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Out & About: Indoor shows to return to Lebanon Opera House

  • Joe Clifford

  • Abraham Xum, of Optimum Building Systems Inc., works on drywall at the Lebanon Opera House on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Lebanon, N.H. During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, the performing arts venue is becoming more energy efficient with additional insulation in the walls. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • From left, Frank Brennan, of Norwich, Dave Beaufait, of Enfield, Dana Evans, of Montpelier, Ken Munsey, of Canaan, and Adam Richardson, of Charlestown, assemble the set for the Christmas Revels on stage at the Lebanon Opera House in Lebanon, N.H., Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. The annual holiday show moved to the venue for performances Saturday, Dec. 21 through Monday Dec. 23, while the Spaulding Auditorium is under renovation this year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/23/2021 10:29:26 PM
Modified: 6/23/2021 10:29:32 PM

LEBANON — There’s a feeling that Joe Clifford looks forward to before a live show starts inside the Lebanon Opera House.

“I just have to say I’m really waiting for that moment where we can be indoors and that electricity,” said Clifford, executive director of the nonprofit arts organization in downtown Lebanon. “It’s that moment when the lights go down and you feel that anticipation. I kind of miss that.”

Later this summer, those moments will exist once again as live shows resume at Lebanon Opera House. Singer/guitarist Richard Thompson is set to perform Aug. 25. It will be the first full-capacity show since the opera house shut down 15 months ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was actually Friday the 13th of March that we announced we were closing down. I remember it well,” Clifford said. The last show was a screening of Buster Keaton’s silent film The General, with live piano accompaniment March 6, 2020. “In the case of the shutdown it was Broadway and then Live Nation. That just set the tone for the rest of the country.”

Attendees in August who are fully vaccinated will not be required to wear a mask; those who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to do so.

“My basic message is let’s just take care of each other,” Clifford said. “We only have one chance to do this right, this reopening.”

It’s a moment staff and artists alike have been eagerly awaiting. Everything had to align: Artists needed to feel it was safe to tour and that the demand was there. The number of COVID-19 cases had to decline and vaccination rates had to rise.

There’s only one question that remains: Are people ready to sit side-by-side in a theater again?

“At this point my biggest question is consumer confidence,” Clifford said. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand and energy.”

In the months that followed its shutdown, the opera house did what many arts organizations throughout the Upper Valley did: Pivot to virtual programming. The opera house staff worked with artists online that it hadn’t previously worked with in person.

“I think we tapped into audiences well beyond the Upper Valley for that series. Got us some new fans,” Clifford said. “It will be worth trying to keep that alive, for sure.”

In addition to hosting its own shows, the opera house also rents out it its space in City Hall to community groups for performances and events. The other funding stream is donations.

“To have one-half of your funding stream completely shut down is terrifying,” Clifford said. During the pandemic, the opera house received state and federal stimulus money. Patrons also continued to donate. “It really allowed us a level of comfort to just be able to keep looking at the future.”

That first future event is the Nexus Music and Arts Festival, which will take place in downtown Lebanon from Friday, Aug. 13 to Sunday, Aug. 15. Around 20 performers will play on three stages: One off the back of the opera house, the bandshell at Colburn Park and a smaller stage on the Lebanon Mall. There will also be food trucks and community art projects for people to participate in.

“It’s really kind of our gift to those who helped us get through this really tough time,” Clifford said of the free event. “My hope is that this becomes an annual event and really serves to kick off our new season every year.”

Among the performers announced so far are Twisted Pine, Bitter Pill, Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads and Moondance. Chalk artist Katie Runde will be creating a 3D piece of art in downtown Lebanon. More information about Nexus can be found at

Lebanon Opera House staff began planning the festival months ago, hopeful that by mid-August the pandemic would have eased and people would feel safe gathering again. Lebanon’s summer concert series is starting up in July and people are gathering at the weekly farmers market. In 2020, downtown felt too quiet, Clifford said. That’s starting to change.

“There’s so much on the horizon,” Clifford said. “We’re going to be back to that problem of having too many good options.”

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Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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