BOSTON | You’ve heard of “Downton Abbey.” Do you know about Downtown Crossing?

If the Englishness of the PBS series “Downton Abbey” fascinates most of us, Boston theater historian Susan Roberts hopes to intrigue us with the theatricality of Downtown Crossing, a storied area of Boston that was the home to many of the city’s theaters and concert halls.

On Sunday January 13, Roberts will present a hands-on tour of theater in Boston’s Downtown Crossing, emphasizing its heyday on the second half of the 19th century (1850 to 1900). The talk/tour, entitled “Theater in the Crossing: A History of Downtown Crossing’s Theater in the 19th Century,” is also a Stagesource fundraiser. Her talk takes place at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston at 3:00 pm on Sunday, January 13th. Event admission is “pay what you can.”

The Downtown Crossing area was home to the Boston Museum Theater, Boston Music Hall, Keith’s Theaters and the Boston Theater. Roberts will trot out her collection of memorabilia by way of illustrating the shows, performers and theaters. She will offer a virtual tour of the B.F. Keith Theater, now known as the Opera House.

Programs, scrapbooks, mementos and other materials of the era will be available for people to examine and explore. For example, Roberts will show the souvenir spoon, souvenirs that were given out as incentives to attend productions. “This is cool because it has a gun at the end of the handle and the name of the show in the bowl,” Roberts notes. “The show [entitled Burmah] was at the Boston Theatre.”

Souvenir spoon from the show Burmah at the Boston Theatre | Courtesy of Susan Roberts
Souvenir spoon from the show Burmah at the Boston Theatre | Courtesy of Susan Roberts

Also of interest, Roberts adds, is the interior of the Boston Museum Theatre lobby. “The mural at the top of the stairs is in the collection at the MFA. And notice the no smoking sign,” she says.

Her collection of memorabilia includes a photo of B.F. Keith. “I chose that [image] because Keith was on of the biggest presenters of vaudeville,” she explains. “He died too young, and his partner, Edward Albee, demo’d the Boston Theatre and had the B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre put up in its place. We now know that as the Opera House.”

Julie Hennrikus, executive director of StageSource, programmed Roberts’ talk as a way of looking back into the future. “StageSource is spending a lot of time looking forward, with some big plans for 2013,” Hennrikus says in a prepared statement. “But what better way to start the year than to remember what has been, and to hear some stories about our rich theatrical history?”

Susan Roberts has researched theater and collected its memorabilia for more than 25 years and has a Masters degree in Theater Management from Emerson College. She has worked in Boston theaters as an electrician, carpenter, property mistress, stage manager and box officer manager. Her presentation is about an hour in length followed by a display of the theater memorabilia. The Tremont Temple is at 88 Tremont Street in Boston and is conveniently located near the Park Street MBTA Station.

B.F. Keith | Courtesy of Susan Roberts
B.F. Keith | Courtesy of Susan Roberts

Boston’s Theatre District is located just south of Downtown Crossing. Venues like the Wang Center (formerly the Metropolitan Theatre), the Colonial, Shubert, and Wilbur are fixtures in Boston’s cultural life, drawing audiences night after night, year after year.

More recently, sparked by a 1995 charrette on Boston’s Theatre District sponsored by Mayor Menino and Boston’s preservation and historic communities, Boston’s theatrical scene has begun to move up Washington and Tremont Streets toward Downtown Crossing. Emerson College acquired and has renovated the Cutler Majestic Theatre on Tremont Street. The Opera House (originally the B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre) has also been restored, and the Paramount Theatre is undergoing a restoration. Finally, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has acquired the Modern Theatre, as the first step in an effort to save that historic building.

For more information on StageSource or its programs, please contact, Dawn M. Simmons at (617) 720-6066, email dsimmons@stagesource.org or visit www.stagesource.org.

Interior of the Boston Museum Theatre | Courtesy of Susan Roberts
Interior of the Boston Museum Theatre | Courtesy of Susan Roberts

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