When Theatre Under the Stars began five years ago in Waterville Valley, Marc Paul Decoteau was the first summer camper to sign up. At 14, he performed with the group over the summer. As he entered Plymouth High School, he continued acting and appeared in several holiday shows.
“We watched him grow up on stage,” said Artistic Director Donna Devlin-Young.
After graduating high school in 2008, Decoteau joined the Army, following in the footsteps of his career military father, according to Devlin-Young. In early January, Decoteau, 19, was deployed to Afghanistan. Only a few weeks later, on Jan. 29, Decoteau was killed in action.
“I was in New York City when I got the news,” Devlin-Young said. “After 10 minutes of horrible shock, it set in that this was a really special person and we needed to honor him.”
Theatre Under the Stars, producer of “Shakespeare in the Valley,” will forgo its usual $20 ticket price for shows in Plymouth, Waterville Valley and, for the first time this year, Manchester and will offer them free to every patron in memory of PFC Marc Paul Decoteau.
“As we celebrate our fifth anniversary it is impossible to look back at our past without Mark,” Devlin-Young continued. “We quickly decided to devote our summer to him.”
To do this, Theatre Under the Stars had to buck the trend. With a struggling economy, many free shows across the state, like the New Thalian Players’ Theatre in the Park and the Rock 101 Sky Show, have been canceled. Yet, Devlin-Young wanted to raise not only the normal amount of money but an additional 40 percent to cover the cost of tickets.
“Marc Paul gave up his young life in service to the word ‘free’,” said Chris Devlin-Young, a disabled veteran who volunteered to be the fundraising chair. “We want to honor both Marc’s sacrifice and the word ‘free’ in the only way we know how, by offering all that we have, do and are... for free.”
Donna Devlin-Young said the majority of the theater group’s funding comes from six to eight donors and the rest comes from people giving smaller contributions of about $15 to $20. Money has come in from all over North America in support of Marc and all the soldiers who never came home.
“People won’t only get a great night of theater but, for those who didn’t even know him, they’ll get to honor an extraordinary kid,” said Will Hammond, executive manager.
The theater is still the state’s only professional outdoor classical repertory festival. This summer it will perform Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. These productions will run from July 1 through Aug. 14 at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday nights in Plymouth, Fridays and Saturdays in Waterville Valley and Wednesday night shows on July 7, July 14, Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 outside at the Jewish Federation of NH, 698 North Beech St. in Manchester.
Jeff Fladen, executive director of the Jewish Federation of NH, said he was approached by Alan Kaplan of the Manchester Community Theatre Players, which is housed in the Jewish Federation, and asked if he would open up the building for Theatre Under the Stars.
“Having the plays be free means they’re accessible to everyone,” Fladen said. “It is important to us to support our community, the theater and the arts.”