The Park Theatre was a Cranston institution, lording over the intersection of Park and Pontiac Avenues as a gateway to the magic of the movies for just shy of eight decades. But like so many of yesteryear’s once proud cinemas, it was eventually bested by time and the theatre closed its doors in 2002. Seven years and ten million dollars later, the Park reopened as a performing arts center, determined to bring some of that magic back to its stage and to a new generation of audiences.
The theatre required a total overhaul when businessman Piyush Patel took on the task of whipping the Park back into shape. “It was a totally dilapidated cinema house,” recalls Executive Director Yusuf Gandhi. State of the art lighting and sound systems were installed, transforming a dead, single-screen movie theatre into the kind of up-to- date performance space capable of handling everything from intimate performances by singer-songwriters like Ani DiFranco to the awe-inspiring theatrics of the National Circus of the People’s Republic of China.
The needs and comforts of contemporary audiences were also addressed, resulting in a completely handicapped accessible auditorium that seats 1,000 extremely comfortably. Large, cushy, modern seats line the first floor and the balcony. Flat screen TVs populate many of the walls outside of the auditorium, guaranteeing that anyone needing to excuse themselves mid- performance won’t miss a moment of what’s happening on stage. Full bars were added to the main and balcony lobbies and an independently operated restaurant was opened in the same building to cater to audiences looking to make a full evening of their visit to The Park. But while the inside has all of the high-tech hallmarks of a modern theatre experience, little has changed to the building’s iconic facade. Careful steps were taken to ensure that nothing done to the theatre’s exterior would interfere with its classic appearance, and with the exception of a new digital marquee, little seems to have changed between the Park Theatre of old and the one of today. “We were very particular,” explains Gandhi. “It’s a landmark building. The original Park sign is still there.”
In an age where so much of our culture is taken in through our smart-phones or big, faceless multiplexes, it’s something as seemingly simple as an appreciation for a building’s historical significance and it’s place in the mind of it’s community that help make a theatre-going experience feel like a special one. It is in fact that commitment to the community and its expectations of the theatre that have helped the Park in successfully navigating the transition away from neighborhood relic to a vital source of
art and culture.
Rhode Island, Gandhi believes, is a diverse community that demands equally diverse and representative entertainment. “It’s a small, melting pot of communities,” he says. “Besides American music, the Park can cater to a whole variety of performing arts.” In the last year alone the Park has seen everything from the Russian National Ballet Theatre to Buddy Guy, Graham Nash and Anoushka Shankar.
“All of our programming is quality entertainment,” Gandhi states proudly, “I’ve been happy when people come in and say, ‘Wow that was a fantastic show.’ That’s what we want to be. We want to be the place where people say ‘Let’s see what’s at the Park’ because they know we put on good shows.”
December 7: Jazz fusion wizards Spyro Gyra, accompanied by Grammy-winning guitarist Stanley Jordan
December 8: The Temptations
December 14: Sisters Erica and Tina Campbell of the gospel duo Mary Mary December December 19-21: Artists’ Exchange’s annual production of A Christmas Carol