CLAREMONT — Shelly Hudson, producing artistic director of Amplified Arts, sees a wealth of potential in Claremont and its surrounding area to build a strong culture for theater, music, performing and visual arts. Hudson has spent several years staging plays in Claremont and Newport. She said this area has a talented base of performers and an audience demand for high-quality and engaging theater and film.
The challenge, she said, is bringing the community’s attention to offerings in the city.
“Many people claim that there is nothing to do in Claremont, and if they only sit in their living room that may seem true,” Hudson said. “But if you go into the city you will find a lot of live performances and events. Some may cost money but there are also many great organizations here who put on free events as well.”
As Amplified Arts approaches its fifth anniversary on Aug. 31, the downtown performing and visual arts venue is literally more visible now than in previous years. In May, Hudson opened the Streetside Art Space on the ground floor of its leased property on Pleasant Street (in the building known locally as the Oddfellows Building).
The Streetside Gallery is part of Hudson’s three-phase vision for Amplified Arts, which began with a venue for theater and film and that Hudson aimed to expand to include music and visual arts.
“The art component happened earlier than I originally anticipated,” Hudson said. “An art gallery was always part of the plan, but I always expected to start it after the musical venue. But some individuals expressed interest in March about having one, and we had this space available to us.”
The gallery is currently for viewing local art but Hudson said she plans to transition it in time to a retail gallery. Unlike the Claremont Maker Space, which is a nonprofit organization and only holds viewing shows to showcase its artists, Hudson plans to make her gallery a place where artists can both lease workspace and sell their pieces. Two artists currently rent workspaces in the gallery, where spaces range from smaller rooms about 96 square feet in size to spaces large enough to host small groups.
Amplified Arts is registered as a for-profit venue, which Hudson said is less common for theaters.
“I believe we are one of the only for-profit theaters is New Hampshire,” she said.
Amplified Arts could potentially become a non-profit someday, but at the outset Hudson wanted her theater to hit the ground running with performances, rather than focus on organizing a board of directors.
“I didn’t want to start a nonprofit just to start a nonprofit,” Hudson said. “Even with opportunities for grant funds, you will still need to come up with a way to make the theater sustainable, because you cannot depend on the grants to always be there.”
However, Hudson has an extensive background in starting nonprofits, including the Performers Playhouse, in Newport, which Hudson established in 2004 to provide a theatrical venue for youth to learn and hone their stage skills.
“Many of the young people we worked with in youth theater are coming back to be involved in theater,” Hudson said, noting some current college students who came back to the area this summer to volunteer at the playhouse.
“People do not always realize the quality of artistic work that’s happening here,” Hudson said. “Not just in theater, but music, performing arts, visual and creative arts. It’s exciting to see all these artists bring their creations to fruition in an environment that promotes excellence.
Hudson sees the presence of the arts more visible in recent years elsewhere in Claremont, from the Opera House, the Claremont Maker Space and the recently announced grant awarded to Melissa Richmond to help relocate her center, the West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts, to Opera House Square.
Hudson said that Amplified Arts avoids competing with other venues and works instead toward collaboration. Rather than provide an overlapping service or product, Hudson tries to differentiate what she offers from other venues.
For example, whereas the Opera House generally books productions from touring companies, Amplified Arts provides a small theater experience for productions that the Opera House would not typically stage.
“We’re not here to compete but to support each other,” Hudson said. “We all want the same thing, to support a creative community and economy downtown, by bringing people to our productions and businesses.”
Amplified Arts partners with local restaurants like Revolution Cantina and the Jamaican restaurant Sunshine Cook Shop by offering dinner-and-a-show promotions, including for its next production, "Shakespeare in Love", which opens on Aug. 8.
Hudson said that having performing arts and art events downtown play an important role in supporting downtown businesses, where studies report that people who attend downtown events like plays, gallery openings and musical performances spend about $20 to $25 in additional income to eat or shop.