The Hippo


May 29, 2020








The projection room at the State Theatre. MHA Collection. Gift of Roland Remillard.

“It’s Showtime: A History of Manchester’s Theaters”

Where: Millyard Museum, 200 Bedford St., Manchester
When: On view through Jan. 14
Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and college students, $4 for children ages 12 through 18, free for kids younger than 12
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Contact:, 622-7531

Pure nostalgia
Millyard Museum show looks back at Manchester theater history

By Kelly Sennott

 Manchester held as many as 20 theaters at one time — though you wouldn’t know it, looking around today, said John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Association. Most have disappeared.

But at the Millyard Museum, you can take a trip back with its special exhibit, “It’s Showtime: A History of Manchester’s Theaters,” on view through Jan. 14 and curated by Clayton, Jeff Barraclough and Suzanne DiBella-Olson.
The show comes after two “pretty heavy” museum exhibits, Clayton said. The first looked back at New Hampshire’s role in the presidential primary, which got national attention, thanks to the media storm pulsing through the Granite State last year. The second, inspired by political dialogue, was “Manchester’s Immigrants: Then and Now.”
“But this one is pure nostalgia,” Clayton said during an interview at the museum. “If you grew up here and remember going to these theaters, it really takes you back.”
The trip down memory lane starts before you even walk into the gallery — hanging above its entrance is a replica marquee of the State Theatre, which seated more than 2,100 people and was located near the corner of Bridge and Elm streets between 1929 and 1978. Inside are photos of the theater — including one featuring workers installing “Mask of Comus” on its roof — and video interviews with some men who worked there.
Other theaters highlighted include the Crown Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Strand Theatre, Empire Theatre, Eagle/Vitaphone Theatre, Queen Theatre, Park Theatre, Rex Theatre and, of course, the Palace Theatre, which celebrated its centennial last year. 
Some photos capture high points, with lines wrapping around the street.
“You would wait in line — in snow, rain, whatever — and you were lucky to get in,” Clayton said.
Others narrate their downfalls. New Hampshire Institute of Art Photography Chair Gary Samson’s 1985 photo, taken from a top-story window, shows firefighters working on the Strand Theatre fire on Hanover Street. (The Palace Theatre nearby remained safe due to its firewall, courtesy of builder Victor Charas.)
One frame contains trinkets and souvenirs from the Park Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln spoke during his 1860 Queen City visit, and on the opposite wall hangs a banner aimed at selling World War II war bonds, which would have hung at the Strand, State, Palace and Crown Theatres.
Visitors will also find costumes from the Palace’s productions of Les Misérables and The Addams Family; Majestic Theatre artwork; old newspaper advertisements collected by John Jordan; old event posters and programs; a trunk of theater props for kids play with; and a book asking visitors about the first films they saw in the theater; guests listed Bambi, Babes in Toyland, Star Wars or Cinderella.
“Part of this is celebrating the Palace starting its second century,” Clayton said. “But one thing we like about this exhibit is that it coincides with the effort to restore the Rex Theatre to its former grandeur.”
He’s talking about the nonprofit Old Sol Productions, whose goal is to turn the run-down building at 23 Amherst St. into the Old Sol Music Hall. Clayton said group members have been visiting the exhibit regularly to collect theater history and incorporate that into their resurrection plans. 
“They’re trying to save the Rex Theatre and bring it back as an entertainment venue with independent film, poetry readings and musical performances,” Clayton said. “So for us, to be celebrating the history of Manchester’s theaters while that effort is underway — there’s a nice symbiosis with the people of Old Sol.” 

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