The Barn Theater

Day 259: The Barn Theater

The Barn Theater
Photo courtesy of The Barn Theater

I remember the first time I set foot in the Barn Theatre. I was there for work (local TV news crew), and we were going to interview Gary Cherone as he was getting ready to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. I was first struck by the fact that this theatre really is a barn! It sets a very cool ambiance. Gary was great, very accommodating and humble for the interview. Over the years in that newsroom I also had the pleasure of working with the folks behind the Barn Theatre, the Ragotzy family. Penelope and Brendan believe so much in their venture; they’re happy to take actors around to make the rounds with morning television and radio interviews. Keep in mind – these are folks who stay up late for shows every night, working hard. A 6:00am interview isn’t exactly enticing!

The Barn Theater
Photo courtesy of The Barn Theater

A little history about the Barn Theatre: it’s off the beaten path, well away from the more traditional theatre areas like Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo or Detroit. You can find the Barn on M-96 between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo in the charming countryside of Augusta. The Barn is one of our country’s oldest Equity resident summer-stock theatres. You won’t find many theatres with 60 years and nearly 500 performances under the same management. But you’ll find it at the Barn Theatre.

Thanks to founders Jack Ragotzy, an Obie award-winning director, and his wife Betty Ebert Ragotzy you can see great performances by dedicated actors, writers and crew. With $875 in their pockets, the Ragotzys founded the Barn in 1946 as the Village Players in nearby Richland. Three years later the company moved into its current home, an abandoned dairy barn, and became the Barn Theatre of Augusta. With the passing of his parents, Producer/Director Brendan Ragotzy continues their tradition of high quality theatre that audiences have come to know and expect from the Barn Theatre.

Want to know what it’s like to be a “Barnie”? That’s what you’re called when you work at the Barn. You’re more than a actor, you’re a Barnie. If hired, a Barnie can expect to work up to 16 hours a day six days a week. The experience earns them points toward membership in Actors Equity, the union for actors and stage managers.

In addition to rehearsals and performances, a Barnie’s typical day may be comprised of building scenery, working in the box office, the publicity office, the costume shop, or on the grounds. Before the curtain rises, dressed in costume and in character, they direct patrons where to park, while after performances they serve drinks in the Rehearsal Shed Bar. And when a production’s run is over, they break down the sets.

The percentage of Barnies who go on to greater success is enviable. Brendan boasts that a Barnie has appeared on Broadway every year since 1965, and recalls that 25 Barnies appeared on Broadway stages at one time. “I don’t know any other equity theatre whose alums have had the success that ours have had,” he brags.

The Barn Theater
Photo courtesy of The Barn Theater

Want to know who has “tread the boards” at the Barn? Check out this great list:
Jennifer Garner (Alias), Dana Delaney (China Beach), Kim Zimmer (Guiding Light), Marin Mazzie (Broadway), Robert Newman (Guiding Light), Becky Ann Baker (Freaks and Geeks), Adrienne Barbeau (Maude) and Tom Wopat are just a few of the names who have apprenticed at The Barn Theatre. The new season will be announced in May – find it here: http://www.barntheatre.com/

Thanks to J. Conrad Guest and the Barn Theatre website for some of the material in this feature. ~Dan Moyle, Wanna-be-Barnie

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