A brand new arts nonprofit will take over the old OBERON stage

The tall front doors of 2 Arrow St. in Cambridge have been shuttered for almost three years. With little fanfare, David Altshuler unlocks the entrance and ushers me inside.

“Well, welcome to our space,” he says.

The foyer has been stripped bare. A ladder leans against one wall, and some of the wiring is showing. Gone is the narrow hallway that once led to the nightclub in the building’s belly. Now light filters through big windows.

In its most recent incarnation, this space was OBERON, the American Repertory Theater’s beloved second stage on the edge of Harvard Square. For more than a decade, it played host to drag queens and burlesque dancers and, most famously, the Shakespeare-meets-Studio-54 extravaganza known as “The Donkey Show.”

The A.R.T. announced in 2021 that it would not renew its lease at 2 Arrow St. as it prepared to move to a new campus in Allston. Many wondered what would happen to the theater. Would Harvard University, which owns the building, sell it off? Redevelop it? Rent it out to another theater company?

Now, Altshuler and his newly-formed nonprofit, Arrow Street Arts, have big plans for the space.

Altshuler leads us through the foyer into the theater itself, which has been gutted: no more catwalk, no more bar. The floor has been ripped up to reveal smooth concrete.

The plan, helmed by Charles Rose Architects, is to transform the warehouse-like room into a black box theater — a simple, flexible space that can be converted into various staging configurations.

Altshuler shows me a set of plans for the seating. The idea is to have seats that can be hidden away or pulled out from the wall, kind of like the bleachers in a high school gym.

“It’ll be a telescopic seating system so you can actually have it be either, you know, 12 rows deep and 240 seats, or it might just be three or six rows deep,” he says, excitedly. “The audience gets sized to what’s appropriate to that show.”

In addition to the black box, Altshuler is converting an empty storefront next door into a studio that will double as a small venue — 1,100 square feet with a capacity of approximately 100. A row of picture windows at the street level will allow passers-by to see inside.

Altshuler expects to invest $2.5 million, much of it his own, into the renovations. He describes it as kind of a “blank canvas” that producers can set up in every configuration imaginable.

“The space, as envisioned, is going to be this flexible multi-art space where, sure, it could be a nightclub one night, it could also be a dance recital, or it could be a straight play, or it could be a set of performing artists,” he says.

Altshuler is an entrepreneur with a background in tech, finance and nonprofit leadership. (Not to be confused with the other Boston-based David Altshuler, a pharmaceutical executive.) But this project is driven in part by his wife, Sharman Altshuler, the founder of Moonbox Productions. The small theater company has an annual operating budget of approximately $600,000 and won numerous awards. But Altshuler says she struggled to find a consistent place to put on shows.

“For years, I’ve sort of fantasized about the idea of, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have, you know, your own space.’ And it was always like, ‘forget it,’” Altshuler says. “Financially, it just doesn’t make sense to have a physical plant as a small theater organization.”

Then she heard that Oberon was closing. She recalls having a conversation about it with her husband.

Arrow Street Arts in Cambridge will include a small performance space at 2 Arrow St. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Arrow Street Arts in Cambridge will include a small performance space at 2 Arrow St. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

“And I said, ‘It’s such a great local theater, and wouldn’t it be cool if they actually end up staying a theater, and maybe Moonbox could do something,’” she says.

Her husband took the lead on the competitive process of selling the idea to Harvard. He pitched a plan with Moonbox as a resident theater company, using the space about a third of the time. The Cambridge Community Foundation is also a partner on the project.

Harvard declined a request for an interview, but said in a statement, “Harvard ultimately chose Moonbox because we were confident they could be a long-term partner, because of their team’s track record and financial, operational and creative capacity to succeed in such a project, and because of their goals for activation, community involvement and a diversity of projects.”

The Cambridge Community Foundation is charged with helping Arrow Street Arts find other local presenters to use the space.

“The idea is that we will reach out deeply into the community,” says Cambridge Community Foundation president Geeta Pradhan. “We will bring community groups in, have conversations with them as people, you know, make sure that they know about this opportunity.”

Arrow Street Arts hopes to subsidize an affordable rental model with private events. The Cambridge Community Foundation will also administer a fund, bankrolled by Arrow Street Arts. The fund will offer grants to groups that want to use the space but can’t afford to, “so that smaller groups, particularly BIPOC organizations and theater groups, can actually, we can subsidize the cost of their ability to be able to produce here,” Pradhan says.

Arrow Street Arts will also help raise money for the foundation’s Cultural Capital Fund, which supports creative work throughout the city.

The foundation got involved because it wanted to help address a huge problem for the arts in Cambridge: the loss of space. Pradhan points to studies from the city of Boston and the Mayor’s Arts Task Force in Cambridge that showed a dire need for rehearsal space and mid-size performance venues in the Boston area.

“Improv Boston, they lost their space. Green Street Studios lost their space. EMF building redevelopment resulted in a loss of space for musicians,” Pradhan says.

Arrow Street Arts will fill the void left by another big loss, the closure of Oberon — though Altshuler’s black box is different from its nightclub-like predecessor. It’s hard to predict if Oberon’s burlesque and circus performers will want to use the new space.

But some local producers are excited by the new design.

“The difficulty with Oberon was wing space, dressing room space. It was not an easy facility, production-wise,” says Sehnaz Dirik, the founder of Theater UnCorked, a small community theater. “The updating of the green room, the dressing rooms, all of that stuff for an actor is really important.”

Accommodating performers is a big part of the theater’s design. But Altshuler also wants to make the space super accessible. His plans include wider seats, more legroom and a perfectly smooth floor for wheelchair use. One of the most expensive renovations involves building all-gender restrooms with individual enclosed stalls.

“When an audience member or an artist comes here, do they feel welcome,” Altshuler says of the design philosophy. “Do they feel like they belong in the space?”

There’s a lot of work to do before that question can be answered. Altshuler has to hire a staff and finish the renovations. If all goes as planned, Arrow Street Arts will open fully at the end of the year.

Bloomberg Radio

$1.2B Fort Point Development and Tesla Earnings

Bloomberg Baystate Business With Tom Moroney, Joe Shortsleeve, Kim Carrigan, Anne Mostue and Janet Wu 10-19-22 Bloomberg Senior Aerospace/Defense & Airline Analyst George Ferguson discusses Spirit Airlines shareholders backing the sale to JetBlue. Denise Jillson, Executive Director of the Harvard Business Square Association, discusses Cambridge raising fees on new large commercial developments. Jeff Ostrowski, analyst at Bankrate, discusses a new study showing the best states in which to retire. Stephen Faber, Executive Vice President of Related Beal, talks about a $1.2 billion development approved for the Fort Point neighborhood. David Paleologos, Director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University, has new poll numbers in the MA Governor’s race. Bloomberg’s Ed Ludlow discusses the newly released Tesla earnings.


10 years vacant, the Harvard Square Theatre may be poised to spring back to life

The Harvard Square Theatre has sat vacant and desolate on Church Street for more than a decade.

But behind the boarded-up front doors, an effort is underway that could bring the iconic movie theater back to life, according to Michael Monestime, a spokesman for billionaire Gerald Chan. Chan bought the theater in 2015 for $17.5 million, adding to his more than $100 million in properties portfolio in the heart of Cambridge.

“We’ve … hired some new staff to help reimagine what’s possible to really bring this important site back to life,” Monestime told GBH News last week, “and I hope to have more to report back to you and the Cambridge community in the near future.”

Community leaders say they would welcome any progress on the building after years of vacancy. But that progress will have to wait as designs are drawn up — new designs that reflect a new pandemic world, one where a shrewd businessman might not want to solely invest in a big screen after theaters were starved for attendance for two years.

“From time to time, we’ve been notified that there are people within the building,” said Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, who has been working for years to reopen the theater. “And yes, you know, there are rodents because guess what? It’s an urban environment and there are rodents everywhere.”

On an otherwise busy Thursday night this month, there were only a handful of people passing by the shuttered entertainment site, aptly illustrating the decade-old void that has descended on this block of Harvard Square.

Harvard Square boosters complain that the center of gravity for nightlife in Cambridge has shifted to Central Square and say the demise of the theater may be a significant reason why.

For 28 years prior to its closing, the Harvard Square Theatre was the regional showcase site for the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a cult classic that attracted devotees in large numbers who dressed up and sang along to the raunchy lyrics while tossing rice and popcorn to the audience.

“Oh, God. I went to ‘Rocky Horror’ a lot,” said Mark McGovern, a longtime Cambridge City Council member and former mayor. McGovern recalls hanging out in “the pit” in Harvard Squareduring the day and taking in movies at night. He has led a five-year effort to reopen the theater. In 2017, following a deluge of complaints from residents about the empty building in the heart of Cambridge, the City Council threatened to take over the theater by eminent domain.

“Eminent domain is tough!” McGovern said. “People think it’s a very easy thing for cities to do. It’s really complicated. But I do think even putting that on the table pushed Mr. Chan a little bit into saying, ‘OK, well, I don’t want that to happen. I need to do something with the property.’”

He did. But local opposition and the pandemic got in the way.

A stalled plan

On July 8, 2012, the owners of the moment, AMC Loews, closed down the 90-year-old Harvard Square Theatre and sold it to local millionaire Richard Friedman. Just a few years later, he sold the …


The Garage in Harvard Square will be renovated next year. It’s the latest shift in the neighborhood’s changing landscape.

courtesy garage.jpg
The Garage, on Mt. Auburn Street in Harvard Square, will be redeveloped to include retail spaces on the ground floor as well as offices.

By Gal Tziperman Lotan Paris AlstonJeremy SiegelJune 8, 2022Morning Edition


After 50 years as a retail and cultural hub in the middle of Harvard Square, The Garage will soon be redeveloped.

“We love the building,” said John DiGiovanni, president of Trinity Property Management. “It was and is a very cool place. But what I would say is cooler than The Garage is Harvard Square.”

DiGiovanni said the old building — which dates back to 1860, when it was a horse stable — is not accessible for patrons with disabilities. He also hopes the redesign will reinvigorate the property to bring in new customers, and that “40 or 50 years from now people will be talking about how cool [the new] place was.”

Construction plans filed with the city show developers plan to begin renovations in 2023, rebuilding the interior while preserving the masonry facades on Mt. Auburn and Dunster streets. Trinity Property Management is working on getting restaurants, retail businesses and office tenants into the new building, though leases have not yet been signed.

But some current tenants and frequent visitors to The Garage are concerned about what this project means for the future of the neighborhood. Comedian, podcast host and Harvard Square frequenter Ken Reid joined GBH’s Morning Edition this week to reflect on his memories of the shopping center.LISTEN 8:26Ken Reid on Morning Edition | June 7, 2022

Reid grew up in Melrose and would ride the Orange Line to spend time at The Garage, where he recalls digging through crates at record stores looking for gold, getting artisan coffee in the pre-Starbucks world, and renting films like “Eraserhead” from Videosmith.

“Almost nothing of the Harvard Square I grew up with exists. Frankly, almost nothing of the Boston I grew up with exists,” he said. “That’s not necessarily for the worse … but it is losing character.”

Reid said The Garage stood out for its unique businesses that customers couldn’t find elsewhere, especially before the Internet. Now he expects some current Garage tenants will shift to online businesses, while he hopes others will find new physical spaces.

One current tenant, Chameleon Tattoo & Body Piercing, is already raising money for relocation expenses.

“We’re working with the owner of the building to hopefully relocate us somewhere in the Harvard Square area,” said Rueben Kayden, a senior tattoo artist who will take over the storied shop after the move as the current owner retires. “That’s the ultimate goal. But that comes with a lofty price.”

Kayden, who has been tattooing at Chameleon for 17 years, said he’s been leaning on the shop’s community. Moving costs may end up clocking in around $80,000-$100,000, he said, not including rent. But Trinity Property Management is working with the business, and clients are offering help in whatever ways they can. Some are donating money, others with carpentry or plumbing skills have offered their time.

“It’s about keeping the culture of tattooing alive in Harvard Square,” Kayden said. “Small businesses are closing constantly, and I feel that there isn’t much flavor left in Harvard. We’re one of the last artistic endeavors available in the area. And it became my personal mission to make sure it stays alive and stays true.”

WBZ News Radio

Boston Calling 2022 Ends On High Note

– The three-day festival has wrapped up and cleaning crews have now taken over Harvard Athletic Complex. More than 50 artists performed at Boston Calling, including headliners Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. It’s the first time the music festival returned to the stage after the Covid-19 pandemic and it wasn’t without a few bumps in the road.

Friday night event organizers announced another change in the line-up, after a positive COVID case for their Saturday night headliner, The Strokes. Instead, Friday night’s headlining band, Nine Inch Nails, would play a second set on Saturday night.

The Crimson

Today’s Scoop: Ben and Jerry’s Reopens in Harvard Square

Ben and Jerry’s reopened its Harvard Square location on Dec. 21 following a nearly two-year-long hiatus.

The shop — once located inside The Garage shopping mall on John F. Kennedy St. — closed in 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its new location sits across the street at 35 JFK St., formerly David’s Tea.

Bloomberg Radio

Baystate Business: ER’s Under Stress

Bloomberg Baystate Business for Thursday, January 6th, 2022 – Bloomberg News reporter and Boston Bureau Chief Carey Goldberg on the latest Covid surge straining hospitals around the country (2:39) – Anne Mostue reports on blood testing innovations from local biotech companies (8:47) – Adam Sachs, CEO, Vicarious Surgical, on his company, awards for worker satisfaction, and return to office (15:02) – Bloomberg News reporter Mark Gurman on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) going on in Las Vegas (22:37) – Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, medical director at Everett Hospital, on the impact of Covid on her hospital (31:46) – Bloomberg Opinion columnist and markets editor John Authers on the Fed minutes that moved the markets (49:54) – Janet Wu reports on business activity in Harvard Square (57:18) – Denise Jillson, President of the Harvard Square Business Association, on the closing of the historic Brattle Square Florist shop, and how her members are impacted by Covid (1:05:00) – Greg Reibman, President of the Charles River Chamber of Commerce, on the office park for hybrid workers in Needham, and their members view of vaccine mandates (1:16:06) – Bloomberg Radio meteorologist Rob Carolan on the approaching snow storm (1:23:49) Hosts: Tom Moroney, Joe Shortsleeve, and Kim Carrigan Producer: Dan Pierce

Jan 06, 2022

Bloomberg Baystate Business

Janet Wu Interviews Dick Friedman, Part Two

Janet Wu sits down with the developer behind Boston’s new Four Seasons, The Charles Hotel, The Hyatt Regency Cambridge, and The Liberty Hotel, to name a few.

Dick Friedman has a number of new projects, and they have surprising locations.