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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

The Bard of Barter: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Barter Theatre took <em>Civil War Voices</em> to Charleston, S.C.
Barter Theatre took Civil War Voices to Charleston, S.C.
Additional photos below »

"We have been extremely successful ..."

December 28, 2011

A! Magazine: Barter seems to be getting back to its historic roots by taking plays on tour. Has that venture been successful?

RICHARD ROSE: We have been extremely successful in doing exactly what we set out to do by touring nationally. There were largely three reasons for Barter to begin producing national tours once more, aside from the historic roots of this theatre as a touring organization:

• With the reduction in the number of freelance writers and the lack of media coverage outside of metropolitan areas, Barter needed to be seen and experienced nationally as a way to garner national attention and attract tourists from across the nation.

• With a resident acting company, touring is a great opportunity for company members to experience the rest of the country and still remain a part of Barter's resident acting core a way for them to concentrate on their work in one show. Usually, in any given week, an actor at Barter Theatre is performing two different productions on stage and rehearsing two other productions at the same time.

• A third reason is to raise the status of Barter Theatre within the theatre world. As it is extremely difficult for theatre colleagues to get to see much, if any, of our work here, our tours give them an opportunity to see and/or hear about Barter's work. Barter is a very special theatre doing a very unique style of work theatrically. It is important for us that the rest of the theatre world experience and understand what we are doing here in Abingdon. Touring is one way that the world can experience Barter.

A! Magazine: There seems to be a majority of "gray heads" who attend Barter. How is Barter trying to reach out to young audiences?

RICHARD ROSE: Actually, Barter is admired nationally for the youth of our audiences. The average age of Barter's audience is well below the national average for audiences for professional theatre. Barter has been immensely successful in attracting audiences of all ages. In fact, if we have any difficulty at this point in time, it is that we do NOT have a large enough audience in the ages above 65. Of our 160,000-plus audience members every year, more than 25% are under 18. We have great success with Gen X (born 1965-1980) and Gen Y (born after 1980) audiences, strong college attendance, and excellent family attendance. I would consider our audience extremely well-balanced.

A! Magazine: What were the successes of the 2011 season? Are Barter's numbers of attendees continuing to climb?

RICHARD ROSE: Barter's attendance numbers have stayed consistently over 163,000 for the last three years, with 2008, 2009 and 2010 all being record years in some of the toughest economic times that we have experienced in our lifetime. That speaks volumes about Barter and the consistency and quality of our programming.
Attendance, which it seems everyone would like to use to judge a show's success, is not always the criterion for true success. Large numbers may just mean popularity, which may have more to do with the history of the show or its previous incarnations or who wrote it or how long it ran on Broadway or how popular it was as a movie.

I consider our 2011 production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast a success, not because it was the largest attended production in Barter history, but because it was an incredible production from every point-of-view — acting, designs, choreography, etc. It was a truly thorough and professional work by Barter on every level.

The success of Civil War Voices is measured by the quality of that work and Barter's work on developing that important project for the future of the theatre in hopes that it will be presented throughout the U.S. — it's that important a work.

One could argue that Barter's recent production of Cabaret could be considered among the best productions of that show worldwide. That's saying a lot given the history and longevity of that show.

Our production of The 39 Steps was extremely popular and, yet, I consider Circumference of a Squirrel, a one-man show that would only attract the more discerning and serious theatre-goer, to be among the most successful shows of the 2011 season and a performance by Nick Piper that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Have audiences ever laughed harder than at Dracula Bites? And has Catherine Bush written better plays than Wooden Snowflakes or The Road to Appomattox — I think not.

So, you see my dilemma. Success comes in many forms and we at Barter are very clear about our goals for each production and measure success against the goals we set out to achieve. Every play cannot and will not win the popularity contest.

A! Magazine: How do you go about planning for a theater season?

RICHARD ROSE: I truly look forward to every play we choose to produce here at Barter. I do not choose a show that I cannot get excited about producing or excited about bringing to Barter's audiences. The planning process for a season is extremely complicated as one must consider the following:
• Sales (Barter is 78% reliant upon earned income; 65% of total revenues are ticket sales. The national average in professional theatre is 45% earned income; 32% ticket sales),
• Our repertory company members,
• Artistic goals,
• Regional desires and sensibilities,
• Our commitment to Appalachian culture and Southern programming, and
• Always, always one has to consider our budget limitations.

A! Magazine: What new directions do you see Barter going in the next 10 years?

RICHARD ROSE: I don't want to leave you with any negative implications about anything, but I do believe that Barter and the arts in general are going to struggle and have to find new opportunities and new sources of revenues over the next five years.

Looking out over 10 years, I see Barter's future to be very bright as we have had great success with younger audiences Gen X and Gen Y who will become a foundation for Barter's future. Barter has set itself up for future success by being able to adjust and able to understand trends. I see a Barter experiencing continued growth in the second five years of the next decade. I think in five to seven years, there is a third theatre space in Barter's future, but certainly not before that time frame.

We have a lot of long-term programming and projects: the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, the Shaping of America series, The Wolf Hills Project (in conjunction with Community Performance International), and an expanded educational program which will position Barter within the schools throughout the region. All of these will carry Barter into a very vital and important next 10 years.

A! Magazine: What would be the programming at a third theatre?

RICHARD ROSE: Plans would be two-fold: (1) a better space for programming for family audiences for which our Main Stage is just a bit too large of a theatre, and (2) a place to run ongoing productions such as Keep on the Sunny Side: The Songs and Story of The Carter Family for which there is a demand.

A! Magazine: In 1949, Barter Theatre won a Tony Award for contributions to the American theatre. Isn't it time that Barter won another Tony Award?

RICHARD ROSE: While we'd all love that to happen, and we have had many friends on the Tony committees over the last decade, the American Theatre Wing has stated that it will not repeat a regional Tony winner as there are too many regional theatres who have yet to be recognized for their work; thus, they will not consider any theatre who has previously received the award.

Barter's Shaping of America Series

Barter Theatre's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is one of Barter's elaborate shows.