The Red Barn: A Great Theatrical Pedigree

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For further information, call: Bob Bowersox at 302-540-6102

For the November 8 issue of PARADISE


 

The Red Barn: A Great Theatrical Pedigree

Red Barn At Night with Patrons.jpg

Thirty-nine years. Thirty-nine seasons of comedy, drama, farce, fantasy, music, melodrama, tragedy, spectacle, suspense, histrionics, surprise, showmanship, and yes, even a bit of scenery-chewing. Over three hundred and twenty productions and still counting.

Key West’s Red Barn Theatre has certainly earned its reputation as “One of the best professional theaters in South Florida,” a kudo sent the theater’s way by Florida Monthly Magazine not too long ago. But more than that, it has earned the love and respect of an entire generation of theater lovers in the Keys, and is now luring in and entertaining the next. That tends to happen when you do great work over a long period of time.

But that’s just the modern era we’ve been talking about. The Barn, as it’s affectionately called, has had a storied history as a theatrical venue going all the way back to the turn of the last century. It actually began life as the carriage house for Key West’s Oldest House, built in 1829 and still standing on Duval Street. When automobiles made the horse carriage obsolete, the Barn was adopted by a small group who called themselves the Key West Community Players, and the old horse barn became a theater for the first time, with shows produced well into the 1940s.

After World War II, those Community Players moved themselves to their new venue on Mallory Square, now known as the Waterfront Playhouse, and the Red Barn was born again under the guiding hands of Ruth Guttman and her concert pianist husband, Yehuda, who filled the space with gorgeous musical concerts and marvelous puppet shows running into the 60’s and 70’s.

But it was in 1980 that the Red Barn was reborn into its current incarnation, when the Woman’s Club – who now own the property – offered the space to a spirited group of young actors and directors, including Richard Magesis, Mimi and Gary McDonald, Joy Hawkins, John Wells, Susan Hawkens, Tom Murtha, Chris Stone, Armando Lodigiani, and Carole MacCartee, who opened the doors of the new Red Barn Theatre and have not looked back since. Many of them, in fact, are still affiliated with the Barn, acting, directing, handling the day-to-day business of running a popular and successful theater that has grown into one of the true cultural cornerstones of the Key West entertainment firmament.

“The Red Barn set the bar for live professional theater in Key West,” said Mimi McDonald, the Managing Director of the theater. “Our mission has always been to give artists, actors, and directors a place to work in Paradise and to pay them professionally. And not just the local talent…giants like Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, actors Roy Scheider and Tony Roberts, composer Jerry Herman, poet Richard Wilbur – they all worked at the Red Barn.”

Joy Hawkins, now the Red Barn’s Artistic Director, thinks the theater’s longevity and popularity also springs from the founding group’s early “anything goes” approach.

“In the beginning, it was director-driven…that’s how seasons got put together,” Hawkins said. “We were all in a collective mentality, with a wide range of suggestions for shows coming from everyone. And that kind of thinking has stayed -- we still try to do a lot of different things, which I think appeals to our audiences.”

Hawkins also believes that the Red Barn itself is really the star. “The intimacy of the theater is its greatest asset,” she said of the Red Barn’s close 88-seat capacity. “The venue is incredible. You’re right there with the actors, and that’s thrilling. And then,” she adds, “there’s just the love of it all. You can really feel the love of theater in the Red Barn.”

That love will show in the Red Barn’s 39th season, which includes “With Bells On”, the Christopher Peterson directed comedy for the holidays, followed by the always-popular “Short Attention Span Theatre”, then the intimate and engaging “Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical” which focuses on the life and music of the iconic singer, and the final show next spring, Steve Martin’s funny and quirky “Meteor Shower”. There will also be a special comedy event – “An Evening with Gerri Louise”, starring local comedienne Gerri Louise Gates.

For more information on the Red Barn and their new season, visit redbarntheatre.com. For tickets or season subscriptions, try redbarntheatre.com/tickets or call 305-296-9911.

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marky pierson