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Oberon, Harvard Square’s Beloved Fringe Theater Stage, To Close Its Doors

"The Donkey Show," a disco-themed version of Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” ran for a decade at Oberon until 2019. (Courtesy Marcus Stern/A.R.T.)
"The Donkey Show," a disco-themed version of Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” ran for a decade at Oberon until 2019. (Courtesy Marcus Stern/A.R.T.)

Oberon, the American Repertory Theater’s second stage, will not renew its lease at the end of the year, ending the popular venue’s 12-year run on the outskirts of Harvard Square.

The club has not hosted in-person events since the start of the pandemic. The financial cost of the prolonged closure, and the continuing uncertainty around the safety of in-person performances, “made it hard to think about holding on another year,” said A.R.T. artistic producer Mark Lunsford.

The venue, located in a Harvard-owned building at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, has operated as a second stage for the Harvard-affiliated A.R.T. for nearly two decades, but was rebranded as Oberon when Diane Paulus began her tenure as the A.R.T.’s artistic director in 2009. The club was designed to stage a revival of Paulus’ disco-themed Shakespearean takeoff “The Donkey Show,” and later became a destination for fringe, amateur and experimental theater in the Boston area. It was a beloved home for burlesque and LGBTQ performers, and in more recent years a popular spot for music. The venue’s rental model was designed to make high-production performances more affordable for independent artists.

Plans are in the works for some final performances to be held at the club before its lease ends in December. Audiences will be required to wear masks and the bar will not be open.

Lunsford said the A.R.T. hoped to bring Oberon-like programming to other venues, including its planned new location on Harvard’s Allston campus — and that ending the lease meant more resources could be used to compensate artists. The idea, Lunsford said, was to “prioritize people over things.” “Oberon continues on,” Lunsford said, “just not in that building.”

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.

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