Staff Highlights: James Paone
We’re taking this time to highlight our staff of arts professionals to hear more about how they got here, what inspires their creativity, and what projects are near and dear to them. Let’s get to know James Paone, our General Manager of Front of House & Rentals!
How did you find yourself at The Music Hall? How long have you been here?
I moved to New Hampshire from the North Shore in 2014. I was doing a lot of freelance audio/visual work, performing out with my band (and solo), and bartending and managing restaurants. When I settled down in Hampstead, I took a position down at The Museum of Science in Boston and fell in love with the nonprofit world. The commute was exhausting, though, and I felt disconnected from my musical and hospitality roots. When the Front of House position opened up at The Music Hall in the spring of 2017, it felt serendipitous. It really is a perfect fit!
You are the general manager of Front of House and you run the programming for our Rentals—can you tell us more?
The Front of House team is responsible for providing for the needs of the audience before, during, and after the performance. We are comprised of a combination of full and part-time staff and a dedicated cadre of volunteers. We are focused on not only your enjoyment of the show but also your safety and well-being, too. The Music Hall is a magical venue, we are there to make sure you feel that way from the moment you enter our lobby. The staff is constantly exploring and evaluating new ways to deliver high-touch service and ensure a safe, fun environment.
My role as Rental Manager is quite different. I am the point-person for any organization looking to bring in a performance or event to The Music Hall that we do not program or produce ourselves. Some of our longest-standing partners are rental partners including New Hampshire Film Festival, Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, and Goodwin Community Health. I work with a wide range of organizations looking to utilize both venues for anything from film screenings and live performances to lecture series, private corporate meetings, or dinners on stage!
Lately, we’ve seen you perform on Facebook Live, but you’ve also performed on our stages! Can you tell us a bit more about your musical background?
I was raised in a musical household; my Dad was always introducing me to his favorites and played guitar and sang for us all the time as kids. A lot of Paul Simon and James Taylor, but also local folkies like Jonatha Brooke, Tom Rush, and Bill Morrissey. By the time I was an adolescent, I was playing in (really bad) punk rock bands, but still learning jazz trumpet and secretly loving folk music. The bands got a little less bad in high school, but I still wasn’t writing or performing any of the acoustic music that I am now until my junior year when, of course, I wanted to impress a girl.
Luckily I didn’t allow myself to only play the guitar around the campfire (although I do plenty of that). I studied music for a few years at UMass-Lowell and am so happy to have done that because my nerd brain needed a deeper understanding of music history and theory in order to fully appreciate and feel validated for spending so many hours in my bedroom with my guitar and loop pedal.
What has been your favorite show or moment here?
I don’t know if I can choose just one. As a purely music fanboy, I’ll go with Dawes in 2019. They are the rock stars I always dreamed of being. For the “I can’t believe I get to work here” category, it has to be helping to build a venue from scratch in the Worth Lot in partnership with the City of Portsmouth for Concert in the Lot last summer. That was the hardest I’ve ever worked and no matter how cold and soggy we were, the sense of accomplishment the team felt at the end of the night was immeasurable.
You run our sustainability initiative. What made you want to lead this project?
I’ve got to give that credit to Keith Tharp of Sustainable Seacoast. When we first met in the summer of 2018, he challenged me to eliminate single-use plastic at our bars and concessions areas. Not slightly reduce or improve our recycling, eliminate single-use plastic waste. He must have done his homework on me, or he’s just an exceptional motivator (he is), because that challenge lit a fire. We aren’t 100% there yet, but we quickly scrapped plastic water and soda bottles, transitioning to fountain soda and premium filtered water served either in reusable containers or compostable cups. Our popcorn bags are now compostable, as are our coffee cups, and we changed any bottled beer we offer over to cans. As I said, we aren’t where I want us to end up yet; my next step is to form a task force with our volunteers to be sure that we aren’t missing obvious fixes and that we are doing everything we can to reduce our footprint. My hope is that other organizations that think it’s too big a cost or effort can look at us—a non-profit theater with a small staff and a seriously old building can be sustainable doing it—and reevaluate. Organizations like Mr. Fox Composting, ReVision Energy, Bluedrop Water, and Sustainable Seacoast have been incredibly supportive and we wouldn’t be anywhere near our sustainable goal if it weren’t for them.