A! Magazine for the Arts

Producing Artistic Director, Katy Brown (right) and Resident Lighting Designer, Andrew Morehouse (left), discuss a few details before the evening rehearsal begins.

Producing Artistic Director, Katy Brown (right) and Resident Lighting Designer, Andrew Morehouse (left), discuss a few details before the evening rehearsal begins.

Barter Theatre puts technology to work outdoors

September 30, 2020

The coronavirus has caused upheaval in everyone’s lives and schedules, and it has been particularly disruptive for the arts. Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia, came up with a creative solution – leasing the Moonlite Drive-In.

“It became apparent very quickly that holding shows safely inside the theater was going to be a way off, and I started looking for outdoor options. I thought cars would be a good way to keep people separate, and I had such fond memories of seeing movies at the Moonlite when I was an intern at Barter. I drove around looking at spaces (the fairgrounds, fields, parking lots, etc.), but walking into the Moonlite really made me feel like we had to try this. The nostalgia of the Moonlite and the joy of Barter shows felt like an irresistible match,” Katy Brown, artistic director, says.

Once Brown found a location, the work began – and it happened quickly. They got the idea in April, began work in June and held their first show July 14.

Food City helped to lease the property, and JA Street & Associates helped clean up and revitalize the grounds. Volunteers and staff, along with other area businesses, cleared debris, refurbished the box office, mowed and lined the field, scraped and painted everything in sight, built a stage 15 feet in the air, and wired everything for production. Barter alum RickMcVey taught the video team how to shoot and mix live video during performance. Then arrangements had to be made for the sound to be connected to radio stations that could be picked up in patrons’ cars. Safety protocols for the audience, staff and volunteers were created and vetted with Barter’s Medical Advisory Board.

Putting the show on at the Moonlite requires a lot more technology than if it had been staged inside the theater. For “Mary Poppins,” they used five cameras. Three were mounted on the set and two had camera crews that operated them for moving shots. The projector is mounted on the roof of the stage.

“The whole feeling is less formal. There are little girls in their Belle dresses dancing to the music on the lawn. People sing along. Audiences flash their lights (and sometimes honk their horns) along with cheering. You can wear whatever you want and eat dinner during the show if you want. The show itself is different too— it’s simultaneously a play, a radio story and a live-shot movie all at once. There are so many different things to see. There’s nothing quite like it,” Brown says.

When the audience goes home, the actors continue to demonstrate their dedication to their craft — they return to semi-isolation.

“The actors have formed a quarantine bubble that we refer to as the QuaranTeam. They each had to isolate in their own room in housing and undergo testing before they could come together to begin rehearsals. Now that they are working, they can be around each other, but no one else. They have a strict set of protocols overseen by Barter’s Medical Advisory Board to keep their bubble secure so they can interact freely on stage,” Brown says.

Eugene Wolf shares songs and stories in “How Can I Keep from Singing” (and Talking and Acting ...) Oct. 1-3. Dracula” comes to the stage Oct. 9 through Nov. 8 and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is presented Oct. 22 through Nov. 11. Christmas plans will be announced soon.

Tickets are available at bartertheatre.com and by calling the box office at 276-628-3991. Tickets are $10-$11 for children and $20-$22 for adults.

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