For Hatbox Theatre’s first Pitch Night last week, attendees proposed a variety of programming for Season 1, from comedy and improv to music and theater. One suggested a storytelling series like The Moth.
It’s the kind of response Hatbox visionary Andrew Pinard was looking for, especially in the black box theater’s first month and a half. He knew the demand was there, considering how fast he was able to fill what he’s calling “Season Zero” — the time from now until Sept. 1, when Season 1 starts — but it was nice to see that translate into performance pitches.
“I saw lots of energy and interest in the space,” Pinard said via phone the morning after. “I’m excited for what is to come.”
Pinard, known locally for his trademark Discovering Magic show, started Hatbox Theatre in the Steeplegate Mall just over a month ago with the idea of creating a business plan similar to that at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, also a black box, which invites producers to propose programming with the intention of splitting proceeds with the house.
Which of the pitched shows will fill Hatbox’s 12 mainstage slots will be announced at a free launch night, tentatively scheduled for June, where groups will perform five-minute previews. The only mainstage segment that isn’t up for grabs is one reserved for the theater’s A Christmas Carol production around Christmastime.
New Hampshire playwright Donald Tongue was one of those attendees pitching shows. He proposed Candid Candidate, which he wrote and produced at the Leddy Center for the Performing Arts in January, and The Truth Will Spring Yuh, about a halfway house for women in Georgia.
At the time of his phone interview, Tongue was also preparing for a set of short one-acts already accepted by Hatbox — Higgledy Piggledy, which is made up of four self-written plays published by Heuer Publishing. Tongue, Mandy Blanchard and John Decareau will perform in Fishbowl, School Portrait Monologues, Void and Genesis at the theater this weekend.
It’s not always easy getting original or risky work produced in New Hampshire.
“Most companies aren’t willing to take a chance on new works just because of the potential lack of box office [revenue]. They’re really driven by economics,” Tongue said.
But the small, 92-seat space allows for risk-taking; it’s not as expensive to put on a show as it is in a large auditorium. Tongue likes that it’s intimate but not too tiny.
“I’ve worked in intimate spaces before that feel a little cramped, but this gives you plenty of room to mount your production and be nice and close to the audience. For new works, you don’t want [venues] that are too big because generally, for new works, you’re not going to get a lot of audience members,” Tongue said. “[Here] you feel connected to the audience, and the audience feels close to the crowd. You can get a feel and read for new works especially.”
Pinard said he’s still learning what works, what doesn’t work. Some shows, like 2 Across and Hatbox’s inaugural stand-up comedy night, were really well-attended, others not so much because of other events going on that night — for instance, the Community Players of Concord’s The Pirates of Penzance — and holidays like Mother’s Day.
“We’re still learning the space. It will take a year to really understand how everything works,” Pinard said. “It’s a matter of being aware of the people around you and what other groups are doing and trying to balance your programs accordingly.”