The Music Hall in Portsmouth, which has been around since 1878, is branching out ever so slightly. The new Music Hall Loft, a smaller sister venue a few blocks away, will opens Saturday, April 2. It’s meant to allow for new types of events and provide an intimate experience for patrons, according to the Music Hall’s executive director, Patricia Lynch.
Lynch said the idea of a smaller theater — the Loft will seat 120 — has been part of the Music Hall’s strategic plan since 2005. The concept behind the new venue, which is located at 131 Congress St., Portsmouth, was that the Music Hall needed to expand. Lynch said at any given time the Music Hall has 30 to 40 employees, volunteers, board members, performers, etc. inside and it was bursting at the seams with people working out of hallways. With the new venue, there will be office upgrades, more educational space and a more intimate setting for new and modified signature series, such as Live@theLoft, Writers in the Loft, and Currents@theLoft.
“We’re thrilled,” Lynch said. “The new building will enable us to strengthen partnerships and add new ones, not to mention increasing our signature series.”
Lynch said turning the vision of the new space into a reality was a challenge. Lynch and her team first thought about adding on to the Music Hall but quickly realized the historic building was too land-locked for such an addition. They then began looking around for suitable real estate. But it needed to be within a short walk of the Music Hall, at 28 Chestnut St., in downtown Portsmouth. She said if a great building had been available across town it wouldn’t have done them any good.
Fortune smiled down on them. The building across the street was being split up into condos. And because of its capital campaign and the generosity of the building’s owner, the Music Hall was able to negotiate to buy 6,000 square feet of space. The best part, according to Lynch, is that there are no pillars to obstruct views, which can be tough to overcome in a small space.
Lynch said a lot of talented people got involved with the business plan for the new venture. Lynch looked at other theaters that opened a second space and researched why some worked and others failed.
“It is all about sustainability,” Lynch said. “We don’t want to just be able to survive the first month. We want to think about 25 months and 25 years down the road.”
It is this vision that has helped the Music Hall expand, while some theaters are simply in survival mode.
“We’re blessed to be in Portsmouth,” Lynch said, which she said is a great place to visit for a weekend with its proximity to the ocean, its architecture and its many restaurants.
Lynch also cited the Music Hall’s diverse programming as a reason for its success. This includes rock ’n’ roll acts, on-stage interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, and children-of-all-ages theater like Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical.
The premiere event at the Music Hall Loft will be the pilot program, Live@theLoft, which is a live radio show, hosted by Bob Lord and produced by New Hampshire Public Radio, that features singer/songwriters from around the country. The first scheduled performer is the Boston-based band Buffalo Tom on Saturday, April 2.
“If you’ve never been to a live radio broadcast before, it is exciting,” Lynch said. Though the live broadcast begins at 8 p.m., there is a post-broadcast set for night owls at 9:30 p.m. Lynch said though this performance isn’t recorded, it does allow listeners to hang with the artists.
The first writer to grace the Loft’s stage will be Andre Dubus III, who is most famous for his novel The House of Sand and Fog. He will be discussing his memoir Townie at the Loft on Wednesday, April 13. The Super Secret Project, New Hampshire’s favorite lyrical ambassadors, will be the first act in the Currents@theLoft series on Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30.
All shows will feature the Music Hall Loft’s 21st Century gourmet concessions, which include a Bohemian picnic, an artist’s chocolate box, and many more items, according to Lynch. And whether you enjoy a single malt scotch or a Coca-Cola, Lynch said people will be allowed to bring their snacks into the theater.
“Art, food and liquor is a potent 21st-century trend,” Lynch said.
Lynch said she wasn’t worried about people making a mess because she thinks the people attracted to the Loft will respect the vibe and behave properly. Visit www.themusichall.org.