It’s Showtime at the Palace
The Stars of Tomorrow Shine in New Hampshire Theater Program
It’s poetic that one of the oldest theaters in New Hampshire regularly plays host to some of the state’s youngest talent.
The Palace Theatre stands proudly on Hanover Street, the illuminated sign exploding with light every night above the Manchester sidewalk. Ushers at the door are waiting and ready to let in the eager audience. It’s a unique place with a unique history. Actors young and not so young can get their foot in the door, literally, for a chance to perform onstage.
“There’s something really cool about an 8-year-old having their first show at the Palace Theatre, which seats 800 people and is 105 years old,” says Director of Youth Theatre Megan Quinn, a veteran actress.
The Palace Youth Theatre (PYT) is the program offered to young actors and actresses in grades 2 through 12 who are looking to participate in musical theater. PYT provides opportunities for aspiring thespians of all skill sets to cut their teeth — or simply to have fun. In the past, the program has produced big shows such as the “Wizard of Oz,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Peter Pan,” all of which, according to Quinn, were open to any young performer looking to participate.
“We do four or five shows throughout the year,” Quinn says. “As long as your kid comes in, sings the songs, and does the dances, they’re in the show.”
For performers who are interested in taking theater more seriously, the Palace supports two theater troupes: the Teen Company and the Teen Apprentice Company. According to Quinn, these groups give performers a chance to learn what it takes to pursue a career in musical theater. The participants learn how to write resumes, prepare for auditions and pose for headshots.
“We do make cuts, and [the performers] are judged on a professional level,” Quinn says. “They have to audition just like we would audition in New York.”
The Palace hosts shows written from across the timeline of musical theater, balancing modern productions (“Frozen,” “The Lion King”) with timeless classics (“Annie,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”).
Quinn notes that the younger groups tend to gravitate toward Disney productions, but says it’s important that the older performers get their chance to try out more mature shows.
“Last year we did [‘Les Miserables’], and I didn’t know how that would do,” she says. “But I had about 100 kids in that show.”
Maintaining the balance, according to Quinn, is also about how the shows reflect audience interests.
“Obviously, the younger kids are going to respond more to the Disney shows,” she says. “But I also have parents who are ecstatic to come see these shows because that’s what they watched when they were younger. People who watched ‘Annie’ when they were growing up get to see their kid on stage doing it too.”
It’s also, Quinn admits, a time for the staff to shine.
“We’re doing a junior version of ‘Footloose,’” she says of the current season. “None of them were alive in the ’80s, so it’ll be a fun show for them. I’ll tell them all about it; I’ll be like, ‘Guys, the ’80s. Trust me, it was great.’ ”
Typically, the shows are abridged versions of the original production, often with the title “junior” following the name of the musical. In 2020, PYT is allowing the performers to present “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in its entirety, along with a separate adult production.
“They’ll get to use the same props and all the same sets and lights,” Quinn says.
The future for the Palace and PYT extends beyond the boundaries of the building. The company is resurrecting one of Manchester’s legendary venues, The Rex Theatre, on Amherst Street. The renovated Rex is a 300-seat, intimate-performance venue that opened in late October. The playhouse will host PYT’s first nonmusical play.
“We’re starting to expand,” Quinn says. “We’re excited for kids who don’t really want to sing and dance, but want to try more acting, which is really cool.”
The folks at the Palace also recently opened a space on Manchester’s Pine Street called Forever Emma Studios, named after Emma Bechert, a PYT performer who tragically lost a battle with cancer in 2016 at the age of 14. The studio offers dance and acting classes, and voice lessons for PYT hopefuls having fun and training for a great time onstage.
“We have Broadway people come in every month and teach things,” Quinn says. “In having the new space, we’re finding new things to do, and now we finally have the room to do it.”
The lights are glowing brightly for the Palace right now, and Quinn only has a suggestion for all those looking to experience its majesty.
“Go see a show!”