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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

The Legacy of Robert Porterfield

Richard Rose, Barter Theatre's Producing Artistic Director
Richard Rose, Barter Theatre's Producing Artistic Director

By Richard Rose | February 25, 2007

"I'd like to think my work is not as mortal as myself, that Barter Theatre will prove to be more than bricks and mortar, and that what it is will outlast me and my generation, perhaps even the next generation and the one after that." — From the memoirs of Robert Porterfield

For me, Robert Porterfield's obvious greatest legacy is the lasting strength of Barter Theatre. For a person to create something that lasts well beyond their death is a feat so few in the world can claim.

But beyond his truly charismatic persona — you know that Robert Porterfield was a hit on the motivational speaking circuit much like Will Rogers — and his ability to inspire others to pitch in and help — lots of community people supported Barter with donations and their time — perhaps the greatest admiration that I have for Bob was ultimately his passion for the art of theatre.

There are countless battles that Bob fought throughout his life:

? a long, public battle with the Virginia Board of Education in which Bob insisted that they include theatre and the arts in the statewide teaching curriculum

? his battle with the Virginia legislature to receive funding for Barter which resulted in Barter becoming the State Theatre of Virginia

? and his many battles over complacency and resistance to change by people in the Abingdon community and the region, who in many cases did not understand the need or desire for Barter Theatre.

Many times, Bob wanted to quit, and there are many letters from Bob to the Barter Board of Directors, even early in the beginning years of Barter, in which he questioned whether he should continue or if Barter should find someone else to carry on. But in each instance, with each obstacle, Bob stood up and moved the organization forward. He faced every hurdle and found ways, often just through strength of will and passion, to continue and to make Barter happen year after year.

I will close by sharing my favorite quote from Bob, "The antagonist is economics forever and always...the monotonous, prosaic, endless crisis of never having enough money to fit your dreams and barely enough to open your next show."

Topics: Theatre