June 8, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: We seek the Grail
By Dan Szczesny

Last weekend, an unusual gathering took place at the Capitol Center for the Arts in downtown Concord.

Prior to a screening of The Producers (alas, the new musical version, not the original film from 1968), a group of representatives from New Hampshire’s theater community—many of them actual producers themselves—assembled in the lobby.

Seated in a large circle, they were asked a series of provocative questions by none other than Van McLeod, the state’s commissioner of culture resources, who acted as session facilitator.

How much do they spend on marketing? Who is their audience? How far would people travel to see their productions? Could they work together to promote their summer offerings? Who is their competition?

Not content to be a desk-bound commissioner, McLeod rolled up his sleeves and did a fairly good Phil Donahue impression, getting theater people to talk openly of their problems, their frustrations and ways they could work together.

What McLeod was after is the Holy Grail of the state’s arts community—cooperation on a wide scale among disparate groups so that the state can more successfully pitch itself to the kinds of businesses and visitors that drive our economy.

Historically, the arts in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire have existed in isolation. They’ve been fostered in patchwork fashion by local groups, often with little cooperation from the outside world.

Theater is a good example. Across the state, literally hundreds (not dozens, but hundreds) of Granite State theater groups stage everything from one-act plays to full-blown operas all year round.

The productions range from high school to high art, but overall the standards are quite good, as anyone who has attended the now-annual New Hampshire Theatre Awards (at Manchester’s Palace Theatre) can attest.

So if you’re into theater and you’re willing to drive an hour, you can find good stuff in New Hampshire every week of the year. It’s just not all packaged in one central area, like Broadway or London’s West End.

However, if even rudimentary efforts were made to coordinate and promote the state’s ongoing theatrical feast—to collect and disseminate information on schedules and shows and performers—we could reap huge long-term benefits.

Van McLeod realizes this. And even though he doesn’t have a big budget to work with, he is at least making an effort to get groups to begin moving in that direction.

Theater isn’t the only area where coordination would pay off. The state’s southern tier has a surprisingly rich classical music scene—so much so that groups such as Concord’s own Granite State Symphony Orchestra sometimes inadvertently schedule their concerts on the same nights as those of other groups.

Several times this past season, the GSSO staged Concord concerts that took place on exactly the same date and time as other groups visiting Concord, such as the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra. When that happens, what’s a music-lover to do?

In the past year, however, orchestra officials have arranged their schedules so they don’t overlap. The end result will be a richer, fuller, and more attractive scene for classical music fans. And that, in turn, is good for the area’s long-term future.

In theater, McLeod has his work cut out for him. Community groups can have difficultly cooperating, but that’s no reason to not make the effort. Last Friday’s pre-Producers session was a good step in the right direction.


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