When the Winnipesaukee Playhouse moved from its small, storefront location in Laconia to its new one-of-a-kind performing arts campus in Meredith this past spring, the directors predicted a small increase in attendance for the first season in their new home. What they got was a show of support that far exceeded their expectations!
The Winnipesaukee Playhouse was founded in 2004, becoming so successful that it soon outgrew its intimate Weirs Beach theatre of 84 seats. With sights set on a bigger venue, the Playhouse assumed ownership of the former Annalee Doll Complex in Meredith in 2008, and put into action a plan to renovate the complex into a “Tanglewood type of setting” for their theatre and workshops. The 11-acre campus now boasts a state-of-the-art main stage theatre, nature trails, an outdoor amphitheater, picnic tables, and plenty of parking.
“The first season was a big success,” says Bryan Halperin, Executive Director of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse. “Attendance doubled from the prior year in the old space, [and] people came early to dine on campus and enjoy pre-show entertainment.” Bryan explains that Magic Foods Catering ran a concession operation at the theatre’s lobby bar, with soups, salads, sandwiches, beer, wine, and desserts. “We had ‘Busker Alley’ pre-show outdoor entertainment, generally musicians or our improv troupe who entertained at our outdoor amphitheatre before the show. All six shows we did this year were generally well received. The community seemed to enjoy the experience. We were very gratified by the enthusiasm.”
When asked if the summer season exceeded expectations, Bryan replied, “Definitely. While ticket sales still don’t cover all of our operating budget, the additional sales beyond what we predicted help cut into the deficit we need to raise through donations, grants, and other programs. We expected an increase in attendance simply from the curiosity factor of the new venue, but we did not predict the extent of the increase.”
The new venue seemed to be well received by the theatre’s supporters, too. “Finally there was a place for people to socialize, enjoy nature, have a glass of wine and not just show up 5 minutes before the play and take their seat. The point was to make the campus a destination for the community and I think we achieved that,” says Bryan.
The Winnipesaukee Playhouse asked patrons to offer feedback on the new location, in part through a survey that is offered online. “ . . . with so many new pieces to the puzzle we got a lot of feedback, much of it positive,” says Bryan, “but others with things to improve like lighting in the parking areas for example. We’ll be dissecting the feedback and seeing what we can do to improve those things for next season. Overall our supporters seemed very pleased with how much improved the campus is compared to our old location.”
The organization plans to use the new venue year round. In addition to Professional Summer Theatre, the Winnipesaukee Playhouse offers Community and Youth Theatre during the school year, as well as theatre education for all seasons. These winter programs are starting up soon, so be sure the check the Playhouse’s website for details.
What’s next for the new campus? Although original plans for a small black box theatre are on hold, “ . . . a new education building has become more of a priority than a second theatre space so we may look to do a combination of the two,” explains Bryan. “That said, we have lots of exciting ideas for developing the campus, so if somebody wants to become a benefactor they shouldn’t hesitate to get in touch!”
For more information, to take the end-of-summer survey, or to contribute to the ongoing efforts to bring an amazing theatre experience to the Lakes Region, please visit the Winnipesaukee Playhouse website at www.winnipesaukeeplayhouse.org.
The Mill Falls Blogging Team
images courtesy of The Winnipesaukee Playhouse