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Katie Collins and Barbara Webb in Wit. Courtesy photo.




Better quality, more interest
2013 was a year of community-driven art

12/26/13
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 For New Hampshire’s art scene, 2013 certainly wasn’t boring.

Yes, there were a few pitfalls — a couple of theater companies closed and a local symphony orchestra postponed its season due to unexpected weather, scheduling and financial challenges — but for the most part, there was a lot of growth and a lot of “risk-taking,” especially in New Hampshire theater, said Bob Frasca, who, among other roles, is the executive director of the New Hampshire Theatre Awards.
“Overall, I see an increase in the quality of productions. It seems like every group is challenging itself to raise the bar, which is refreshing to see,” Frasca said in a short phone interview last week.
Also evident in 2013 was the effort to bring art into the community through outdoor murals, sculptures, yarn bombs (the Currier Museum of Art displayed the state’s largest fiber art display to date last May) and social art events.
 
Some theater companies fell as new ones rose
New Thalian Players ended its reign at the end of last year, but some of its key players, including Joel Mercier, Beth Fenske and Beth Ann O’Hara, have been involved with a new theatrical venture in the New Hampshire Theatre Factory,  a nonprofit dedicated to providing theater in southern New Hampshire. The company aims to build a 300-seat theater in Londonderry. Founders Mercier and Wallace J. Pineault (O’Hara and Fenske were on the advisory board) started its “Jumpstart the Factory” series at Halloween with Ghost Hunting: The Musical Murder Mystery in the aim to raise funds and spread awareness.
Also new to the New Hampshire theater scene, a company called Artists Collective Theatre began performing at Nashua’s Hunt Building last summer with Zach Braff’s dark play, All New People. ACT has since been showing edgy, contemporary productions like Venus in Fur (one actor joked that this play should have been called Who’s On Top) and most recently Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.
The Winnipesaukee Playhouse opened its new theater at 50 Reservoir Road, Meredith, early last summer inside what was once the Annalee Doll Complex. There was also a new amphitheater built in Warner, the much-anticipated, solar-powered stage that now sits behind MainStreet BookEnds. It opened at Warner’s Fall Foliage Festival.
In the Monadnock region, the Park Theatre building, a historically significant, 19th-century wooden frame structure in the center of downtown Jaffrey, is slowly but surely on its way to restoration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Community Facilities program approved a $2 million construction loan to rebuild the theater, which won’t begin until construction starts during the summer of 2014, according to an article in the Monadnock Ledger Transcript.
Not all theater restoration efforts were met with reward; the Exeter Theater Co. announced on its Facebook page in early November that it’s suspending efforts to acquire and restore the IOKA theater. The Acting Loft in Manchester also suspended its programming after 18 years. (The Majestic Theatre reached out to these students, families and performers, inviting them to participate in its own youth and teen programming.)
 
Theatrical risk-taking
In the Monadnock region, Mia Moravis, the press coordinator for the New Hampshire Theatre Awards, noticed a surge of Shakespeare, particularly during the summertime. (Around here there was the Nashua Theatre Guild’s The Merchant of Venice and Theatre Under the Stars’ Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also, if we’re going to include all of Shakespeare, we might as well note Saint Anselm College’s Shakespeare sonnet-reading marathon, which was open to the public for the first time last April.)
But this year was also host to a number of shows that were “off the beaten path,” Moravis said, particularly within the state’s community theater productions. She pinpointed the Milford Area Players’ rendition of Wit starring Katie Collins and last weekend’s The Santaland Diaries by the Actors Circle Theatre, a one-man show starring Scott Gardner as “Crumpet the Elf.” These shows contain very challenging roles that aren’t always available to community theater actors.
“There are really good actors in the state’s community theater crowd. … Sometimes obligations in life mean that you have to work a full-time job or can’t take the risks, financially, to pursue acting professionally, and so it’s nice to see community theaters willing to take risks like that, to give these chances to community theater actors,” Moravis said in a phone interview last week. Producing any big, new or challenging show is always risky for a community theater production, as you don’t always know if you’ll get your money back in ticket sales, and you don’t always know if you’ll be able to fill the roles. (But in all of these cases, they did.)
Among noteworthy performances, Frasca mentioned the Nashua Actorsingers’ rendition of Les Miserables last November, which was “finally” released to community theater productions. This show, too, required fantastic actors, or at the very least, fantastic singers, which, he said, the company was able to acquire.
The Concord Community Players also took some risks with its production of Spamalot this fall, which was snagged “as soon as rights became available” to community theaters, said director Doug Schwarz at a rehearsal before the show’s production. 
It was also the year that theatre KAPOW! performed numerous contemporary productions in traditional and nontraditional venues all across the southern part of the state, including the Stockbridge Theatre (The Illusion in March, its 24 Hour Play Festival in October), The Derryfield School (The Burial at Thebes in September), Studio 550 (Circle Mirror Transformation, December) and ongoing at the Currier Museum of Art, where company members perform as part of its playreading series.
A few other New Hampshire contemporary theatrical productions in 2013 were Good People by M & M Productions; In-Laws, Outlaws and Other People (That Should be Shot) by Bedford Off-Broadway; and Shrek: The Musical by Nashua’s Peacock Players.
 
Milestones and community-driven art 
Monica Leap has been trying to demonstrate that art is not a spectator sport, but rather “an experience” that everyone can enjoy through Manchester’s Studio 550. The art center became a cultural hub in 2013; since she opened it December 2012, the space has made way for pottery classes, cultural dance/movement classes, date night events, art shows (with themes that involved flowers, cups, nature, etc.) and partnerships (with theatre KAPOW, the Manchester Food Co-op, B.R.I.N.G.I.T., Dancing Lion Chocolate, the Women’s Caucus for Art and more). She’s also the reason that you might have found red little clay monsters in and around the city last summer. 
A couple of Nashua’s artistic leaders for 2013 were Positive Street Art co-founders Cecelia Ulibarri and Manny Ramirez. In 2013, the pair led the nonprofit’s efforts to change the face of urban street art. They led the community in painting the mural behind Dunkin’ Donuts by the railroad tracks and the one along Nashua’s Heritage Trail, and, at Nashua resident Sarah Roy’s suggestion, gave the Fields Grove Park an artistic makeover. 
A few other visual art businesses reached milestones in 2013: the Kimball Jenkins School of Art in Concord turned 15 and the Greeley Park Art Show in Nashua turned 60. Amy Sullivan, who started her Sullivan Framing business within East Colony Fine Art about nine years ago, moved into a larger space in Bedford and opened a gallery that has hosted shows themed around the New Hampshire coast, the holidays and Boston.
 
Music: a postponement, a birthday and milestones
The Granite State Orchestra faced some unexpected challenges this season, including a last-minute concert postponement due to a presidential visit and scheduling conflicts with other performing arts organizations. These challenges resulted in costly reschedulings and a considerable loss of income for the orchestra. The group ended its 19th season with a hefty financial shortage, which, as a result, caused the board of directors to postpone the orchestra’s 20th season, according to its website, until early 2014.
Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus celebrated its 15th birthday with a written history of the chorus by member Paul Cioto last spring, and more recently premiered its first female soloist in Sarah Chadwick, whose brother and father both perform in the chorus. Opera New Hampshire kicked off its 50th season by performing its first free, outdoor concert in Manchester last August, and similarly, Symphony NH performed its first free outdoor concert in 10 years at Holman Stadium.
 
And then there 
was social painting
Lots of social painting. 
Muse Paintbar and the Canvas Roadshow had just begun business at the time of last year’s “Year in Review,” but that was just the beginning of what would be an explosion of “paint night” and “paint and sip” bars. 
 Lots of southern New Hampshire restaurants would come to host social painting events, but in addition, 2013 saw an influx of more site-specific social painting businesses. The Canvas Roadshow, originally a traveling company, settled in River Road in Bedford; Art With A Splash, the “original” New Hampshire paint bar, opened a second location in Nashua early August; and not too far away, Paint pARTy opened in Windham.
Many local art businesses, seeing this trend, opted to offer similar classes. Kimball Jenkins School of Art offers “Colors and Cabernet,” Beck’s Arts Express began “Paint Party” offerings in August, and Steve Pascucci’s new business in Goffstown, Art Made Easely, offers a similar class, too. 
 

As seen in the December 26th, 2013 issue of The Hippo







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