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Christmas at Barter a treasured tradition, even at the drive-in or online

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Dreaming of a Barter Christmas

John Osborne and Vicki Cooper Trammell taking in ‘White Christmas’ at Barter Theater this past year.

A trip to Abingdon to see Barter Theatre’s seasonal offerings each Christmastime has been a tradition for me for many years. Each and every performance has been wonderful. That doesn’t mean I remember them all or which play was presented a certain year.

I don’t think I’ll forget Christmas with Barter this year. Notice I didn’t say “at.” If you haven’t heard, Barter moved its productions this year to the Moonlite Drive-in. It’s a memorable experience. And to make things even better, if you can’t catch a live performance at the drive-in of Barter’s two current productions — “A Christmas Carol” and “Frosty” — “A Christmas Carol” is available for online viewing (your whole family can watch a video performance, at home, for less than what one ticket might cost otherwise).

More details on all that are below. I will say I’ve seen “A Christmas Carol” at the Moonlite and it is a superb production. I’ve seen many versions of the familiar story, live and on film. But Barter’s current production, even from the front seat of my car (with the windows up and the heat running on low, radio tuned to hear the play) not only kept my rapt attention, but entertained me as if I’d never before heard the cautionary tale of Ebenezer Scrooge.

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Back to my own ghosts of Barter Christmas Past.

Standouts in my mind range from the comical “A Tuna Christmas” to the more soul-searching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and back to comedy with “A Christmas Story.” Oddly, I can’t remember the title of one of my favorites. The setting was rural Appalachia during the Great Depression, and I think the plot involved a live radio show. If all that is so vague, how can it be a favorite memory? The music!

I’m pretty sure it was the night “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” became a year-round, go-to song for me. My favorite verse:

“Oh beautiful Star the hope of light

Guiding the pilgrims through the night

Over the mountains till the break of dawn

Into the light of perfect day

It will give out a lovely ray

Oh beautiful Star of Bethlehem shine on (shine on).”

That show actually might have been the year going to Barter turned into a postcard-perfect Christmas moment, through pure luck. Again, I’d be hard pressed to say for sure what play we saw. A friend was closing up his RV for the winter, at a campground down in Baileyton, and I suggested we take in a Saturday matinee at Barter for our “holiday together” time before he headed home to Kentucky.

I did get us matinee tickets and as we drove north on Interstate 81, it began to snow. By the time we parked a couple of blocks over, the ground and trees were covered in white. As we walked the cross street toward Main Street it became clear why traffic had seemed heavy. We were just in time to see the town’s Christmas parade. In the snow. Passing by the picturesque Martha Washington Inn (where we grabbed lunch before the show).

Last year also turned out extraordinary and I doubt I’ll forget it anytime soon. My ride-or-die, Vicki Cooper Trammell, had never seen “White Christmas.” Not even the movie. Oh, she’d seen bits and pieces. But not the whole thing. For several years we’ve tried to enjoy an experience together rather than exchanging stuff. Neither of us needs more stuff. So we went one evening, between Christmas and New Year’s, to see Barter’s production. It was amazing. It was merry and bright.

It wasn’t our first trip to see a play for Christmas. A few years ago we drove up to Pikeville, Ky., to see a production of “A Christmas Carol” by the Jenny Wiley Theatre. God willing, it won’t have been our last, either. Last year for my birthday Vicki took me to see “Hamilton” at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. This year she promised we’ll be Broadway bound as soon as the lights are back on.

You still have time to catch Barter’s productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “Frosty,” live onstage (and on the big screen behind the stage) at the Moonlite. Performances of each are scheduled nightly through Dec. 23 (that’s Wednesday). “Frosty” is at 6 p.m. and “A Christmas Carol” is at 8 p.m. Both are presented in one act, eliminating intermission and cutting the time you and yours sit in the car. The night I went, the show started at 8, and I was headed out of the drive-in at approximately 9:10.

Notes if you go: reserve your spot by purchasing tickets in advance; print out your ticket(s) which include your row and space numbers for the drive-in’s lot. Put that information in your window and keep your windows up as theatre “ushers” direct you to your spot. Every other space is left vacant to provide social distancing. The night I went, Santa was out front greeting cars as they arrived at the Moonlite. If you enjoy something in the show, honk your horn and blink your lights (it’s the drive-in way of applauding). Speaking of lights, make sure you know how to turn off your car’s running lights if it has them. Take snacks.

As i mentioned above, the Barter has been streaming a performance of “A Christmas Carol” (and other of its plays) online. The cost is $15 and that gives you access for 14 days. And through today the Barter is sharing a free 40-minute Christmas video, “From Our Homes for the Holidays,” on its website and Facebook page. Featuring members of Barter’s Resident Acting Company, the program offers songs, stories, and memories celebrating the holiday season.

To access “From Our Homes for the Holidays” or for tickets and more information visit bartertheatre.com.