Setting the Stage: Newport Opera House Theater Team Gathers Input for Planning Programming

(Newport Mercury, By Janine Weisman)newport opera house programming newport mercury

The wish list is long and diverse: Sting and Broadway star Bernadette Peters, cellist Yo Yo Ma and Madonna, comedian Paula Poundstone and Barenaked Ladies. Then there’s Gladys Knight and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Miami City Ballet and writer David Sedaris, Jerry Seinfeld and Pink Martini.

Even live streaming of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research dives.

“Who would think of doing something like that here? I loved it!” Brenda Nienhouse, executive director of the Newport Opera House Theater & Performing Arts Center, said of that last one.

She was reviewing the many acts that many people want to see on stage in the Opera House once the restoration of the historic building is completed in 2018 in time for its 150th anniversary.

Nienhouse and her team began gathering input from the public to explore possibilities for its future programming at its monthly Third Thursday Spotlight on Aug. 17. The estimated 50 people who attended were asked, “What would you like to see on our stage?”

Then an email survey was compiled asking people to rank the types of entertainment they wanted to see and to name a particular act. The survey went out to 1,500 addresses and 200 responses came in. The survey was reissued on Facebook bringing the total number of responses to about 400, said Bob Ensign, communications and marketing director.

The survey remains up on the Opera House website.

“We learned that there is strong interest in music, theater, dance, comedy,” Nienhouse said. “We’re continually counting. So they’re still coming in.”

The input has come largely from people aged 35 to 55 with slightly more women than men, Ensign said.

Nienhouse said plans call for designating 20 percent of programming to education for youth, families and lifelong learners. Programming announcements will come next year closer to the opening.

When the $15 million renovation is completed, the theater will have 500 seats in the orchestra level and 200 seats in the balcony. Steel beams have already been installed to undergird the expanded 30-foot wide by 40-foot wide stage which has an orchestra pit, a lift accommodating three levels of elevation providing for additional seating or performance space, and a under stage crossover tunnel for performers.

Planning for the revitalization of the Opera House and its transformation into a new performing arts center began in 1999 and the nonprofit Newport Performing Arts Center LLC bought the building in 2001. The theater’s 1970s-era facade was stripped away in 2002-03 and the original brick facade was restored.

The 150th anniversary of the Opera House will be on Dec. 28, 2018. The construction timeline aims for completion by summer 2018 but Nienhouse is being cautious about suggesting an opening date.

“Ideally we’d love summer but it’s going to depends on what happens with construction,” she said. “We’re basically committed to the 150th season.

Among the suggestions on the Opera House wish list:

St. Petersburg Philharmonic; Broadway Musicals; Kodo Drummers; Pink Martini; Newport Children’s Theater; John Legend; New Orleans Jazz Band; Pilabolous; Trinity Rep; Island Moving Company; Newport Jazz Festival; Yo Yo Ma; Kristen Chenoweth; Irish Tenors; Ballet de Tocodoro de Monte Carlo; Local Artists; James Taylor; Broadway musicals; Boston Pops; Bernadette Peters; Sting; Adele; Beyonce; Taylor Swift; Live Streaming Opera; Gary Clarke Jr.; Lion King; Italian Opera; Diana Ross; Wicked!; Phantom of the Opera; Diana Krall; Lake Street Dive; Hamilton; Blue Man Group; Chris Botti; Jeff Pitchell with James Montgomery and the Neville Brothers; Gilbert & Sullivan operettas; Jon Bonamasso; Palm Beach Opera; New York City Ballet; Steve Martin; Bruno Mars; Classical music; Nora Jones; Alvin Ailey Dance; Little Big Town; John Mayer; ’80s music; Lady Gaga; Jason Mraz, Doug Woolverton & Roomful of Blues; Salve Regina’s dance + theater students and more…

Newport Opera House Programming

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