As the curtain closes on the year in New Hampshire performing arts, 2010 will be remembered as a celebration of theater’s spectacular diversity. Despite challenges in fund raising, arts organizations found innovative ways to draw people into the theater, sometimes by forgoing the building altogether. The year validated the old adage that the best way to attract an audience is to put on a heck of show.
Hollywood is the home of show biz and even though it is roughly 2,500 miles away from New Hampshire it found its way into many local theaters. In May, the Peacock Players of Nashua performed The Wedding Singer, based on the 1998 hit film starring local legend Adam Sandler. Before that the Community Players of Concord performed Big, The Musical, based on the Tom Hanks movie. This turned out to be a big hit in Concord. John Sefel recently directed his Chester College of New England students in a docudrama called Dear Harvey about slain gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk. Sean Penn portrayed Milk in the 2008 movie Milk. This trend doesn’t seem likely to go away in 2011. The Majestic Theatre will be performing The Hobbit in January.
Stephen J. Donohue Jr., a board member of the Peacock Players, said this trend was created by a blurring of media, which was interesting because it allowed viewers to see similar stories in multiple art forms.
Technology also helped the performing arts this year as several theater houses, like the Peterborough Players, the Capitol Center for the Arts and the Music Hall all streamed HD performances of the Metropolitan Opera. Nicolette B. Clarke, executive director, said these broadcasted performances have a devout following. Lisa Murray, development and PR director for the Peterborough Players, wrote via e-mail that these performances are consistently selling out or close to it.
Despite these advancements in technology, dinner theater made a comeback this year. Robert Dionne, artistic director of the Majestic Theatre, said the Majestic had increased its dinner theater to five shows a year because business was booming. George F. Piehl of Stage One Productions celebrated his 29th year of dinner theater at the Chateau Restaurant and performs a different show each month during the wintertime. The year began with a bang for Piehl, who won the Francis Grover Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award at the eighth annual NH Theatre Awards, which were held in February at the Palace Theatre. In fact, Jamie Feinberg believed there was room for a new dinner theater show and she helped form Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater. The group’s first few productions were held at Boynton’s Taproom in Manchester, which became a new venue this year for shows and comedy.
While a classic like dinner theater, which began in the U.S. in the 1950s, was revived, the real trend of 2010 was performing arts organizations’ willingness to be innovative.
The Granite State Symphony Orchestra dazzled audiences with its blend of classical music and jazz when Elliott Markow and Gerald Mordis, two concert masters, joined violins in Concord. The Nashua Chamber Orchestra performed concerts that featured a high school-aged cellist and whale sounds, not to mention the works of a fictitious composer.
Taking risks was not limited to orchestras, as several plays made world debuts. M & M Productions produced Lowell Williams’ original work Six Nights in the Black Belt, The Jonathan Daniels Story; theatre KAPOW performed My Neighbor, the Poet, an original work by Donald Tongue, and the Community Players of Concord performed Joel Mercier’s A Christmas Carol. In December, theatre KAPOW also held a free staged reading of a collection of plays by local playwrights Dana Biscotti Myskowski, Sefel, Tongue, and Williams. The plays were the writers’ interpretation of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word short story — For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
While such shows reminded everyone of the creativity used in theater, many performances also highlighted what a powerful social tool the performing arts can be.
In May, Gil Dubray organized a concert called Harmony at Home, which raised money for Bridges: Domestic & Sexual Violence Support programs. The concert was in response to the death of Dubray’s friend’s daughter, who was murdered at the beginning of the year.
Theatre Under the Stars, producers of “Shakespeare in the Valley,” held its first performances in Manchester this past year and all performances were free of charge. The gesture was done in loving memory of PFC Marc Paul Decoteau, 19, who was killed in January while serving his country in Afghanistan. Decoteau was one of the first campers at Theatre Under the Stars, and the organization wanted to pay tribute to the young hero.
Nelson Ebo, a young man who experienced the horrors of war while growing up in Angola, mesmerized audiences when he performed for Just Love to Sing in July. His opera singing reminded everyone about the triumph of the human spirit and that beauty can rise from death.
In an effort to prevent senseless death, Sefel donated 50 percent of ticket sales from Dear Harvey to the Trevor Project, a national 24-hour toll-free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.
In fact, Renee MacNeil felt so many organizations could use help that she created Stepping Stone Players this year, a new theater group that performs to raise money for charities. The group’s first performance of Crimes of the Heart was to assist the Concord Rape & Domestic Violence Crisis Center. MacNeil wasn’t alone. NH Gives Back, a group of more than 100 residents who reach out to their neighbors in need of assistance, summed up the year by raising money for the Granite Angels by holding a dinner theater show.
Of course, many performing arts organizations needed more money themselves this year. The New Thalian Players, which has provided quality performances in Manchester since 1983, had to cancel its Theatre in the Park performance this summer due to an inability to raise funds. But, as is the case with theater, when one group has trouble another steps up to help out. With vacant weekends, the Bedford Youth Performance Company expanded its summer line-up to provide more shows in Manchester and Nashua.
It was a big year for anniversaries as well. The Nashua Symphony Chorus celebrated its 45th year. In Manchester, the Manchester Choral Society and the Muchachos Drum and Bugle Corps both celebrated their 50th year in Manchester and both are still gaining new members.