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Mt. Washington Valley Theatre Co. is 40 years old and still going strong

'The Music Man' now onstage at Eastern Slope Playhouse in North Conway

The cast of ‘The Music Man,’ Mt. Washington Valley Theatre Company’s first show of the 2010 summer season, will sing and dance their way into audiences’ hearts. The show is playing now through July 10 at Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway. (Courtesy Photo). (click for larger version)
July 08, 2010
"We want to say please turn off the television, come see a live performance at mine or any of the Valley theaters. Experience how moving it is to see characters come alive on stage," says Linda Pinkham, producing artistic director for the past 29 years of the Mt. Washington Valley Theater Company. The summer musical theater company will be performing four shows through Aug. 29 at its home at the Eastern Slope Playhouse in North Conway.

Pinkham tells their story

Back in the 1950s, actors traveled from New York City to perform summer stock at the Eastern Slope Playhouse, which looked very much like a dance hall, explains Pinkham. "This was very successful in the '50s and '60s; there were some well known people, some became famous," she says. The show closed in the mid-1960s.

In the early 1970s, members of the community decided they wanted a theater again. The search began and a group of Williams College and a few Dartmouth College students were recruited to perform classic shows. The troupe lasted 12 years and boasted famous players such as Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue), filmmaker John Sayles and actor David Strathairn.

"It was very good theater, but they performed shows audiences didn't want to see," says Pinkham. But interest dwindled and another era began.

The dawn of the all-musical venue began. Pinkham took over as the producing artistic director in 1982 and says shows have all been musical since then. "In the 1980s and 1990s, we were incredibly popular, shows were always sold out. Seems like it was a high point for musicals in our culture and our country," says Pinkham.

The following decades brought challenges. "In the late '90s it [business] just became tougher, I'm not sure why," says Pinkham. She says changing demographics probably had an impact — people who grew up with musicals were getting older and not coming to theater. Of course, the electronic age packed some punch, too. Pinkham says the theater company has adapted to attract the younger crowd and to keep up to date. "We have a balance of shows, some are fluffy and entertaining, some are edgy, some send a message," she says. This summer the theater company is performing "The Music Man" (now through July 10) and "Singin' In the Rain" (July 13 through 24), along with "The Full Monty" (July 27 through Aug. 24) and "Hair" (Aug. 17 through Aug. 29).

Who are the performers?

The performers are resident actors, explains Pinkham. The company ranges from 16 to 20 actors, with a combination of local and non-local talent.

Each year, actors audition to become a part of the company and many return year after year. Some go on to perform on Broadway, some become famous. "Gina Davis was here," Pinkham noted. Pinkham also hires a company of singers from New York and guest artists from all over the company. Some are members of the Actor's Equity Union, but most are not, she says.

To keep up appearances there have been upgrades to the theater. A newly refurbished lobby, showcasing past and present actors, and a reception area where brownies, bottled water and iced tea are served at intermission have been added. Pinkham notes the bottled water is donated by Pepsi, in honor of Jerry Downs, a devoted theater patron and lovable local who recently passed on. There have also been upgrades to the restrooms and each of the 183 theater seats has been taken apart and re-stitched with a brand new fabric. And, of course, the theater is handicapped accessible and air-conditioned.

The Mt. Washington Valley Theater Company has a commitment to children too. "We include local kids as actors. In 'The Music Man,' there are seven local kids acting," Pinkham says. The children range in age from nine to 14 years and most have acted in local plays, play music or dance, explains Pinkham. "Each season we do one family show," she says.

There is something for everyone at the theater this summer: Family show, classics and theater that's a little edgy. Pinkham says to encourage more people to attend they are offering flex or season passes which would break down to $23.75 per show.

Pinkham encourages the community and visitors to attend. "It is about love, life, human beings. There aren't too many things more important than understanding one another. If we can do this by laughing or tapping your feet, what a better way!" she says.

For more information visit www.mwvtheatre.org or call 356-5776.

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