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Winni Playhouse displays plans for new home

October 14, 2009
MEREDITH — A whole theater complex is the goal for Winnipesaukee Playhouse management, whose plans for their new site at the former Annalee property, plans they showed to the public during an open house and tour of the site last week.

The Playhouse has been using the property that was the former home of Annalee Mobilitee Dolls since last summer. A private company currently holds the property and allows the theater to lease it for a low fee.

The current theater in the Weirs has seating for 84 people. Johanna Halperin, Managing Director of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, said shows are often sold out and they are "turning away hundreds of people this year, which kills us."

"When someone's willing to support the arts, I'd hate to turn them away," Halperin said of people try to come see a show for the first time but may not return if that show is sold out.

Halperin said space is limited for costume and prop storage and the set painting shop was in her basement

"We have a dressing room as big as my closet," Halperin said.

The buildings on the property are currently being utilized by the Winnipesaukee Playhouse for storage of sets, set pieces, and costumes. It is also the location of their paint shop and classroom space for acting and set workshops.

"It's really helped us grow out of my basement," Halperin said.

The project is proposed to have three phases.

Phase One will be site and infrastructure work. Sewer and water pipes will be laid to connect the property to town water and sewer. Following the installation, the parking areas will be graded and repaved and exterior lighting will be installed throughout the complex.

The gray buildings on the property will be turned into housing for staff, including actors for their professional theater.

Halperin said the theater auditions for actors in New York City and Boston and gets professional actors for summer productions who come from across the country and beyond. Depending on the productions they are taking part in, the actors could stay in the area for two weeks for one performance to all summer for multiple shows.

The theater provides housing for them through private housing and a condo the theater holds for that purpose. The actors also do not have cars and the theater usually juggles transportation arrangements such as carpooling and use of an old van.

By having housing right by the theater "It should save us money, make it easier," Halperin said.

Plans also include constructing an outdoor amphitheater as part of the first phase.

The second phase will be work on the Mainstage Theater. The main theater will be located in the former gift shop and will be used for their main and larger scale productions.

When complete the theater will have 180 to 200 seats, a balcony, and an orchestra pit. There will be a lobby with a concession stand and restrooms.

"It's really going to increase our ability to do shows," Halperin said

The basement area will have dressing rooms, prop and costume storage, classrooms, a green room, and office space. There will also be an outdoor deck, rehearsal studio, and a function room open for events.

The third phase will be converting the Annalee Doll Museum into a black box theater to be used for smaller scale productions such as children's theater, cabarets, readings, and other occasions. The black box theater will have 80 to 90 seats and will be set up similar to the current theater. This theater will also have a lobby with concessions and restrooms.

The building is currently being used for classes and as the paint shop and set storage area and will continue to be used for that.

"It's allowed us as a theater to provide quality at a fraction of what other theaters do," Halperin said.

Halperin said a donor is in place to give the theater enough money to do Phase One, which should be completed by the summer of 2010.

"After that we need to raise the money for phase two," Halperin said.

Halperin said the theater received a grant that "got us out of the Weirs and to this location for our summer plays."

"(It is) our dream to have this really be a destination in the Lakes Region," Haleperin said, saying ultimate goals include having a restaurant, landscaping, artist space, or other features in the future.

Until the project is complete, the main performances and theater work will stay at the theater at the Weirs.

"Next summer we'll be there even if someone wrote us a big check," Halperin said. "Today it will still take us a year."

The Playhouse is currently looking for donations to begin Phase Two of the project. For more information contact Lesley Pankhurst at 366-7377 or visit www.winniplayhouse.com

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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