May 4, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: The show must go on
By Jody Reese

The effort to transform Manchester into a destination city is constantly evolving.

New players enter the game, old ones exit; fresh ideas will surface, and we may find ourselves going in surprising new directions.

In recent months, it’s been clear that city government won’t take a leadership role in any big new projects for a while. But Manchester’s renaissance is far from over. So who will step up to fill the void?

This is an important question because one thing Manchester cannot afford to do is rest on its laurels. Great things have happened here, but there’s still much to be done.

Like what? Last year’s Theatre in the Park program in Veterans Park shows what’s possible when private citizens take the initiative.

What happened was that leaders of a local theater troupe, the New Thalian Players, thought it might be a good idea to start something Manchester lacked: an outdoor summer theater program.

A similar effort was the nucleus some years ago of the now famously successful Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth. Starting modestly, it now offers a summer calendar chock-a-block full of shows and performances, drawing thousands of people to the city’s downtown all summer long.

Why not Manchester? Starting from nowhere, organizers last year raised enough funds and busted through the typical bureaucratic hurdles. The result was a crackerjack outdoor performance of the musical Grease last July—three performances, actually, free and open to all.

And guess what? More than 5,000 people turned out for the performances. It was a huge crowd drawn to the heart of downtown for an event that was different from a baseball or hockey game. Not only did Grease hit on a gap in Manchester’s menu of summer attractions, but it showed how it could be filled.

In fact, it was such a success (even the weather cooperated) that plans were made immediately to expand it this year to two weekends. The show for this summer has been picked—it’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the farcical musical set in ancient Rome—and auditions were held this past weekend.

And here’s where you come in. To give this program a fighting chance to take root as a Manchester summer tradition, the business community needs to step up and help make it happen.

In Manchester’s evolving renaissance, Theatre in the Park is good for business, good for downtown and good for the city. It’s also a good example of the kind of quality-of-life improvement that will keep downtown energized in the coming years.

Hippo is supporting the effort by printing a newspaper-like program for the event. Also, my colleague Jeff Rapsis is working with the board of directors to round up support for this worthy venture.

I hope you’ll join me not only in Veterans Park this summer, but in helping Theatre in the Park happen by helping out any way you can. If it comes to life like Portsmouth’s Prescott Park Arts Festival, we’ll all be winners.


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