21 July 2009

The Barter Theatre Building-Abingdon, Virginia

Let's take a trip down the road to Abingdon, Virginia. Abingdon is located approximately 132 miles southwest of Roanoke and is a hop-skip-jump from the Tennessee border. It is about as far west as you can go in Virginia.

The Barter Theatre building, now housing The State Theatre of Virginia, was constructed in 1831 as a new location for Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church. The earliest theatrical event known to occur here was a production of the Virginian on January 14, 1876, the proceeds of which were used for building repairs.

In 1890, the Sons of Temperance transferred the building's title to the Town of Abingdon , to be used as a town hall for the benefit of the citizenry.In addition to offices, the town used the building as a fire hall – hence the fire alarm on the roof that sounded as needed at any time, day or night. When the fire siren sounded during a Barter performance, the actors were instructed to freeze their position on stage and to resume the action when the alarm concluded. The alarm remained on the building until 1994 when the fire department went to a system of electronic communications to alert fire fighters.

Many of the interior furnishings in the theatre are from the Empire Theatre of New York City. Robert Porterfield learned that this New York City theatre, constructed in 1875, was slated for destruction. Porterfield had one weekend in which to carry away furnishings and equipment for use at Barter. He came away with $75,000 worth of seats, lighting fixtures, carpeting, paintings, and tapestries.

The lighting system at the Empire, designed and installed by Thomas Edison, was used at Barter Theatre through the mid 1970's. Barter Theatre Stage II was constructed in 1829, as a Methodist church. Only the main building of the church was not destroyed by fire in 1914; it was later used by the Martha Washington College as a gymnasium and a storage area.
In 1961, the building was renovated by Barter Theatre as a small theatre, with major improvements made in 1973 and again in 1985, when additions included a lobby and the Jessie Ball DuPont Memorial Theatre Garden.

The unique performance space features 167 seats around a thrust stage, with patrons only a few feet away from the performers. Barter Stage II is favored by actors and audiences for its intimate setting.

In 1963, President Kennedy praised Robert Porterfield, the founder of Barter Theatre. We are a theatre of character. Rex Partington succeeded Porterfield after his death in 1971. A Barter actor in the 1950's, Partington returned as chief administrator from 1972 to 1992. Richard Rose was named Producing Artistic Director in 1992.Today, Barter has a reputation as a theatre where many famous actors first performed before they went on to achieve fame and fortune. Barter's best known alumni include: Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn, Ned Beatty, Gary Collins, David Birney, and Larry Linville.



Daryl said...

Oh Erin those are picture postcard perfect .. and now I want to visit your corner of VA ..

Anonymous said...

Awesome pictures... much better then mine.

The Blue Ridge Gal

Denise said...

What a beautiful old building, and I loved the history lesson. Great photos!

Living on the Spit said...

I haven't been there in forever!! Now, I want to go back as soon as possible. Southwest Virginia has to be the most beautiful place on this earth.

Barb said...

A little bit of NYC in Virginia!I loved reading about the actors "freezing" when the alarm went off - can just imagine that. Goodness, that sound must have been loud inside.

Gaelyn said...

What a marvelous building with a long and interesting history. I was thinking you bartered your way into the theatre instead of paying.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Oh how I enjoy going to the theater. I'm glad that many of the furnishings were recycled from the Empire theater. What a neat way to share the history of that building,too.

Your photos were just lovely, Erin.


Gill - That British Woman said...

I agree they are picture postcard perfect and very interesting information about the place.....

Gill in Canada

Lew said...

Nicely done! It is always interesting to learn of the now famous people who worked at such places as the Barter.

Pam said...

What a marvelous old theatre. I'm glad they restored it and are still using it. Its always a plus to have a theatre in town where you can see live shows.