Arts & Culture
5:01 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

Finding Theater at an Alstead Machine Shop

Triple M Tool and Die has been a sometimes-working, unassuming, hard- to- find machine shop in Alstead for more than 50 years. At least that’s what it is during the day.

But at night, this building transforms into a community theater, concert venue, event hall and soon-- non-profit.

Nothing on the outside of the building at 789 Gilsum Mine Road says theater.

Nothing on the outside even says machine shop. But the building at 789 Gilsum Mine Road, is both.

Mole Hill Theater, tucked off a back dirt road amid quiet fields and farms, is a venue that for more than seven years, has been the hidden cultural heart of Alstead.  It's hosted regional bands, charity events, live theater and even multi-media performance art.

And when people do manage to find the place, not only do they stay, they keep coming back-- bringing friends, coolers of homemade hooch and a potluck dish.

"It is really inspiring just to be a part of it," says Mole Hill co-founder Peter Hendrick, who by day runs a scientific association, but at heart is an acting coach. "And to walk down the street and to see people and say 'oh, I was at Mole Hill last night and it was so great and we just love it.' And these are strangers who come up to you. And that creates a sense of joy and we need that in our lives."

"This is great theater"

Ironically it wasn’t a sense of joy that started the theater, but rather a fight.

Mole Hill Owner Dennis Molesky says during a party he was throwing at the machine shop in 2003, an argument over the war in Iraq broke out.

The argument got tense, petered out and peace and karaoke were restored. And out of the chaos came the voice of inspiration.

“Our friend up the street got up to sing ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ - me and a buddy were his sidekicks," Molesky said. "The party rolled on, It was our first party, there was no blood, Peter said, This is great theater. Let's build one."

Hendrick adds: "So we got together and we literally loaded up a truck with some 2-by-8s, 2-by-6s, and built a stage between two of the biggest presses."

Those big presses are metal stamping machines that now serve as the wings of the stage.

They started out by giving free weekly acting classes. Soon they were performing pieces by Anton Chekhov, putting on full-scale productions, and even a musical written by an  Alstead Selectman. Eventually, even  bands started agreeing to play at the off-the-beaten venue.

"Productions are done generally for charitable purposes," Hendrick explains. "We raise money for local charities. We've raised literally thousands of dollars to benefit The Alstead Area Citizen's Trust, which then donates money to other educational and charitable purposes in the surrounding towns."

And as word has gotten out about Mole Hill, it's developed a loyal following of regulars who've managed to help keep the light on at the place most weekends

Alstead resident Heather Gendron is one of them. "I just like the casualness and how they decorated this whole place," she says. "I'm actually planning on having my class reunion here next year. Like we walked in and within two minutes I just fell in love with the atmosphere.  "

"People crave culture"

Just as it has over and over again in its long and storied history, the venue is going through yet another iteration: Non-profit.

Hendrick said they are in the process of making the Mole Hill Theater a not for profit performing arts center for Alstead where productions will continue to benefit local charities.

Molesky would act as landlord and the shop  with all its equipment would be preserved for an on-site museum.

"I think one of the great things in terms of being out of the way is the fact that we're in a vacuum and people crave culture," Molesky says. "Over the last several years we've really developed a great mailing list and Facebook following and we really have a lot of people who are starting to seek us out. So I really believe if you create it, they will come."

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