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Barter's storied history holds fond memories for actors, directors

Katherine Scoggins • Jan 16, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Barter Theatre has a reputation as a theatre where many actors performed before gong on to achieve fame and fortune. The most recognized of these alumni include Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn, Ned Beatty, Gary Collins, Larry Linville and Kevin Spacey.

Today's actors and directors are well-versed in the venue's storied history. Recently, a few of them agreed to share their personal experiences related to some of the most amazing people and unforgettable moments to ever grace the Barter stage.

Katy BrownAssoc. Artistic Director of Barter TheatreArtistic Director of The Barter Players

"One of the most memorable people I have worked with either here at Barter or anywhere on earth is Alice White. Alice was a New York actor who worked here quite a bit during my 15 years at the theatre. You may remember her as Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls," Kate in "Sylvia," and any number of hilarious men in "Around the World in 80 Days." If you saw any of these shows, you will know what I mean when I say that she was an incredible actor. Tall and thin with an amazing ability to change her characters’ moods: one second she’d make you laugh and the next, cry. Any chance I got, I would slip into the back of the theatre where she was performing to catch a few of her scenes. It was real - the rage and the laughter and the heartbreak never tasted false. And believe me, as one who played her daughter once in show, she didn’t hold back on her stage slaps any more than she did her emotions. She was the real deal.

Even though I will never forget Alice’s work on stage, what I remember most is Alice, the person. She was the most alive person I’d ever met. She’d ride her bike around Abingdon, beaming at everyone who drove past and letting her red cape flap behind her. She told me once that she was so happy because she was so grateful - that she spent each day giving thanks for every tree she saw and every person she met and that being thankful gave her joy. The relationship of thankfulness and joy, that’s what Alice taught us, onstage and off. Alice left the world a few years ago and left a huge hole in all of our hearts. No one will replace her, and each year we remember her on the day she died: Thanksgiving Day."

Eugene WolfBarter resident acting company member

"My most memorable experience at Barter would have to be creating and performing A.P. Carter’s 'Keep On The Sunny Side.' I grew up in Greeneville, Tenn., and was raised by my grandparents. I can remember my Mamaw singing Carter songs all the time. She would be at the stove cooking eggs and singing 'Keep on the unny side…' and I’d think, 'Oh, how corny!' In 2002, when I started researching the music, it felt so familiar… I heard my Mamaw, who passed in 1990, singing all those old songs once again.

While the show was still in development, the Carter family came one evening and we performed the show for them. I will never forget sitting maybe 10 feet away from Janette Carter as her 'father' was dying onstage, asking her to 'keep my music alive.'

Performing it at Carter Fold was amazing! You could feel the family there with you. Perhaps one of the things I’ll remember most was looking out into the audience and seeing a 90-plus-year-old woman, who had probably never attended a play at Barter, sitting there listening to 'her Carters' and reliving the music of her youth."

Richard RoseProducing artistic director of Barter Theatre

"James Brodhead started his professional career at Barter, and went on to become a journalist with Time-Life and a very successful character actor. James returned to Barter in 'Golf With Allen Shepherd.' James was a true old-time character actor, full of fun, lots of old theatre stories and always a trouper.

And, of course, stars like Patricia Neal, Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine and David Bryne - all of whom are first-class human beings and incredible talents that I've had the pleasure to get to know.

At the top of my list would be a man who worked as an associate director at Barter and from whom I learned a great deal - Tom Celli. Tom was an amazing actor and an incredible director. He directed and performed comedy probably better than anyone I have ever known. Tom helped found and shepherd Barter's Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights into existence. He was both a joker and one of the most passionate and serious theatre professionals I have ever known. And, I will just drop this statement without comment, he once saved my life, literally.

We have a portrait of Tom Celli and one of Alice White on the stairway that leads to our rehearsal halls, so we get to pass by them each day as a reminder of their tremendous work, great spirit and wonderful collaboration - and as an inspiration to give our best and do our greatest work each day.'

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