NEWPORT — Things are changing at the Newport Opera House. The stained-glass windows that are original to the Opera House have been repaired and reinstalled, brightening the hall and splashing the floor with peacock colors.
The iconic clock tower is undergoing a complete restoration and every entry door and each window has been scraped and painted, reviving and refreshing the historic 19th Century building. Although not as evident as those projects, the Newport Opera House Association is undergoing renovations as well.
Meg Cowan was hired as the new Executive Director of the Newport Opera House Association this past June. She is a familiar face there, though, as she worked as the NOHA Office Manager alongside Charles Massey when he was the Executive Director in the early 2000s and she has appeared on the Opera House stage in dozens of productions.
Cowan and Massey, along with an army of dedicated volunteers, raised the bar of Community Theatre to new heights during those years, changing lives along the way. “People who never dreamt they had what it took to be the lead in a dramatic play or big musical found themselves doing just that and the resulting transformation was nothing short of miraculous,” noted Cowan.
Change is inevitable and in 2008, an opportunity presented itself allowing her to go back into a decades-long avocation of New Hampshire Tourism on a full-time basis. Massey left a couple of years later to head back home to North Carolina for good. New Boards and new Executive Directors became the caretakers of the NOHA, putting their own unique signature on the programming and character of the organization.
Early in 2019, efforts were initiated to bring Meg back and take the helm as NOHA Executive Director. The thinking was that someone who had been so deeply involved with the organization in the past could connect those highly successful days to a positive future. Cowan stated that this is a monumental task and one that cannot be achieved by one person.
“We are lucky to have a long-running, community-focused organization that is well worth cultivating and I will do everything I know how to make that happen,” she said. “This beautiful old building and the NOHA live in my heart and I firmly believe that one can be worthy of the other again but only with the support of dedicated members, sponsors and volunteers,” Cowan continued.
Cowan’s first two priorities are to reignite the “Light Up the Opera House” Campaign and begin a fund drive for a new sound system. Several years ago, an appeal was initiated to replace the antiquated, failing stage lighting but the fundraising effort has since become dormant.
She summed up the situation by saying, “Every time a light bulb quits on us, it costs anywhere from $100 to $150 to replace it. A dark stage means we are out of business.” Many people donated to the campaign at its inception and the organization garnered $15,000 that still exists in a savings account. “For a complete LED system replacement, we’re looking at $125,000,” said Cowan.
The existing audio system is also on the decline and is not powerful enough to support many of the music artists the NOHA hopes to have on stage in the future. The sound will often cut out completely or loud pops and static interrupt performances.
“We are very limited in the types of musical groups that can perform here because of the old sound system,” Cowan noted. “In order to bring in popular bands with a broad fan base, we need better sound equipment,” she continued. Recent proposals submitted to the NOHA estimate a price tag of $30,000 to $40,000 to make the necessary upgrades.
This small non-profit is faced with some daunting financial challenges but Meg is optimistic. She sees herself as the bridge between the “old” and the “new” Newport Opera House and looks to a community that has been unfailingly supportive.
If you would like to donate to the Lighting and Sound System Capital Campaign or help fund a new sound system, you can mail your check to: Newport Opera House Association Lighting and Sound System Campaign, P.O. Box 351, Newport, N.H. 03773 or give online by visiting the NOHA website: www.newportoperahouse.com and click on LIGHTING AND SOUND SYSTEM CAPITAL CAMPAIGN. The NOHA is a registered 501c3 non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.