June Q&A: Drama King

When Peter Ramsey, now 50, was a kid his house was right next door to the New London Barn Playhouse, and on summer nights he listened to "Hello, Dolly," "Oklahoma" and the other Broadway songs that wafted up from the stage to his open bedroom window. Maybe it was, as he says, "a kind of brainwashing" that instilled a deep love of the theatre - a love that led him to the stage himself, not as an actor, but as a creator and producer, now with the official title of president/CEO of Manchester's thriving Palace Theatre. Did you put on sheets-hung-over-a clothesline plays as a kid? No, I never did because we had the New London Barn Playhouse next door, so real plays were right there. What are your memories of that? When I was 10, I'd go over and peek in at the chorus girls changing. I got caught one night. They took me home and told my father to keep an eye on me. Eventually, I ran the spotlight, ushered, painted sets, sold Coca-Cola, which was five cents back then, I'd do everything. It was a great way to grow up. Did you ever want to be an actor? I never had the courage to go onstage. I stuttered as a young boy and by high school I was active in sports. I got away from it. You eventually got back into it in a big way, but in between you worked in several different jobs, including working in Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign ... I worked for Carter for a year and a half; I went all over the country. I still have a deep love of politics. I ran for the [N.H.] Legislature when I was a senior at Keene State College and served for eight years. I'm thinking of running again. Before you went to the Palace, you started a theatre in Meredith. Yeah, with Norman Leger, the owner of the New London Playhouse. When we opened the first night at the high school in Meredith we had sold just two tickets. I went downtown and handed out 100 free tickets. Still, there were only 11 people in the audience. Eventually, though, it became very successful. How much of a challenge was it when you took over at the Palace eight years ago? It was closed at the time and the board of directors wanted me to open it for six months. I didn't think it could be successful - there was little money in the bank - but I took the job. The first day I unlocked the door and didn't even know where the lights were. Turned out pretty well, though ... We started with a budget of $225,000; now, thanks to a great board of directors, it's almost $3 million. It started with one employee, me; now there's a staff of 12 full-timers and 25 part-timers. Last year there were 240 performances at the theater; 140,000 people attended and 30,000 of them were children, which is really great. Any temptation to get on the stage? No, I just love standing in back seeing how the audience reacts. That's how I get enjoyment. For more information about the Palace Theatre and upcoming performances, visit www.palacetheatre.org.
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