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Local theaters look back on summer season

Autolycus sings while looking for his next thieving opportunity in Advice to the Player’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
August 27, 2009
LAKES REGION — As the season ends and the curtain falls, many theater companies around Lake Winnipesaukee are taking stock of the summer and looking toward next year's crowds in an uncertain economy.

The youngest of the crowd, the Summer Theater in Meredith Village, emerged from its sophomore year and grew its reputation, according to Producing Director Nancy Barry. Looking to improve on its freshman year sales and budget, Barry said the theater made some sacrifices in order to grow.

"We definitely grew this year, and we did much better," said Barry. "We slashed the budget and made do in some areas, because we were worried about the economy."

At the end of their first year, Barry said that she distributed a survey to those attending the shows in 2008, asking them what musicals or shows they would like to see the theater put on in the next year. The major response was for more "family-oriented shows."

In an irony, Barry said, their best-selling week was for the PG-13 "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," slightly more adult fare than the previously staged "The Sound of Music" or "Oklahoma!" Barry said the trick is in finding plays and musicals that people want to see, but aren't those they've seen many times, as was the case in "Oklahoma!"

"'Oklahoma!' was the slowest of them all, but 'The Sound of Music' did very well," said Barry. "I'm feeling pretty good about things next season."

Barry announced that of the subscriptions to see next summer's host of plays, about a third had already been sold. She noted that they could be purchased at the current price until Oct. 30.

Barry announced that next year's season will include "My Way," a musical about Frank Sinatra, "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Chicago," "Camelot," and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

Another relatively young theater, the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, just ended its sixth season in Weirs Beach. Managing Director Johanna Halperin said that she was "really pleased" with the season, and said that the playhouse was still in an "upward slope."

Despite initial concerns about how the economy could affect their season, Halperin said that the summer was a "pleasant surprise." To keep audiences in seats, she said the theater focused on variety in their summer offerings.

"In these changing times, we do look at what sold best, but we want to keep our artistic integrity and challenge the audience," said Halperin. "They enjoy it, and we're doing well so far, so we'll keep with the variety."

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse did hit a snag through the economy in another way – plans to move the theater to Meredith have had to be put on hold for the time being. The playhouse hopes to open up a larger theater in buildings behind the Annalee Doll Company, along with support buildings for classes and actor housing. The playhouse already hosted its summer session of theater camp in the buildings.

"We started this project when the economy tanked," said Halperin. "It sort of stalled, but it's not an insurmountable challenge. It's just going to take a while."

In another surprise, Halperin said, numbers of children attending the summer theater camps and workshops rebounded after disappointing numbers in 2008.

At the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee, Advice to the Players dealt with wild weather while bringing Shakespeare to the (outdoors) stage and to workshops for students. The theater just wrapped up a week-long production of "The Winter's Tale," finished a round of Shakesperience workshops for children, and hosted its first teen production with the Queen Mab Teen Production performing "Macbeth."

"I feel pretty good with what we did," said ATTP Managing Director Rebecca Boyden. "It's a tough economy, but people are opening their wallets. We had wonderful kids in camps, a big group of kids. We were concerned about enrollment at first, but we got a good crowd."

Boyden said that attendance and donations were about where they were at this time last year.

The weather put a damper on some events the ATTP, but heightened others. The first part of the week in "The Winter's Tale," the outdoor theater dealt with afternoon thundershowers. In the opening production, Boyden said, the storm waited until intermission – allowing the players and the audience to move indoors. Oddly enough, it was during a "stormy" part of the play. Numbers for attendance were down during the weekend, though, Boyden said, likely hampered by the abrupt temperature climb.

For the kids' Shakesperience camps, the children's production of "The Winter's Tale" was hampered by rainfall, but enhanced the experience for others, and impressed the adults with the tenacious acting of the kids.

"The little kids' recital happened in the pouring rain, and they just kept right on trucking," said Boyden. "There was a little girl in a beautiful dress, playing Queen Hermione, and she just laid down in a puddle and "died" (for Queen Hermione's death scene)."

Though the theater is in transition between artistic directors, Boyden said the ATTP planned to put on "Hamlet" in the spring, and potentially an abridged version of "Richard III" for the Sandwich Fair.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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