The Heart and Soul of New Hampshire Theatre ProjectWhat could a fictional female character from a nineteenth century musical comedy and a modern woman of the double aughts have in common? Not much, one may think, when considering the span of time between the two, and the strides made by women therein. Forget tradition, however, and hone in on those qualities that every woman possesses but not all have utilized, such as an independent mind, willingness to risk, and the ability to lead and lead well. Add to these qualities creativity, talent, and a love for what you do, and you get a “meeting of minds” that surpasses time and transcends both fiction and reality.
Now for a comparison. In Iolanthe, a musical comedy, the fairy Leila says this of her: “Iolanthe was the life and soul of Fairyland. Why, she wrote all our songs and arranged all our dances! We sing her songs and we trip to her measures…” Though Iolanthe was banished from Fairyland by the Queen when she fell in love with a mortal, even the Queen fondly remembered the contributions of the rule-breaking pioneer. “Who taught me to curl myself up in a buttercup? Iolanthe! Who taught me to swing upon a cobweb? Iolanthe! Who taught me to dive into a dewdrop, to nestle in a nutshell, to gambol upon a gossamer? Iolanthe!” Genevieve Aichelle, too, has many talents. As NHTP’s director she says, “I wear many hats: actor, director, playwright, singer, consultant, teacher, mentor, producer, and administrator.”
Perhaps it should not be surprising that she shares a multi-faceted kinship with the fictional heroine. “My interest in theatre began when I was very young. The first production I remember [watching] was a performance of Iolanthe, in Washington, D.C.” (An aunt took her to see it when she was six). As a child, Genevieve wrote, directed, and produced numerous plays that starred her siblings and neighbors, though she never considered theatre as a career until she was halfway through college. “I have never been a person who played by the rules (shades of Iolanthe). I designed a college major for myself – Music and Theatre for Community Programs (University of New Hampshire) – which incorporated lots of independent study and work in the field.” After about a year of going the traditional acting/auditioning route, though, she decided she wanted to be “her own boss.”
For two years, she worked with Theatre Resources for Youth, a touring children’s theatre group associated with UNH. Then, in 1977, she founded Kitchensink Mime with Dennis McLaughlin and toured for ten years, no doubt showing others how to swing on cobwebs and gambol on gossamer in whiteface. “This eventually grew into what is now the New Hampshire Theatre Project,” she says.
It was during these years that several grievous events took place in both her personal and professional life. “My father had a stroke, one of my college roommates was killed in a car accident, and our stage manager, Valerie Sherman Blair, was murdered at Odiorne Point in 1982.” Genevieve’s solo shows, Resurrection and Gently Gone tell some of the story of those years.
NHTP’s purpose is to enhance traditional education and support an ongoing relationship between the arts and
From one paid staff member in 2001, NHTP grew to eight in 2005, a very successful year in Genevieve’s estimation, and after 20 years of moving around, NHTP finally found a permanent home at West End Studio Theatre on 959 Islington Street. The generosity of donors allowed NHTP to offer over $6000 in tuition scholarships to Youth Repertory members and summer camp participants last year. In the last two years, that generosity also brought NHTP to 30% of its annual budget, bringing it to $49,000 of its $75,000 goal.
What’s on the horizon? “We are currently concentrating on creating a standard production season, improving our fundraising systems, and strengthening our administrative structure.” As well, Genevieve is seeking to move from a full-time management position to one of “artistic consultant.” “This process will probably take several years,” she says.
Dissolve back to the earlier comparisons with Iolanthe. After many years of banishment, Iolanthe’s contributions are missed and appreciated, and her one-woman revolution sparks a radical change in Fairyland. I think the same can be said of Genevieve Aichelle and New Hampshire’s theatre “scene.” If it weren’t for her drive, her love, and her commitment to theatre and community, New Hampshire would not be the same.
For more information and an upcoming production schedule, visit www.nhtheatreproject.org.
In the Clouds