope Project announced the Milton Theatre Renaissance Initiative, a three-to-five year, $2.5 million capital campaign to bring much needed improvements to the theater, including purchasing the building, restoring the balcony, installing new lighting and sound equipment and putting in a new marquee.
The building has served many uses since it was built in 1910: a movie theater, firehouse and community stage. It also survived two fires and numerous nor’easters. It closed in 2010, but was purchased by the Howard family and reopened in 2014.
Munzert said the building’s many former uses is an advantage in renovating. “It’s kind of steampunk. A collision of genre and worlds. You can insert something in the middle and still keep that feeling of everything happening at once,” he said.
The anniversary celebration served as a fundraiser as well, with a silent auction featuring gift packages, party bundles and, the biggest ticket item, a vacation to Florida.
Munzert said $200,000 has been raised since the initiative began and improvements to the lights have already been completed. The purchase of the building will soon be completed and the new balcony will be installed in 2020. Munzert used the July 6 event to announce that the Calliope Project also purchased the lot next to the theater for a patio to host live music, with the first event in August. A new box office in front of the theater is also planned.
Munzert also announced that this year’s Zombie Fest, set Saturday, Oct. 19, will be more like a block party, with live music, activities for kids and food trucks, culminating withe the Zombie Walk from Magnolia Street to Federal Street.
“These theaters were built to be the center of the community,” Munzert said. “I really think we walked into the perfect storm. So many people were so passionate. That’s what made it work. When the community is already passionate about the arts and wants to see it happen, it will happen.”