Catching Up With Scott Severance of Jean’s Playhouse
He’s a 30-year theater professional who says he “hates theatre” because it’s stressful and not lucrative. He’s an award-winning actor and director who does it only because he has “no other marketable skills.” He’s also very funny — pulling your leg is part of his schtick. A lifelong resident of New Hampshire, Scott Severance is well-known and well-regarded in the theater community. He has had, as he puts it, “a long history of various addresses” in the state, but now he is in the North Country, in Lincoln, as producing director for the brand-new, 260-seat Jean’s Playhouse. He’s only been there for about a year, but he cites “strides in the right direction,” including an increase in attendance and revenue, and improving the Playhouse’s “local TripAdvisor ranking by five places.” But his pride and joy is the Playhouse production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that toured throughout the country during December. After that wrapped up, he planned to take “a long winter’s nap.”
You call yourself the “Engineer on this Magical Crazy Train.” What’s that mean? Lincoln is a tourist town, and three of its biggest attractions are the Café Lafayette Dinner Train, the Hobo Railroad and the steam locomotive at Clark’s Trading Post. Doing theatre for a living is crazy, and on those special occasions when you achieve theatrical excellence, it can be magical. I am really just along for the ride here, but my business card claims I am in charge … so I come up with phrases like that to justify my existence.
When and why did you join Jean’s Playhouse? I was hired in late October of 2014, hit the ground running, and miraculously I am still employed (and alive). I had grown weary of the “gig to gig” nature of my professional acting/directing career, so a steadier job in the world of theatre arts was extremely appealing.
What’s been accomplished so far? A ton … and very little. Lots of capital improvements, a far more committed and energetic community involvement, an extremely diverse and populated event calendar, a more engaged audience base, attendance and revenue are up, expenses decreased and organizational infrastructure advancements across the board. And yet it feels like we have barely scratched the surface … climbing an actual mountain is not an inaccurate metaphor for this process.
What is the biggest challenge? Money, money, money … the dwindling consumer entertainment dollar (people simply do not go out as much as they used to) and the constant pressure to create artistic brilliance on a shoestring budget. We have a beautiful new building, but the expenses and upkeep for this building are daunting.
The biggest thrill? Probably when we take our final bow on the “A Christmas Carol” tour. I anticipate needing the proverbial “long winter’s nap,” hopefully on some tropical beach somewhere.
True that “A Christmas Carol” is the biggest production in the history of the theater? Not necessarily in the size of the set or the number of cast members, but absolutely in the financial expense, the planning minutiae and its importance to the future growth of this theater. A national tour is an insanely complicated undertaking. As the script adapter, production manager, director and lead actor in this production, I have an enormous personal stake in making this a truly special show. So it is most certainly the biggest production in my own little history.
What are your hopes for the theater? It’s all in our mission and vision statements: “Celebrating and inspiring humanity through artistic excellence” and “the premier center for the arts, building a passionate world of creativity and imagination from the heart of the White Mountains.” My first goal is to get the theater to survive, then thrive, then they build a museum with my name on it (hahaha).
What role does Jean’s Playhouse play in the community? I often feel that one of my roles as producing artistic director is as some sort of Willy Wonka-type community social director. We are developing a positive buzz as a gathering place for good times, for laughter and music, for the education and enrichment of the kids. We are working hard to make this theater one of the reasons a tourist might make that long drive up to those NH mountains.
Is theater in the North Country any different from that in southern NH? Population density and travel times present different obstacles than our southern NH friends may experience, but ultimately theater is simply all about storytelling and honest, creative hard work.
You say the theater was “grown from humble roots.” How humble? NCCA was founded in 1986, and started out doing children’s theater under a tent. Moved into the old Papermill building and thrived for years under a leaky roof and amid the local critter population. When the Papermill was demolished in 2009, operations were moved into the Governor Adams Lodge at Loon Mountain until the new building was ready.
When did you get the theater bug? Divorced parents, a move to a new community, skipping a grade in school and some unfortunate bullying had conspired to create a sad little boy in 1968 or so. Somehow I found comedy as my outlet, reasoning that if I could make people laugh they would like me (or leave me alone). Theater has been a survival mechanism for me ever since.
Did you grow up knowing you’d make a career of it? I did not really commit to my theater muse until my college years at UNH, then it was all systems go and I have since misplaced the “off” switch.
Your worst moment on the stage? Oh my, there have been so many … maybe the Annie (as FDR) at old Theatre by the Sea Portsmouth, when I got disoriented leaving stage for curtain call and fell chin first on a support railing and into an audience member’s lap (and later needed emergency room stitches, still in full costume and makeup).
Sounds like a rural North Country theater troupe would make a good subject for a sitcom. Who would play Scott Severance? We often joke that we would make a hilarious reality series … I would audition for the role myself, but probably wouldn’t get cast. I am a mashup of John Belushi, Jackie Gleason, Kevin James and Bugs Bunny.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing? I would be the sports voice for some major league team. I am a certified sports junkie, and have the FM radio vocal pipes and sense of humor required for that job. I went to school with Jack Edwards, the TV voice of the Bruins, and would trade places with him in a heartbeat.
Which do you like better — acting or directing? Neither. I hate theater. It’s not lucrative and it’s stressful. But I have no other marketable skills, so there it is. I will be directing “All Shook Up” for StageCoach Productions in Nashua this April and “Lend Me A Tenor” at Jean’s to open summer season 2015.
For more information about the schedule, visit jeans-playhouse.com.