Like the aquatic life that thrives in the ocean that borders it, Portsmouth is stocked with an unlimited variety of theatrical experiences just for the asking. Boasting dozens of groups sharing several theatres, most of these stages are within walking distance of Market Square. It’s actually quite challenging to keep up with the breadth of shows that take place year-round, but it’s well worth it to at least stick your toe in now and then.
Passersby at Prescott Park in Portsmouth often can’t help but peek in the windows of a petite, charming brick building at 105 Marcy Street. Quite often, someone will peek back at you, for a stage surrounded by 80 seats is directly on the other side of the glass. This is Players’ Ring Theatre, one of the jewels in the crown. This intimate theatre, once known as the Heritage Museum, is bordered by the teeming flower garden of Prescott Park on one side, and the village of Strawbery Banke on the other.
Inside the bricks, Players’ Ring provides a stage for several theatre groups with names like Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Soul Soup to share, in addition to a roster of its own internally produced shows. With such a wide variety of visionaries in one place, you can anticipate a fresh performance about every two weeks.
Founded in 1992 by Barbara Newton and her late husband Gary, Players’ Ring awards funding to aspiring playwrights in addition to giving performances. Visit www.playersring.org for details.
Just up Bow Street, creative renovations turned an 1892 beer and grain storage facility into the Seacoast Repertory Theatre. Seacoast Rep in 1987 began filling the stage with musicals, dramas, variety shows and concerts. PAPA, the Portsmouth Academy of Performing Arts, also calls the space home. Founder and Artistic Director Roy M. Rogosin and co-founder Eileen Rogosin keep the schedule lively. From funky midnight performances of “The Rocky Horror Show Live” to fine dramas like “A Streetcar Named Desire” and children’s programming like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the SRT covers diverse subject matter.
If Portsmouth is a sea of culture, the 126-year-old Music Hall is its anchor. From local theatre and dance to independent films, from nationally touring performers to presidential primary stump speeches, most Granite Staters will eventually find themselves there at one event or another. Known for its exceptional acoustics, the Music Hall is cozy in a Victorian-velvet kind of way, and seems unfazed by its many years as grande dame of such a thriving arts community.
Just outside Portsmouth, The Mill Pond Center for the Arts in Durham is another gem with a rich history that is shared by many performing artists. Founded in 1981 by dancer Judith Roberts and her husband Lewis, this former inn on Mill Pond gained a dance studio with sprung floor and a 90-seat theater in the hayloft during their tenure. Most importantly, they provided the inspiration and willpower to grow a diverse cultural and community center from scratch. New owners Wilburn and Deborah Bonnell oversaw the addition of an art gallery and a chamber music series. They also took steps to ensure the legacy of Mill Pond, and established it as a non-profit living arts center, overseen by a board of directors. The dance heritage remains intact, however, as the center continues to host the The Mill Pond Modern Dance Collective each year. NH
This article appears in the October 2004 issue of New Hampshire Magazine