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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

"Returning to Barter Theatre was on My Bucket List"

Barter Theatre alum Doug Wilson, right, and Richard Rose, producing artistic director of Barter. (Photo courtesy of fotoswiss.com_cattaneo)
Barter Theatre alum Doug Wilson, right, and Richard Rose, producing artistic director of Barter. (Photo courtesy of fotoswiss.com_cattaneo)

Wide World of Sports Producer wanted to be a Singer & Performer

April 29, 2012

ABINGDON, VA — Barter Theatre is known for drama and famous alum. On April 3, 2012, the famed professional theatre combined the two with a special one-night event.

"It's easy to celebrate the people in front of the cameras like Barter alum Patricia Neal and Gregory Peck, but it's not very often that we get to celebrate people who did things behind the scenes that affect the way we experience the world," said Richard Rose, Barter's producing artistic director.

The drama experienced that night was a bit different than drama one would expect from William Shakespeare or Arthur Miller. On April 3, Barter alum Doug Wilson took attendees on an Odyssey different from Homer's, but his story was filled with drama: the human drama of sports.

Wilson came to Barter almost 60 years ago with stars in his eyes. He wanted to become a singer and performer. Well, life had different plans for him. Better plans. When he stepped back on the boards at Barter some six decades later, more than his wildest dreams are realized.

You may not know the name Doug Wilson, but if you were born before 1970, chances are you saw his work every Saturday morning. It won him 17 Emmys and paved the way for his induction into the U.S. Figure Skaters Hall of Fame (although he barely skates, which is a testament to his work). Soon, he will accept the first Frank Bare Award for service to gymnastics by the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame due to his significant contributions to popularizing gymnastics during the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

As producer and director of ABC's Wide World of Sports, Wilson spanned the globe to bring Americans "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" to millions of Americans tuned in every Saturday morning. Wilson's unique Odyssey took him across five continents to events of all proportions; from Olympic arenas, to backroom pool halls; from Grand Prix of Monaco and figure skating in Beijing to wrist-wrestling in Petaluma; from gymnastics in Bulgaria and Brazil, to historic ping-pong diplomacy in Detroit.

What does ABC's Wide World of Sports or sports in general have to do with theatre? "I've always approached sports not from the jock, locker room or fan point of view, but from the theatrical point of view, and I thought of sports as theatre," Wilson says.

Along with legendary sports caster Jim McKay, Wilson didn't just bring Americans the results of competition. "After all, what takes place on stage is just like what takes place in an arena: performing in front of a live audience. The only difference: on stage the actors are working off a script and on a field or an arena, the script has not yet been written," explains Wilson.

"The connections he made with sport figures, the way he brought athletes into our lives, the coverage of the Olympics — as someone behind the scenes, Wilson has probably done more to affect our lives than we know. He is someone we should and absolutely must celebrate," said Richard Rose. "During his 50 years at ABC's Wide World of Sports, the most popular television program of its time, Doug transformed the way we watch sports. If you think about the way we celebrate an actor, with an Oscar or Tony, Doug also brought home the big prize, a Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award: the equivalent of an Oscar or Tony in his field, not to mention his 17 Emmys. He was the first to add music to sports."

Before his world-wide travels and meeting, befriending and covering sports icons such as Muhammad Ali, Scott Hamilton, Peggy Flemming and countless others, as a college student at Colgate In 1955, Wilson lined up an audition with Barter founder Robert Porterfield in New York.

"It was a dream of mine to become a singer and performer; so to go to Barter Theatre for a summer was to act on that dream," said Wilson. Porterfield hired him as a summer intern at Barter. "I was paid a whole dollar per week," Doug said with a chuckle.

"To return to Barter Theatre was on my bucket list," said Wilson. "It was a dream come true."

"We were able to celebrate an award-winning Barter alum who is a master storyteller. He described his interviews, backed by real TV footage, from those in the sports and entertainment world," said Lori Hester, director of patron services at Barter Theatre. "This was a very special event for Barter, and we were very excited to welcome Doug Wilson back to Barter's stage to share these incredible stories. Theatre inspires, and we all witnessed one incredible way that it is so."

For more information on Barter Theatre, call 276-628-3991 or visit