On Stage

PPAC Celebrates a Near-Century

This October, the Loews Theater Building – home of Providence Performing Arts Center – hits the big 9-0

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With 90 years of history within its walls, the Loews Theater Building has been a distinctive part of Providence since its opening. In 1928 it was built as a movie palace, but it now operates as the well-revered Providence Performing Arts Center, known for its Broadway shows. PPAC is also the second largest theater in the United States, holding 3,100 seats, and has now launched 15 National Tours including Miss Saigon, Cats, and The Band’s Visit.

J. L. “Lynn” Singleton, President, says this historic building has been through many incarnations. “In the ‘70s it became the Palace Theater for rock shows [hosting] The Eagles and Peter Frampton,” he says. “Then in the late ‘70s it was bought by some business people who, with the city and state, relaunched it before it was almost knocked down.”

Singleton started in 1983, which is also when they rebranded as PPAC. According to Singleton, one of the unique aspects of the Loews Building is that it has never closed in its 90 years. “What happens to a lot of theaters is that they sit empty, but this building was always functioning.”

Unlike other theaters, PPAC also purchases the shows and markets them, rather than waiting for people to rent the theater out. “We kind of play above our weight for a city our size, and we do major attractions,” he says. “If you’re going to see a certain type of Broadway show or contemporary piece, you’re going to come here.”

Of course, PPAC has become an integral part of the Providence downtown scene. “If you think about our growth, we’ve grown up with the city,” Singleton says. “And we’re going to do more of what we’re doing.”

One of their newest programs will include purchasing an extra performance a week and bringing in 11th graders from around the state to see a free show. “We’re going to roll it out this year, and our goal is to have an extra show three times a year and reach about 9,000 students,” he says. “Not only is this a great opportunity for the community, but it also develops the future audiences who didn’t have access to these shows before.”

In the years since he’s been there, Singleton has witnessed a lot of growth. “Most of the events that were happening here were for the Rhode Island Philharmonic, dance companies, and opera companies. We did Broadway, but not like we do now,” he says. “When I first got here, we had about 57,000 thousand people here. This year, we’ll reach half a million.”

To celebrate the near century in operation, PPAC will host a free event on October 13. The event will include a family-centered performance as well as other attractions.

“This building was here before us and it will be here after us – we are the keepers of the flame,” says Singleton. “This building, through the years, has always made a very positive impact on the city of Providence.”