AUGUSTA — Peter Bezemes can see the potential of Augusta’s historic Colonial Theater, beyond its falling-down plaster and north-facing brick wall that’s missing a few bricks and much of its mortar.

The Colonial Theater’s first executive director, Bezemes has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment business, many of those spent overseeing theaters.

Now he wants the Colonial Theater, which shut down 50 years ago, to draw people once again to the performing arts in downtown Augusta.

“You just have to have a little vision to see beyond the old plaster and whatnot, but you do kind of need to know what you’re doing,” said Bezemes, hired recently by theater supporters following a months-long search for someone to lead the theater that drew more than 100 applicants for the job from across the country. “And you need a visionary like Richard (Parkhurst, chairman of the theater’s board of directors) to save it from going south.”

Convincing others to share that vision and cough up some cash to help make it a reality will be among Bezemes’ first tasks.

Restoring and reopening the theater, with a new, 13,000-square-foot addition attached to it, providing modern access and amenities, is expected to cost $6 million to $8.5 million. About $1 million has been raised so far.


In 2016, city officials agreed to commit $300,000 in city funds to the restoration project, but to provide most of that money only when the project nears completion.

In St. Charles, Missouri, Bezemes oversaw the construction of the 138,000-square-foot multi-use performing arts venue Scheidegger Center for the Arts, and established, once it opened in 2008, a profitable model of operations in part by creating and fundraising for a $3.5 million endowment, according to Colonial advocates. It has hosted performers including Tony Bennett, Jay Leno, Willie Nelson, the Beach Boys and national touring acts including “Cats,” “Grease,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Annie.”

He most recently served as executive director of the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, which, despite the 2012 death of its namesake singer, hosts live musical acts that have included Trace Adkins, Loretta Lynn, the Lennon Sisters, Paul Anka, the Osmonds and the Lettermen.

Bezemes said the historic Colonial Theater already has had major structural work done, including a new roof and new floor, so though it might not look like much now in its dilapidated state, it has the potential to become a beautiful new performing arts venue that he is confident will draw performers and audiences.

“There are people in the community that want to see more artistic value brought to the downtown area,” he said last week in the Colonial. “We need to give people reasons to be here and stay here, performances they might otherwise go to see in Boston or New York. There is no reason we can’t do that here.”

Parkhurst, chairman of the theater’s board of directors and developer of multiple buildings in downtown Augusta, said Bezemes was the board’s choice in large part because he has a wide range of experience in the entertainment industry, specifically experience both overseeing construction of a theater and the process of getting one going once it is built.


“He has incredible skills and experience in both those areas,” Parkhurst said. “His experience and knowledge in the industry, that’s important. A guy like this, he’s been in it his whole life, and he’s raised money and he knows the industry.”

Bezemes’ past work has included production of Broadway musicals, educational programming, and film, television and radio. He holds a master’s degree in film studies from Boston University and is a voting member of the Grammy Awards in production and engineering.


Peter Bezemes, the new executive director of the Colonial Theater in Augusta, stands in the theater Wednesday. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan


Bezemes, 62, lives in Branson, Missouri, but is a native of Massachusetts, where much of his family still lives.

“It’s bringing me back closer to home,” he said of the move from Missouri to Maine. “I applied, on a whim, because I wanted, basically, to be home, and here home is only a few hours away.”


For now, Bezemes, when he starts on the job full time in August, will have an office at 70 State St., just up the hill from the theater in a building Parkhurst owns; but he wants to move his office to the theater itself as soon as possible. He also wants to live not just in Augusta, but on Water Street downtown.

“He wants to immerse himself into the community,” Parkhurst said. “That’s important.”

Bezemes said the Colonial could host an array of performances and be available for children’s programming, which he said is a key to sustaining the theater.

“We want kids to be interested in music and theater and whatever they might dream of,” he said.

He, as have others who have toured the theater, said the stage is likely to small to host major live theater performances, but said he’d like to expand the stage if possible.

Andrew Silsby, the vice chairman of the theater’s board, who led the search for an executive director, said the search committee was unanimous in selecting Bezemes.


“We are excited and feel very good we have the right person, with great credentials and experience in theater operations and fundraising, and someone that knows what it will take to get the Augusta Colonial Theater back open and what we all hope it can be,” Silsby said in a news release.


The Colonial Theater marquee advertises showings of the movie “Rebecca” in 1938 on Water Street in downtown Augusta. Contributed photo


Bezemes said in doing restoration work, they will save as much of the original 1926 building as they can.

Parkhurst said the next project they hope to do at the theater is restore and stabilize the front facade, which he said would help let people passing by know things are happening at the theater. He said they hope to secure grant funding for that project.

The theater was built in 1912 and rebuilt after a fire in 1926, first showing silent films, with an orchestra pit in front of the stage. A sound system was added later, and the theater showed movies for many years.

It stopped operating in 1969 — 50 years ago — and has been vacant since then.

“I’m sure there are a lot of memories here,” Bezemes said inside the currently seatless theater. “And there will be a lot of new memories made. You just have to make sure the environment supports the mission, and that is to entertain people.”

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