November 19, 2009

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One last time
After 19 years, the Audi’s volunteer stewards launch their last big campaign'
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

To save the 1904 Concord City Auditorium, citizens from about 30 groups that use the stage banded together in 1991 and rescued it from being absorbed for other municipal uses.

They developed a wish list of projects to bring the building back to its former glory. The “Audi” was built in an era when New Hampshire towns were creating municipal “opera houses,” or entertainment halls, but it was in a rough state by 1991.

Now, through massive volunteer efforts, with people donating their particular skills and experience, gifts-in-kind and cash, the Friends of the Concord City Auditorium have checked off all of their goals save one.

They just launched a campaign to raise $200,000 for the last item on their wish list, dubbed the Flyspace Project.

The fly space is the area over the stage from which all of the stage equipment, lights, scenery and special effects are suspended, explained Carol Bagan of the Friends. When equipment is hoisted into the space above the stage, it “flies.”

The Audi’s original “hemp and pin rail” system consists of 24 iron pipes called batons, each suspended across the stage by three ropes. The ropes travel across the ceiling and down a wall to be tied off on wooden pins, as on a sailing ship, Bagan said. It can take three people to hoist a heavily weighted baton in this manual system, Bagan said.  

“It’s historic. And it works. And it’s interesting. But it’s not efficient,” Bagan said. This last Friends campaign is to replace it with a modern mechanized metal system with cables and counterweights.  

“In the past season, a touring show was unable to come into the auditorium because the existing system could not accommodate the counterweight requirements of the set. With this system that won’t happen anymore,” Bagan said.

Besides expanding options for what can be presented, a new system can be safer. You have to really know what you’re doing when you tie off ropes in the current system (stagehands are trained for that). If a baton were to fall it could be incredibly dangerous. It hasn’t happened recently, but years ago a baton landed on a set while no one was there, Bagan said.

Bagan emphasized that renovating and revitalizing the Audi has been done brick by “$10 brick.” To build a lobby to handle increased foot-traffic (and house more restrooms), the Friends asked for donations of $10 per brick. When the Friends launched a campaign to build fire stairs to open up all backstage levels and install an air-conditioning unit, gifts helped gain a “step up” or “degree down” in the campaign. Over the past 19 years, people have invested more than $1 million in this city-owned building through this method — no tax dollars involved, according to the Friends.

“Arts and entertainment should be affordable to everybody,” Bagan said.

Early in November, the Friends sent out about 5,000 letters about the Flyspace Project suggesting $10 gifts, Bagan said. In four days, the response was overwhelming, she said. No matter the amount, the donor’s name goes on a paper butterfly — the chosen logo for the project — posted in the Audi. One butterfly will be drawn to win two round-trip tickets provided by Southwest. If that weren’t enough of an incentive, a Concord family is matching Flyspace Project donations made in 2009, Bagan said.

The project is planned for July 2010, contracted with Sapsis Rigging Company.

For the Friends, it’s all about a lot of people pitching in where they can, and a few other towns have consulted them about this community-led template for saving a historic building.

“Nobody can do a lot. Everybody can do a little,” Bagan said. Nancy Brownstein of Act One Creative gave design work for the campaign. Town and Country Reprographics sponsored printing, and 40 volunteers showed up to help mail out the 5,000 letters. Retired police officer Dale Harrington runs the Web site, www.concordcityauditorium.org. The Audi cookie bakers don’t charge for cookies at events, but they have raised thousands of dollars from people who opt to donate when they take a cookie, Bagan said.

The Friends decide things by consensus and seek to spend locally (in state) on their projects.

Over the years thousands have contributed to Friends’ Audi efforts — in its first six weeks, 700 people signed in, Bagan said. To get the Audi floors redone in the 1990s, about 350 came to help unbolt and move seats one night. Each summer, at least 125 people volunteer for a three-day clean-up-fix-up “pitch in,” to prepare the Audi for the season — which now includes about 100 public events.

“It’s really a neat place,” Bagan said.


Steven “Dingo” Ihde, Dylan Gamblin, Victoria Hogan and Cory Cocchiaro in Psycho Beach Party. Photo courtesy Lisa DeFazio.

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