Youth Theater Program Part of Newport Opera House's Grand Vision

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Youth theater program part of Newport Opera House's grand vision

By Patrick Adrian [email protected]

Feb 8, 2020 Updated Feb 8, 2020

NEWPORT — Meg Cowan, director of the Newport Opera House, has a clear vision for the historic venue’s future: to provide a diversity of high-quality shows and events. But first she will need to acquire the equipment to accommodate her plans to host film screenings, rock concerts, orchestras and hopefully a youth theater program.

“What we have in lighting and sound is rather primitive,” Cowan said. “We’d like to host some more complex performances like tribute bands or orchestra, but we have to be able to give them what they’ll need for a system to plug into.”

With support from Newport Economic Development Director Cody Morrison, the opera house is looking for New Hampshire businesses to commit to purchase community development finance administration (CDFA) tax credits on its behalf, with a fund target of $174,000.

The state-run CDFA tax credit program awards approximately $5 million in tax credits annually to support nonprofit organizations for the purpose of spurring economic development. The recipient raises funds by selling the tax credits to New Hampshire businesses.

The program is highly competitive, however, and to obtain funding an applicant must show that enough businesses are committed to purchase the tax to qualify for consideration.

The purchasing of these tax credits gives the business “more of a say in where its tax dollars will go,” Morrison said.

For example, a local restaurant might hypothetically see a benefit to direct a portion of its taxes to the opera house if the investment might translate to more customers patronizing the restaurant before or after a show.

“The opera house could bring an extra couple of thousand people into the town and region,” Morrison said.

The Newport Opera House currently has a capital reserve of $126,000 for the intent to upgrade the theater’s lighting system, though that amount is only enough to buy a few lights, according to Cowan.

“Lighting is very expensive,” she said. “Even a replacement light bulb is $100.”

The venue’s current lights are arguably archaic by modern standards. They must be manually repositioned, which is essentially impossible to do during a performance.

Modern lights are LED, which are more flexible and easier to manage, according to Cowan. Unlike the current lighting, modern lighting systems can be operated by a computerized touch pad.

“But it takes an awful lot to do that,” she added, saying that she’d love to eventually have lights that can move by computer command, though that is a “step beyond the basic plan.”

The $174,000 in funds would provide the minimum in equipment to move toward the wanted direction, according to Cowan. About $125,000 would go toward purchasing lighting, $30,000 toward the sound system and $30,000 for a new projector to run films at the theater.

“Our goal is to bring this beautiful old building into the 21st Century by providing a more complex set of entertainment,” Cowan said.

Cowan also sees an opportunity for the Newport Opera House to operate a student drama program. Newport Middle-High School presently does not have one, and Cowan, having a lifelong passion for the theatrical arts, is troubled by the lack of opportunities in drama for young people.

When Cowan was involved in Newport stage productions during the 1980s and ‘90s, “everyone was on board,” she said. “Now we’re struggling to cast a small play. And I know there are kids out there who want to be on stage and in the theater.”

Cowan’s vision for a youth drama program could easily pass for a class-credited work-study program. Students would learn to operate all aspects of a production, from performance, operating the lights, set design, costume and makeup to box office management. There are also grant programs available to secure funds to hire a program director.

But the first step is upgrading the theater equipment, she added.

Businesses interested in buying tax credits to support the opera house are encouraged to contact the Newport Opera House at (603) 863-2412 or by email at www.newportoperahouse.com. The deadline to make a pledge is March 6.