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Winnipesaukee Playhouse: setting the stage for the future

Executive Director Bryan Halperin shows of the vast amount of space the new campus will offer for rehearsals, costumes, and props. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
June 09, 2010
The Winnipesaukee Playhouse, currently located in the Weirs, has started the process of transitioning to a bigger campus in Meredith.

If plans go as expected, the main campus and theater could be up a running for the 2012 season and offer performing arts education year round.

The new campus style location will reside at the former Annalee Dolls Complex and will undergo three phases of construction and renovation in a space that offers expansive opportunities for actors, spectators, and members of the Playhouse, according to Johanna and Bryan Halperin, managing and executive directors, respectively.

Thanks to a $1 million grant, Phase I, which includes water sewage lines, grading and repaving parking areas and roadways, exterior lighting, the conversion of staff housing, and the construction of the outdoor amphitheatre, is estimated to be completed in the summer of 2010.

Phase II, which would require about $2.5 million in funds, would include the conversion of the Annalee Gift Shop into the Playhouse. This theater would include seating for up to 249 people, lobby space including bathrooms and concessions, an outdoor deck, a full basement with dressing rooms, costume and prop storage, classrooms, office space, a rehearsal studio, and a function room.

Once the main stage theater is completed, all Winnipesaukee Playhouse operations could be moved from the current Weirs location to the Meredith campus.

Phase III would include the conversion of the Annalee Doll Museum into the black box theater with 80-90 seats, lobby space, concessions and bathrooms, a function and rehearsal area, and a paint shop and storage set. This particular theater, similar to the Weirs Playhouse, would be used for camps in the summer, children's theater productions, special events, and smaller community productions during the winter months.

Johanna Halperin explained that a year-round campus theater has always been her and her husband's optimal goal, and now that the Playhouse has outgrown the Weirs location, it's now or never.

Halperin said the Playhouse productions and its audience numbers started out small in the Weirs, buut after a few years, shows began to sell out, and waiting lists became 20 people deep.

"We decided if we wanted to expand our programming and grow, we needed support space for costumes and actors with this space, comes all these new possibilities," Halperin said last Tuesday during a tour of the campus.

She said one of the main goals, other than progressing theater and expanding programs, would include space for a bar, concession stands, a café, a deck, and nearby restaurants to allow spectators an atmosphere to relax in and discuss the nights events, long after the show has ended.

"It will make the experience better and bigger," said Halperin, who added that extra space for youth theater productions, education, and ample space to accommodate children would also be a big plus.

New Hampshire Commissioner of Cultural Resources Van McLeod, a speaker at the press conference last Tuesday, has been a long time supporter of the Playhouse and is a current supporter of its expansion.

"There is no other similar campus concept for performing arts in the area," said McLeod, who believes that expanding arts will benefit the economy. "New Hampshire is a major state taking a look at culture and the arts. We have a huge number of artists and a shift in the cultural arts."

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse's summer season will open on June 23 at the Weirs location.

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