March 1, 2007


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Into the future
Manchester’s Majestic Theatre to begin search for a new home
By Heidi Masek

Twelve years ago, the Majestic Theatre took up temporary residence in a Ste. Marie Parish auditorium at 281 Cartier St. It signed another 10-year lease last year, but the parish has recently started a facilities feasibility study and asked Majestic what its plans are.

With theoretically nine years to sort themselves out, the Manchester community theater company is about to begin a campaign to build or buy its own venue.

“The space we’re in now was always supposed to be a temporary space,” said founder and artistic director A. Robert Dionne. The Theatre is limited by all kinds of things, including show scheduling and realizing its original vision, which includes offering after-school programs in a community center. Ste. Marie staff said it is too early to comment, but Dionne said as one of the biggest parishes in the state they are looking ahead at how to best serve their congregation.

“They’re not rushing us out ... The church has been very good to us over the years,” Dionne said. Majestic is producing three dinner-theater shows with small casts this winter and has six larger shows scheduled from June through October. Director of development Karen Bassette said the company wants to take proactive steps to having its own building. With no project fund as of yet, the nonprofit has its work cut out for it.

To that end Majestic is inviting friends and supporters to brainstorming sessions led by Martin Novom from the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17. Novom is a consultant who trains nonprofits and volunteers to fundraise and organize, Bassette said.

Majestic performed at West High School for five seasons, rehearsing at Ste. Marie’s, but had to find a new home after janitorial privatization in 1994. They renovated Ste. Marie’s 300-seat auditorium in 1995.

The Majestic would like to be able to rent to other groups, which they can’t do now because of their relationship with the church. It’s “maxed out,” Dionne said. A basketball game, rehearsal and religious classes can happen simultaneously.

“We get a lot of calls right now from people looking for venues,” Dionne said. Renting would provide revenue and a small theater option in Manchester. Dionne expects to stick with about 300 seats.

Derryfield School’s auditorium is about that size but is usually booked, Dionne said. There are other venues. The Acting Loft educational theater uses a church multi-purpose room in Manchester. The Jewish Federation of New Hampshire has a stage in a gym which seats 350, recently renovated by the Manchester Community Theatre Players. However, anytime an auditorium is attached to a school or religious community, scheduling can become difficult.

Dr. Alan Kaplan of MCTP said they have been able to rent the Jewish Federation stage to Music and Drama Company for their Diary of Anne Frank production. Other groups can call 627-8787 to book that space. A former board member of both Majestic and Acting Loft, Kaplan said a stage’s owner also affects material choice.

“Rob can tell you better than anybody else,” Kaplan said. There have been plays Dionne wanted to produce but wouldn’t because of Majestic’s church affiliation, Kaplan noted. “Prudence” keeps Kaplan from staging certain content at the Jewish Federation.

“Our schedule this year reflects a lot of changes because we couldn’t get space within our own space,” Dionne said.

Taking inventory of what the organization has and needs is the first step to finding a new home. One asset Dionne believes Majestic has is an energetic and passionate audience. Bassette said the group hopes to find out which resources Majestic volunteers can offer at the March event.

The effort will be volunteer-driven, steered by the staff and board. Volunteers will analyze needs and see if there’s a building in Manchester that can support the company.

“We don’t want to close ourselves off to any opportunities,” Bassette said.

The Majestic has a capital campaign fund, but it was geared for “rainy day” projects. Now fundraising will go toward the new theater, Dionne said.

Novom will give an introduction and lead idea-sharing Friday evening, with more in-depth discussion Saturday. Call 669-7469 or e-mail to participate.

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Wake up to ‘night Mother