The Public Theatre's building has long been an institution in Lewiston/Auburn. Originally an automotive garage, it was purchased in 1930 by Le Montagnard, a local social club, who converted the ground floor into a stylish movie house named the Ritz Theater. One of the Ritz's greatest claims to fame is that Stephen King, Maine's most successful writer, often attended sci-fi thrillers there as a child, perhaps inspiring his future career.
In 1991, The Public Theatre began its first season producing two plays in a borrowed space at the Auburn Mall. Skeptics throughout the state, influenced by their outdated conceptions of Lewiston/Auburn, scoffed at the idea of a professional theatre succeeding in a former mill town. However, by the end of its first season, it was clear that The Public Theatre was here to stay. A search for a permanent home in the Twin Cities lead to the doorstep of the old Ritz Theater. Vacant for nearly eight years, it was in a deteriorated condition, but what followed surprised everyone. Local people, motivated by the desire to help restore a part of their heritage, began donating time and materials to the renovation. After four months of non-stop work, board members and volunteers had transformed the 1940's movie house into a professional theatre.
On Friday, October 9, 1992, The Public Theater opened its production of Moliere's Scapin! to a sold-out audience in a building and location rich with history and promise.
In 1993, The Public Theatre signed a contract with Actor's Equity Association, the union of professional actors, and became one of only five Equity theatres in the state. Equity membership allows The Public Theatre to hire the very best actors from New England and New York City. Actors appearing at the theatre have ranged from regulars on the television show E.R. to accomplished performers from Broadway and feature films.
In 1998 the building went up for sale. Raising over $100,000 in three months, The Public Theatre purchased the Ritz and bought itself a permanent home.
Today, The Public Theatre is one of the most remarkable success stories in the state of Maine and a cornerstone in the cultural life of Lewiston/Auburn. Each season The Public Theatre produces six to eight productions, playing to an audience of over 17,000 people. Each year thousands of students from scores of area schools attend special Student Matinee Performances.