Michael Guptill has decided to close the Hackmatack Playhouse, founded by his father 50 years ago. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

After 50 seasons of summer plays, Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick will close its curtain for a final time in August.

Michael Guptill, who runs the theater founded by his father, said the pool of regular attendees has been shrinking, and he doesn’t see as much interest coming from younger generations.

“There doesn’t seem to be as much call for it as it was 50 years ago,” he said.

He said he decided to close this year because he felt 50 years was a good run.

Opened in 1972, Hackmatack Playhouse was the brainchild of Carleton Guptill, a history teacher at Oyster River High School in Durham, New Hampshire, who transformed a space in his family’s farmstead used for cows and feed buckets into an auditorium with a slanted stage.

Guptill’s aim was to bring arts to a rural part of the state and make it affordable for local families and visitors, his grandchildren Lauren and Aram Guptill wrote in an email announcing the closure.

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Michael Guptill, the eldest son of Carleton Guptill, and his family took over the playhouse when his father died in 1995 and have been running it ever since.

Carleton Guptill founded the Hackmatack Playhouse on his family’s farmstead in 1972. Photo courtesy of Hackmatack Playhouse

David Kaye, former artistic director for Hackmatack Playhouse and a mentee of Carleton Guptill, said he felt the founder and his family achieved their goals and succeeded in creating a community around the theater.

“There was a sense of family, with the audience, and actors and everybody that was involved,” Kaye said.

He recalled sitting in the audience, hearing Michael Guptill greet theatergoers “always making every every single audience person feel like this was their playhouse, that this was their theater, that in this sort of lovely way they had come home even if they had never been to that theater before in their life.”

Hackmatack was named for the coniferous tree that looses its needles in the winter because, like the tree, the summer is when it comes alive.

“The whole grounds lit with passion, creativity and fun,” Kaye recalled.

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The theater’s curtains opened for the first time with the play “Ten Nights in a Barroom” by William W. Pratt. The playhouse returned to that play 10 years ago in celebration of its 40th anniversary and in remembrance of its founder.

The final play will be “Smoke on the Mountain” by Alan Bailey and Connie Ray. The show will run from July 29 to Aug. 20.

The final production will be smaller than many in the past, with only eight actors, to reduce COVID risks for the community. And though previous summers often featured four to six productions, this last play will be the only one of the season.

Despite the playhouse closing at the end of the summer, the public will still be welcome to visit the grounds where the family operates its farm.

“We have 50 years of memories,” Michael Guptill said. “I know we’ve created a lot of good memories for audience members, for actors, for the community and for my family.”


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