The Hippo


Jan 21, 2020








From a Palace Youth Theatre production. Courtesy photo.

Attend the New Hampshire Theatre Awards

Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, 225-1111,
When: Saturday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $38-$50

And the theater awards go to…
Three winners announced preceding awards night

By Kelly Sennott

 While the majority of award winners will be revealed during the 14th New Hampshire Theatre Awards on Saturday, Jan. 23, three special winners were announced in advance. Those winners talked with The Hippo about their humble origins and love of theater.

The Francis Grover Cleveland Award for Lifetime Achievement
Elaine and Bruce Gatchell, Leddy Center for the Performing Arts
When husband-wife team Elaine and Bruce Gatchell founded the Leddy Center for the Performing Arts 41 years ago, there weren’t many theater companies around.
“Someone told me there were only three in the state at the time, though I’m not sure if that’s true,” Elaine Gatchell said via phone last week. 
Both she and her husband were teaching music at the time — she in the Epping school system, he at Concord High School — and she was also choir director at Epping Community Church.
“I really always wanted to do a Broadway musical — only because I really wanted to be a director. I thought, this is my opportunity to start something. I used my choir as a nucleus, and because I had been teaching in the Epping schools ... I knew everyone in town,” Elaine Gatchell said.
Their first play was Guys and Dolls. Plays were in the town hall those early years. The company didn’t find a real home of its own until 1983, when it moved into the former movie theater at the top floor of the Leddy Building, made accessible by building owner and theater member Dr. Paul Gustavson.
Elaine Gatchell had met Gustavson during a “doctor’s appointment” when his office was in Raymond. When she went in, she told him she was there under false pretense; she’d heard of his beautiful singing voice and wanted him to be her Fagin in Oliver! As it turned out, he knew the music well.
“He opened his drawer and brought out the score of Oliver!,” Elaine Gatchell said. “Oh my lord, he was better than I could have dreamed of. Such a professional. He starred in over 100 of my productions.”
The company moved into the Leddy Building when Gustavson moved his practice to Epping. He took up the first floor and let the theater company take up the second one rent-free.
“I thought [the space] was beautiful. I saw all kinds of potential,” Elaine Gatchell said. “A handful of volunteers went in and tore down the horsehair plaster, saved the beautiful ceiling, and my husband literally built everything there, including the lighting booth, the extra fire escape, the tiered seating and the stage.”
She said every cent earned went straight to a variety of charity organizations in those early, rent-free years. The group moved to a new location, the former home of the Emissaries of Divine Light, less than a mile from the original building in 2008. While donating 100 percent of proceeds isn’t sustainable today, some things do remain the same. Elaine Gatchell is still executive director (with 143 shows under her belt), and her husband is still music director. Bruce Gatchell also still directs traffic in the parking lot before shows and pops the popcorn. (In fact, one patron recently made an Afghan blanket inspired by his popcorn.)
“I’m amazed at how long we’ve been at this thing, but it actually doesn’t seem like that long,” Bruce Gatchell said via phone. “I think Elaine makes it a very warm and inviting place.”
“Matty” Award for Vision and Tenacity
Shelly Hudson, founder of The Performer’s Playground
Before she was the executive director for Red River Theatres in Concord, Shelly Hudson was creating an indie theater scene in Sullivan County.
Hudson started the Performer’s Playground in 2004. She’d been working for the Newport High School theater program, but budget cuts and changes in qualification standards required her to step back and try something new.
“I made the decision to step out of the school and start my own nonprofit,” Hudson said via phone. “There were a lot of productions being produced in the area, but they were adult-focused, with only supporting or background roles for youth. I decided, after my experience at Newport High School as a theater teacher, I wanted to focus on theater for youth ages 5 to 21. … The Newport, Claremont area is underserved when it comes to this kind of extra programming, so it was a good fit.”
Shows that first year included Medea, Treasure Island and Once Upon a Mattress. She worked closely with teachers in the district so that the plays coincided with what was being taught in school. Hudson got support among kids, too; they often came back to perform, even while they were in college, she said. By the time she’d left she’d worked with 500 youth.
Hudson left the theater executive/artistic director position and became executive director of Red River Theatres in 2012. But she occasionally goes back to help, like with the 2015 take of Romeo and Juliet, which she produced and directed.
Hudson’s next project is Amplified Arts, an arts center she hopes will include a semi-professional theater company, art gallery, music venue and arts education program in Sullivan County.
Children’s and Youth Theatre Award
The Palace Youth Theatre
When Megan Quinn joined the Palace Theatre staff about four years ago, theater camp sessions were made up of maybe 30 kids. Today, numbers are at almost 90. 
“It’s crazy. We also had auditions for Hairspray, Jr. this weekend, and we had about 150 kids come in,” Quinn, the company’s youth theater administrator and company manager, said via phone.
The Palace Youth Theatre has been in the Manchester community about 15 years under the management of her, Carl Rajotte, the theater’s artistic director, and Nate Sawyer, the theater’s assistant youth theater artistic director. 
Kids from across the state, ages 8 to 18, perform in about six or seven shows every year. More than 500 students take part. The program’s unique in that if kids excel and wish to do more with musical theater, they can audition for the Palace Teen Apprentice Company or the Palace Teen Company, which puts on two fully staged productions every year. Kids in this company are treated like professional actors, and many have gone on to do big things.
“In addition to a show, they also learn about how to audition for a professional show, how to make a resume, what a good headshot is,” Quinn said.
Alumni include Max Clayton, who was on Broadway for Gigi: The Musical, and Kaleigh Cronin, who was the understudy for Emma Stone in the 2014-2015 run of Cabaret on Broadway. 

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