Local stories

Curtains at The Columbus Theater?

The Columbus Theatre is one of the quirky landmarks that makes Rhode Island special. It represents a cultural heyday of yore, with its exquisite interior and towering facade from an era when architecture in Providence was esteemed and ambitious. Named The Columbus because it originally had 1,492 seats, it hosted vaudeville and top-rate traveling shows. It also went through a period in the ’70s when it specialized in X-rated foreign arthouse films. In the ’00s it was a fulcrum for the emerging digital video indie movement, hosting film festivals and premieres.

For the last 12 years, it has been presenting some of the most exciting, most ambitious, a-few-degrees-off-the-mainstream music shows in the area, hosting local favorites like Deer Tick and NOVA One, as well as national tours like Joe Pera, Haley Heynderickx, Guerilla Toss, Mike Birbiglia (and even Bernie Sanders). The venue was managed by the Columbus Cooperative, a group of musical artists whose membership shifted over the years, but who, led by music producer Tom Weyman, remained dedicated to bringing life to the venue’s storied stage with performers who didn’t fit into other, cookie-cutter performance spaces, and who West Siders would turn out enthusiastically to witness.


The Columbus has acts booked through June of this year. They will host the Z-Boys on June 7 and Jessica Kirson on June 9, which they expect to be their final show.

On May 4, Tom posted on the Columbus’ Facebook page:

“After 12 years, the Columbus Theatre will be ceasing operations in June 2024… There may be a few more events added before we close – check our website for more details.
I want to thank everyone who has supported the theatre since 2012 – we have done incredible things together in this building. Thank you to everyone who ever worked a show, played a show, screened a film, or attended an event. Special thanks to Q, Sam, Glenna, Jerome and Lara, who have contributed so much in these past few years.
Biggest thanks of all to Jon Berberian, who has given us such a gift by letting us work in his theatre. I’m committed to helping Jon and his family find the path forward with the theatre, to find someone who has the passion, energy, resources and vision necessary to keep this beautiful space a home for the arts in Providence.”

The outpouring of support and sorrow on social media has been profound. “I moved to the West Side in large part due to the Columbus Theatre. To say I’m gutted is an understatement,” wrote superfan Elise Fortier.

But there are indications that all is not lost for the building.

“We need to do some serious repairs to parts of the roof over the main theater, to the drain spouts and to the clock tower,” says owner Jon Berberian, who has had the theater in his family since 1962. Utility costs have quadrupled in the last couple of years, and city taxes went up about 70% this year, Berberian says, so when the theater returns from summer construction, he will be looking for new models to keep it going. “I’m still renting out the office spaces,” he says, “And we’ve had some great shows, so I’m looking forward to more of that. The repairs should take about a month over the summer.” He intends to reopen the stages for shows as soon as the repairs are complete, and is actively seeking new partners to manage the space.

“I don’t want to close it,” the 92-year old says of the 100-year old neighborhood landmark. “I think the neighborhood needs it. I think the community needs it.”

If you have recollections or stories about the Columbus from the last 12 years that you’d like to share for an upcoming retrospective article we’re currently planning, please feel free to reach out to us at meg@motifri.com or on Instagram @motifmagri.