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The show does go on, all over the Valley, all through the year

Theater sings to the soul

Youth Players of Arts in Motion on the set of ‘Grease,’ presented at Kennett High School. (Arts in Motion Courtesy Photo). (click for larger version)
June 17, 2010
Theater opportunities in the Valley abound for children, youth, adults and the audience, too. "Everyone has something to offer; you won't be turned away," says Mark DeLancey, managing director of M&D Productions.

The Mt. Washington Valley is home to three year-round theater production companies, including M&D Productions, Arts in Motion and, new this summer, children's performances at Theater in the Wood. Each offers something a little different.

Here are their stories.

M&D Productions, which began 10 years ago, is a community theater, says DeLancey, hence the name "Your Theater" for their new home. Your Theater opened last October in the renovated space at Willow Common in North Conway.

"Before this we bounced around and were pushed in and out of spaces; roofs collapsed or properties were sold. Now we have signed a long term lease," says DeLancey. The space has an inviting lobby where the audience can enjoy refreshments, says DeLancey. He hopes to soon offer outdoor seating and obtain a liquor license, too.

What is community theater? "Some think of community theater as second rate. Not so — we raise awareness of the community, how we can create a better Mount Washington Valley," says DeLancey.

M&D Productions reaches out to community by inviting V.I.P. guests to sneak preview dress rehearsals free of charge and offers them red carpet treatment. DeLancey says they reach out to different local business sectors. For example, restaurant owners and staff were invited to a sneak preview of Tennessee Williams' "A Street Car named Desire," and retail personnel will be invited to Neil Simon's "California Suite." Free wine and snacks are served, too.

M&D Productions touches the community's social conscience. "When Ken Martin, artistic director for M&D Productions, and I lived in Hawaii, we saw community theater in action. We did the show 'Extremities,' to raise awareness for rape victims and hence the concept was born," says DeLancey.

DeLancey and Martin moved back to the Valley in 1999 and in 2000 showed "Extremities" again, launching the community theater concept. "We have done 62 shows and raised $55,000 since 2000," he says.

M&D Productions encourages the community to attend theater and makes it easy. He explains that on any opening night for any show, a guest can bring a "theater virgin" (someone who has never been to the theater before) and they will receive a two-for-one ticket. The person new to theater will enjoy the show free of charge.

On the Friday of opening week, guests are invited to pay what they can. Generally, tickets are $25 for non-members and $18 for members. DeLancey says people usually pay in the $15 to $20 range.

New this year is a ticket swap called Theater Partnership Program. Any guest who has attended a performance at the Barnstormers Theater or Eastern Slope Playhouse will receive $5 off their ticket at Your Theater. "Let's work together for people's entertainment dollars," says DeLancey.

M&D Productions works for the community, too. "We try to stay on the cutting edge and find the hot buttons in the community," says DeLancey. They have a new campaign, too. "We want to hear from community, we want the community to feel like this is our theater," he says.

DeLancey works hard on marketing. They have a presence on Facebook, which helps to connect theater with youth. "We try to keep aggressively pursuing different ways to market to reach people on the fence about going to theater," DeLancey explains.

The company has two seasons: mainstream and cutting edge. DeLancey describes mainstream as popular musicals and plays. Currently playing is "A Street Car Named Desire," to be followed by "California Suite."

"These shows still have a big draw," says DeLancey. Cutting edge shows include a silent performer, art shows, musical bands, poetry reading, dance and storytelling. Shows are performed in a black box theater setting. DeLancey describes this theater setting as up close and personal, in the moment. The theater seats 100.

Despite the lure of new technological entertainment — iPhones, Smart Phones, iPads, iTunes — young audiences are lured to the theater. "Our largest demographic is teenagers and 20-somethings, says Delancey. Coming soon, the company will be offering youth acting classes and workshops. "The theater connects with young adults," he says.

Glenn Noble agrees. "The kids (in high school) think theater is the 'in' thing to do," he says.

When Noble attended Kennett High School, though drama was big, he says there wasn't any facility for drama. Noble pursued his drama studies and graduated Plymouth State University in 1992. That year he and Nancy Shappell co-founded Arts in Motion for the purpose of offering youth and adults opportunities to learn and experience performing arts skills.

The non-profit company stages nine shows a year, performs at Kennett High School, Fryeburg Academy, Eastern Slope Playhouse and now has a new office and warehouse in Conway at the former Chuck Roast warehouse on Odell Hill Road.

"You will now see a strong drama presence at the high school and it's big," says Noble. "Theater is the 'in' thing to do." The company offers drama classes and training at the high school drama club.

Theater is popular at the high school because of the type of shows performed, Noble explains. "We chose the musical 'Grease' because it is still a cool show, and we also make it fun. Everyone who auditions is involved; even if they don't land an acting role, they can help with lighting, props or sound," he says.

Being on stage is a confidence builder. "It takes nerve to come out on stage for the first time, once you do it, you become addicted. It builds self-esteem and is a positive outlet for some kids who may not choose to go into sports. It is so cool; kids like being on stage," he adds.

This summer Arts in Motion is offering a children's summer camp for ages six through 14. Noble explains that the shows are self-written by the children and themes range from fairies to princesses.

Speaking of young children and theater, beginning this summer the Believe in Books Literacy Foundation's Theater in the Wood is presenting Papermill Children's Theater.

Carrie Costello, in charge of booking for Theater in the Wood, says children's theater will begin July 2 and run every Friday until Aug. 20 at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Papermill is a children's theater group hailing from Lincoln and will perform classics such as "Little Red Riding Hood," "Pinocchio," and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears".

The actual 180-acre wood named after the 100-acre wood in Winnie the Pooh, offers miles and miles of trails, a sugaring house and is home to the theater, an unusual sprung structure designed and built by Taylor Lucy. The building was originally built for the Polar Express Event and is made from Tedlar, an architectural PVF film product used in modular design. Though it wasn't intentional, the theater has astounding acoustics, says Lucy.

Theater in the Wood, whose net proceeds from events and merchandise sales all benefit the Believe in Books Literacy Foundation, which supports literacy initiatives in northern New England, also offers shows for adults all year long.

"People can also expect something every weekend, too. We have four different headliners for adults: national, jazz and blues, bluegrass and country and comedy," says Costello.

The performers act on a half round Shakespearean stage. The theater seats 250 or can be modified to seat 100. Costello says they play to a full house, mostly, but they are trying to build their audience. Theater in the Wood is on the social networks of Facebook, Twitter and Ning. "Once people find us, they want to come back," says Costello. She has been pleased with the turnout and interest.

Finding the theater is a journey in itself. The access road from Route 16 in Intervale is a long dirt road. Costello says some not familiar with the area fear they are lost or have missed a turn. Not to worry — there are trail markers along the way quoting famous people like Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss: "It's so much more friendly with two," Winnie the Pooh, or from Dr Seuss, "I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells," and Winnie again, "Rivers know this: There is no hurry."

Three different venues in the Valley, one common goal: To get people involved, whether it be on stage, behind stage or as a member of the audience.

"We encourage everyone to participate. It is amazing for the soul, whether a person is in the audience or on stage. We want to get you involved to love theater and love the arts," says Noble.

For more information and schedules, visit M&D Productions at www.yourtheater.com, Arts in Motion at www.artsinmotion.com and Theater in the Wood at www.believeinbooks.org.

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