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Find music, theater in unlikely places

Anna Maria Mancini of Swampscott and Anthony Nicastro of Gloucester at  Rockafellas’ Latin dance party in Salem.

John Blanding/ Globe Staff

Anna Maria Mancini of Swampscott and Anthony Nicastro of Gloucester at Rockafellas’ Latin dance party in Salem.

At the front of the room, two fiddlers emphatically bounced their bows along the strings of their instruments, a guitarist plucked his acoustic, and a step-dancer tapped and jigged in time.

Their slipper-clad audience of several dozen clapped, smiled, and bobbed their heads along to the rollicking folk music — then mingled and enjoyed dessert with the ensemble, 4TET.

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It was indeed a cozy venue: They weren’t on a stage or in a club, but instead in the parlor of a Watertown home on a recent weeknight, participating in a lesser-known performance niche known as “house concerts.”

Ellen Harasimowicz for The Boston Glob

Daniel Leffects auditions for “Godspell” with the Ghost Lights Players.

The audiences are “exposed to some very high-caliber professional musicians in an intimate setting,” said Jeff Boudreau, who helped organize the event and has been hosting house concerts at various locations since 2007. “Artists who come to this series generally don’t play at other commercial venues in the Boston area. It’s generally the only opportunity patrons will have to see them.”

There is of course something to be enjoyed in traditional performance halls, with their grand, gilded architecture and plush seating, but all across the region — from Marlborough to Quincy to Newburyport — you’ll find classical plays, elegant music, and sumptuous dancing in the most pleasantly unexpected places.

A few local options include Uncommon Coffeehouse in Framingham, which regularly offers live, acoustic music of all varieties; the Lexington Historical Society’s Colonial Singers, who, in period dress, perform marches, drinking songs, hymns, fife-and-drum tunes, and other traditional pieces at such locations as Buckman Tavern, the Hancock-Clarke House, and the Munroe Tavern; and the Jam’n Java Open Mic at Kickstand Cafe, on the first Friday of every month in Arlington.

Meanwhile, Boudreau’s house concerts are just as they sound: People open up their homes to professional touring musicians, then invite friends, colleagues, and others in the community to come on over (with suggested donations, 100 percent of which goes to the players).

In addition to providing an unusual experience for the audience, house concerts allow musicians to essentially perform live rehearsals and try out newer material; they are also given a night of lodging, and can make anywhere from $500 to $1,000 from donations, Boudreau said.

In his series, presented through “notloB Parlour Concerts,” Boudreau has brought in musicians such as the Montreal-based Bombadils, the Tattletale Saints of New Zealand, and 10 String Symphony of Nashville, among numerous others.

The Watertown home (belonging to Boudreau’s house concert fellow organizer) that was hosting 4TET can hold 40-plus visitors, who exchange their outdoor shoes for slippers and bring desserts to share, too.

“The best feedback I get is the returns,” said Boudreau. “Filling the available seats is becoming easier and easier with every concert.”

For its spring and summer concerts, the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival transforms the city’s historic structures into intimate performance venues.

“We love being able to use these smaller spaces,” said executive director Jane Niebling. “There’s no stage separating the musician from the audience. If you’re trying to present chamber music, the closer you can get people to the music, the action, the more exciting and engaging an experience it’s going to be for them.”

Its concert locations include St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1711 (as well as a “stunning” Gothic chapel in its churchyard, according to Niebling); the 1835 Custom House Maritime Museum; the Newburyport Public Library, built in 1777; and the privately owned 1850 Farwell Clay Carriage House. The organization also holds outdoor concerts and open rehearsals in various spots throughout the city.

“That’s part of what we do, is put music into different spaces,” said Niebling. “Newburyport is all about architecture. There really aren’t any spaces that aren’t interesting, and that don’t have a personality. By moving around, we keep reintroducing people to these personalities, and try to make them as active as possible.”

Down the coast in Salem, Rockafellas restaurant puts on a Latin dance party, taught by Greg Coles, every Wednesday night.

And farther to the south, another venue is bringing life to its community in a different way.

In Middleborough, a 100-plus-year-old space was recently transformed to the Alley Theatre, an extension of the adjacent Burt Wood School of Performing Arts.

It derives its name from both its history and its location: It was a bowling alley 103 years ago, according to owner Lorna Brunelle, and reaching it today requires a walk down a chicly lighted metropolitan alley.

Since opening in 2010, it has hosted an amalgam of events, including its own theater shows and those of locals Theatre One Productions and Nemasket River Productions, movie screenings, and standup by nationally known comedians Lenny Clarke and Steve Sweeney.

“It’s a little, quaint space in Middleborough; until you walk in, you don’t realize how cool a space it is, or the high-end acts we pull in,” said Brunelle. “We’re all in it together. We’re trying to keep theater alive, trying to keep entertainment alive.”

It’s a mission shared by the Marlborough-based Ghost Light Players.

The community theater group — which derives its name from the practice of leaving one light on in a theater when it’s “dark,” either for safety reasons or to appease resident ghosts — strives to offer high-quality yet inexpensive productions for area residents.

Now in its third season, the Ghost Light Players will present “Godspell” in May; past productions have included “Almost, Maine,” “The House of Blue Leaves,” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

The latter includes a ballroom scene of vignettes, and the whole audience was incorporated.

“That’s an advantage of being a community theater,” said executive producer Cliff Dike, who lives in Methuen. “You can take some artistic license, take some chances, to enjoy it more.”

Most shows are put on at First Church in Marlborough on High Street, although the group is starting to look for a larger venue.

“Live theater is one of the great art forms; it’s so unique,” said Dike. “We want to share that love with the community.”

Meanwhile, if you were to walk into the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy, you would undoubtedly be struck by its magnificent floor-to-ceiling woodwork, graceful lighting, and stained-glass window.

But at certain times, it’s also filled with the tones of cellos, guitars, flutes, drums, and harmonizing voices.

For nearly 20 years the historical building, which dates to 1882 and was designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, has hosted concerts of every flavor, from classical to jazz to folk — even pop favorites.

But why music at the library?

It fits in with its main priorities, according to assistant director and events coordinator Clayton Cheever, some of which include providing “engaging and enjoyable cultural and recreational experiences,” “stimulating imagination,” and “satisfying curiosity.”

Also, “if we can attract somebody to the library to hear music, then they can discover everything else we have to offer,” said Cheever.

“We are really gifted to live in a region that has so much high-caliber talent,” added Cheever.

“Finding ways that it can be appreciated and made available to folks that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to it is a rewarding experience.”

Taryn Plumb can be reached at tarynplumb1@gmail.com.
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