The Winnipesaukee Playhouse, founded in 2004 by siblings Lesley Pankhurst and Bryan Halperin along with their spouses, has followed a vision of bringing quality entertainment and arts education to The Lakes Region, and has quickly become a cultural destination in New Hampshire. In fact, the Playhouse has been so successful it has outgrown its current location in Weirs Beach and is setting its sights on a new state-of-the-art venue in Meredith, NH.
Since its very first show, The “Winni” Playhouse has garnered community support and critical acclaim for its award-winning productions and educational programs, and for providing year-round opportunities for locals and visitors alike. The current intimate Off-Broadway style theatre, which seats 84, is no longer able to meet the increasing demand for tickets.
In response, the Playhouse is planning to develop a theatre campus at the former Annalee Doll factory on Reservoir Road in Meredith. The completed campus will have increased seating capacity in the main theatre, as well as expanded classroom space, administrative offices, lobby, concession, and bathroom facilities. The plan also includes an outdoor performance space, eating area, and nature trails.
“We’ve completed Phase One of our three-phase plan,” says Executive Director Halperin. “This constituted water and sewer pipes underground, repaving and grading the parking areas, constructing staff housing on site, exterior lighting for the parking areas and pathways, and a small outdoor amphitheatre for future outdoor programming. We are now fundraising for Phase Two, which will be the construction of the theatre.”
Anonymous local supporters have pledged $1 million in matching funds to help with the fundraising for PhaseTwo. “Somebody just knew we had the project on the back burner and said we’d love to see this happen and this is what we can do for you,” said Pankhurst for an article in The Hippo. “We are only in the early phases of fundraising,” says Halperin, “but when we reach our goal for Phase Two we will construct a brand new 180-250-seat Mainstage theatre with lobby, bathrooms, concessions, box office and ample backstage and supporting spaces to accommodate our growth into the future.” The organizers are committed to creating a theatre that retains the intimate feel of the current location while increasing the capacity for their growing audience.
Phase three will consist of turning another building, the former Annalee Doll Museum, into an 80-90-seat Black Box theatre, which will be used for smaller scale productions and educational programs. This venue will also allow the company to resume children’s performances, which they put on hold a few years ago because of the challenges of changing sets so frequently for different shows.
The new location is already seeing plenty of activity. “We currently do all of our educational programs and rehearsals on the Meredith campus,” says Halperin, “The only thing we still do at our Weirs Beach location is our performances. Once Phase Two is complete we will move all of our operations, including the performances, over to the Meredith campus.”
Says Van McLeod, NH Commissioner for Cultural Resources, “The opportunity The Winni Playhouse has in Meredith is enormous and unique… Their plans are visionary and will make a real difference in the lives of people who live here and visit here.”
The Mill Falls Blogging Team
Images courtesy of The Winnipesaukee Playhouse. Rendering of the main stage theatre by David Towlun.