Celebrating Community with Theater
A Bi-Co couple is helping to bring their community together by sharing their love of theater.
As co-producer of Powerhouse Theatre Collaborative, Bryan Halperin ’95 wants to show the 16,871 residents of Laconia, N.H., that theater can strengthen neighborly ties. That’s one reason Powerhouse’s first major production was Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the classic play focused on ordinary people in a fictional New Hampshire town.
But that’s not the only reason.
“Theater can be intimidating to people who haven’t done it before. Literally anyone can be in Our Town,” says Halperin, who has been directing plays since his student days. “I can add bodies in the graveyard scene or expand the choir. During auditions, I told people, ‘If you’re curious about trying theater, this is the show for you.’”
At November’s opening night in the newly renovated Colonial Theatre, 39 people ranging from ages 10 to 70-plus took the stage, experienced actors alongside curious first-timers.
“We wanted to use Our Town to show what [Powerhouse] is about, to showcase humanity and art and entertainment while celebrating the restoration of the Colonial,” Halperin says. “Bringing together people from all walks of life, getting people to take a chance on something new, that has an impact, that builds community.”
He knows theater can change lives: He met Johanna Bloss Halperin BMC ’94 during a Bi-Co production of Fiddler on the Roof. After graduation, the couple settled near Boston, where Halperin worked at a financial software firm. They welcomed two children and tag-teamed so one partner could be involved with community theater productions while the other stayed home.
Then in 2004, they left their jobs, sold their home, and moved to New Hampshire’s Lakes Region to open the Winnipesaukee Playhouse with Halperin’s sister and her husband.
“We just decided we wanted a different lifestyle that our kids could be involved in and we could do together,” Halperin says.
The Playhouse, which offers professional, community, and educational productions, thrived. The Halperins stepped back from day-to-day operations after 2014 to run the drama programs at their children’s schools.
Powerhouse Theatre Collaborative, founded in 2020, is the couple’s latest project. It’s the resident theater company for the Belknap Mill, a 200-year-old mill converted to a community center, and the Colonial Theatre, a century-plus-old building that recently underwent a $14 million renovation after being shuttered for 20 years.
“Laconia’s Main Street has long been fairly dormant, and the city hoped [the theater] would help reattract people to downtown, and so far, it’s working very well,” Halperin says. “There’s excitement about downtown Laconia for the first time in a long time.”
Our Town’s opening marked the beginning of “Celebrate Our Town— Laconia,” seven weeks of programming organized by Powerhouse and other nonprofits. The event ended in January with a workshop performance of My Backyard, a musical whose book was written by Halperin, with music by Krisanthi Pappas. The story follows a struggling musician as she returns to her childhood home and confronts her past.
“My Backyard hits upon a lot of the same themes of Our Town, including the reminder to appreciate the little things and the people in your life because our time on the planet is limited,” Halperin says. “It’s why I chose this workshop to bookend the ‘Celebrate Our Town’ event.”
Halperin considers himself primarily a director, but has written a dozen plays and musicals, many of which he has shared with his community.
“It’s crucial to humanity to be able to share stories,” he says. “Communities thrive when they have affordable housing opportunities, good schools, and a strong arts community. We want to be part of Laconia’s renaissance. We want to help the community grow and thrive.”