The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








Marc Willis, Ross Brown, Robert Dionne and Michael Gallagan. Courtesy photo.

Majestic Theatre 25th Anniversary auction

Where: Manchester Community College, 1066 Front St., Manchester
When: Friday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20
Contact: 669-7469,

Theater nourishment
The Majestic Theatre turns 25

By Kelly Sennott

 When Robert Dionne founded the Majestic Theatre in 1990 with a few other Manchester West High School alumni, the local community theater scene was kind of bare. 

“There was a lot less theater then than there is now,” Dionne said via phone Monday. “But now it seems like there’s a theater company on every corner, which is a great thing.”
The major players in Manchester at the time, he said, were the Palace Theatre and the New Thalian Players, but there were few other opportunities in the city, particularly for non-professionals. Early projects consisted of putting on original works and curating a historic Manchester theater museum. He was 21 when they produced their first show, a piece he’d written called School Days.
Twenty-five years later, the Majestic’s still pumping out 15 to 20 shows a year, more than any other community theater in the state.
Members celebrate with an event and auction Friday, Nov. 13, at Manchester Community College. In addition to raffles and a live and silent auction, there will be musical performances from a cast of about 50 children, teens and adults, with appearances from the Forever Plaid quartet (which Dionne performs in) and the Nunsense nuns. Current and past Majestic regulars will perform ensemble, duet and solo acts from a variety of Broadway shows, and the event ends with an audience sing-along. Eric Skoglund will emcee.
Skoglund has a special place in his heart for the theater; he auditioned for The Magic of Crime on the eve of his 26th birthday in 2002, his first play since high school. 
He earned the lead role, and it gave him confidence to step back into the New Hampshire theater scene. Majestic audiences will know him from Cabaret in 2014.
“I’ve since worked with dozens of  companies in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but it all started with the Majestic,” Skoglund said via phone. “The Majestic is a great launching pad for people interested in the stage and acting, and the audiences are very kind. They want you to succeed, and they always applaud. … Patrons who come and see the shows … are fiercely loyal, which is very nice as an actor.”
Dionne also credited community support for the theater’s 25-year life, which has gone through ups and downs. 
In 2013, he received the “Matt Award” for Vision and Tenacity at the New Hampshire Theatre Awards for his work rebuilding the company after being forced to move from the former Ste. Marie School building, where it had been since 1995, to the 1,800-square-foot rented space in the Ted Herbert building, in 2011, due to stricter fire codes that required a sprinkler system, which the company couldn’t afford. 
It’s here where Majestic offices, rehearsals and educational programs take place today, while productions happen at the the Executive Court Banquet Facility and the Derry Opera House. Dionne said he’d love to be able to own a theater again — the Ste. Marie School building had a theater space, while Ted Herbert does not — but he said he’s incredibly thankful to patrons, some of whom have been attending Majestic productions for 25 years.
“Our biggest challenge moving forward is the financial piece,” Dionne said. “We’re not a multi-million-dollar company. We do a tremendous amount of community productions with the support of our community, our patrons and our sponsors.”
Today, he and Development Director Karen Bessette are the only full-time employees. Of the original staff, it’s just him and technical director and executive board member Matthew Morin.
Dionne never thought this would become his full-time job, but it became necessary, if the company was to grow, in 2001, which is when he left his music teaching job in Hampstead.
“[In the beginning], the Majestic, pretty much, was just a bunch of friends who would come together during the summer to put on productions,” Dionne said. “But I felt that what the Majestic Theatre was doing for the community was a very important thing. … Theater is not a fringe benefit. It’s a necessity. You could give someone a place to live, but if there’s nothing else that helps nourish their soul — whether it be theater, a sports team, whatever — they’re empty inside. We kind of give that nourishment that makes life that much better.” 

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