The Final Act

Hampton Playhouse Torn Down

By Steve Jusseaume,

The Hampton Union, Friday, February 2, 2001

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Demolition of Hampton Playhouse
The Hampton Playhouse was in the process of being demolished Thursday, February 1, 2001, by Danley Demolition of Fremont. [Staff photo/Emily Reily]
The wrecker's claw tore into the Hampton Playhouse barn Thursday, signaling the end of a 52-year tradition in Hampton that actually ended last year.

Theater people from throughout the Seacoast had combed through the barn last weekend, salvaging anything that might be usable at other theaters in the area, knowing the barn was due to come down this week.

Lee Danley of Danley Demolition picked up a demolition permit last Friday. Then he got on the phone and invited anyone with an interest in the theater to come down and pick through what was left.

Demolition of the barn was originally approved by the Heritage Commission nearly a year ago, after the land underneath the playhouse was sold.

In 1998, a group headed by Michael Wakeen, Craig Salomon and others proposed a 25-lot subdivision for the 15-acre parcel off Winnacunnet Road. In the meantime, the playhouse opened for the summer 1999 season, under Wakeen's direction. But finances were such that the playhouse couldn't turn a profit, and an August 1999 production of "South Pacific" proved to be the last show performed in the historic structure. The barn has stood quiet since, waiting for the inevitable.

"I did everything I could to market the playhouse, but there are no amenities there. It just didn't fly," Wakeen told the Heritage Commission last spring. This past weekend, Wakeen stood in a darkened balcony as dozens of theater people and others worked to salvage anything that could be saved.

"It's a shame we couldn't make this work, but the finances just wouldn't allow it," Wakeen said.

The Hampton Playhouse group continues to produce shows and last year staged several productions in the Winnacunnet High School auditorium. And a group of volunteers called Friends of the Hampton Playhouse investigated options for the barn, including dismantling the structure and moving it to another site. However, in the end nothing proved practicable.

Last Saturday Dane Leeman, the technical director at the Portsmouth-based New Hampshire Theatre Project, lugged a long piece of curtain tracking out the back door. "We're just trying to salvage as much stuff — props, lighting gear, cable — as we can use. There aren't enough theater companies here, and it's tragic to see this barn go down," he said.

Other theater groups have visited the barn, taking anything of potential value. Dick Ray of Winnacunnet High School spent some time at the site, taking a few items for the high-school drama department.

Danley, who said the dismantling of the barn will take two to three days, plans to salvage some of the timbers in the old barn, including some up to 44 feet long — cut from a single tree — that served as holding timbers in the ceiling.

Danley, who has demolished some very old, historic buildings in the area over the past years, said the playhouse barn had outlived its usefulness. "This old barn is different (from other jobs). It can't really be used for much. I know it holds a lot of memories, but the structure itself is in pretty bad shape. There just isn't much you can do with it."