Nashua venue will be competition for Capitol Center for the Arts – which is great

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 03-30-2023 9:00 PM

The creation of another performing arts venue in New Hampshire might seem cause for concern to those who sell tickets at existing performing arts venues.

Quite the opposite, says Sal Prizio, executive director of Concord Center for the Arts.

“For the arts scene in general, the more critical mass we have in our state, the more attractive we become not only to citizens but to people traveling through New Hampshire on vacation,” said Prizio, responding to the upcoming opening of the Nashua Center for the Arts in the state’s second-biggest city.

More places to host professional shows and plays not only draws attention from potential audience members, he said, it also draws attention from performers.

“The big route for artists in New England is Boston-Portland. The more we develop critical mass – vibrant performance venues – the more they’ll look at routing through New Hampshire, as well. … If we can tell an artist they can play 2 or 3 shows in the state at (different venues), we can save a little money on it and the artist doesn’t have to work at booking those shows.”

The state agrees.

“While there may be some friendly competition, New Hampshire’s presenting venues are far enough away from each other that competition really isn’t an issue. In fact, New Hampshire’s presenting and producing venues and organizations collaborate on many levels,” Sarah L. Stewart, commissioner of the N.H. Department of Natural & Cultural Resources, wrote in an email response to the Monitor.

The Nashua Center for the Arts is a 750-seat theater built on Main Street that will have its official ribbon-cutting on Saturday, April 1, following years of debate, fund-raising and construction. Its strikingly modern design replaced a traditional building that old-timers remember as home to Miller’s Department Store – “Meet Me At Millers” was a Nashua slogan for years – and more recent residents remember as Alex’s Shoes.

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It will be roughly in the middle of performing arts centers in the state’s southern portion. Nashua is notably smaller than venues like the 1,800-seat Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach or the Capitol Center with 1,300 seats but roughly equivalent to the 834-seat Palace Theater in Manchester and 700-seat Tupelo Music Hall in Derry. (The Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, aka Meadowbrook, is in a different category with almost 9,000 seats.)

But Nashua has a trick up its sleeve: The seats on the main floor, below the balcony, are connected. They can be quickly rolled away and stacked like the bleachers in a gym, leaving a wide-open floor that, with standing room, raises total capacity to 1,000. The floor can also hold scores of large tables in cabaret style.

Announced acts so far include established stars like Suzanne Vega, Toad the Wet Sprocket and BozScaggs; regional favorites like Recycled Percussion and Dopapod; popular plays like “Menopause: The Musical” and a Broadway musical sing-along; as well as contemporary artists like jazz musician Grace Kelly.

It’s a mix that wouldn’t be out of place in Concord – which is no surprise. Prizio said the folks who run New Hampshire’s performing arts centers often touch base with each other to make sure their offerings don’t collide.

“We’re doing our best to kind of curate things, staying in conversation with other PACs (performing arts centers) to make sure we’re not booking the same types of things on the same night,” he said. He drew a comparison to restaurants: “You don’t want 12 burger joints on the same street, you want Indian food, you want Mexican food, Asian food – you want variety.”

As for new competition, that’s not a real concern. “We don’t have concern about Nashua pulling audience away from us,” he said, noting that the Capitol Center and the Palace Theater are “only 17, 18 miles from each other, yet we’re both thriving.”

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