In its earlier years, the Barn Theater stretched itself professionally by moving beyond
its own local stage. The theater took its shows on the road, throughout the South Valley,
doing performances in Taft, Shafter, Hanford, Delano, Exeter, Visalia, Tulare and Fresno.
The performers also went on the radio, broadcasting a series of half-hour programs, which
were first heard only on KTIP Radio in Porterville, but which were later aired on stations
in Tulare, Hanford and Visalia, as well.
Another new approach to entertaining the community came in the form of the Drawing Room
Theater concept, in which the players performed small productions in private homes for
those seeking a loftier form of drama than the general audiences saw on the theater's main
stage. These shows eventually came to be performed on the theater's Second Stage, rather than
out in the community.
The Barn also began, in those early years, its long-standing commitment to theater education,
establishing training programs for both children and adults. These expansive programs were
made possible through the theater's own internal training programs. In a cooperative effort
with Bennington College, where Tewksbury's sister was a student, the Barn sought to bring
in students and aspiring actors to work with the locals in its productions. These energetic
young people would form what would come to be known as the theater's "nucleus". In exchange
for room and board, they would provide talent for the stage and labor for the many jobs offstage
and behind the scenes that kept the operation rolling.
Among those who came here in that capacity were Ann B. Davis and the late Richard
Deacon, both of whom moved on to successful careers as television character actors.
Davis is best remembered for her roles as "Schultzy" on the Bob Cummings
comedy show Love That Bob, and as "Alice" on the 1970's family show The Brady Bunch.
Deacon is known for his roles as "Fred Rutherford", father of Wally's friend Lumpy, on
Leave It To Beaver, and as "Mel Cooley", brother-in-law of television star Alan
Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
By the mid 1950s, Deacon, Davis, and founder Tewksbury had all departed from the Barn, leaving
it to stand on its own as a locally staffed and operated community theater. The going proved
rough and the theater's existence was frequently threatened by financial disaster. In 1957 Davis,
by then popular for her role on Cummings' show, returned to Porterville with the cast of a Pasadena
Playhouse production to stage a benefit for the Barn. Her show put the theater back on its feet for
a time, but competition from television, which kept prospective audience members glued to their
couches at home, and lack of experienced leadership kept the Barn always on the brink. In 1960,
Tewksbury came back to Porterville to help bail out his brainchild, bringing with him the stars of
Father Knows Best, as well as Deacon, who was now familiar to the general public through his
television work. And, again, the theater was saved from going broke.
In the early 1970s the theater experienced an infusion of volunteers, bringing in new talent and vigor,
and once more operations began to run in the black. Alternating cycles of success and struggle continued
to mark the Barn's progression through the years - even to the present day. This cyclical pattern seems
to be a fact of life for the Barn, as it is for most community theaters throughout the country.
Roger Merryman, who produced a book on the Barn, The Story of the Barn Theater, as his
master's thesis at California State University Fresno, offered a theory on what it is that has allowed
the Barn to continue through good times and bad.
"The key to the Barn's survival has always been the people", he wrote. "As long as there have been
a few individuals who were willing to put forth the effort to get a play 'on the boards', the Barn
has survived. And it will probably continue to survive as long as there are people who will stay involved."
For over sixty years there have been different groups of people keeping the theater going. Volunteers would
come in and work hard for a season or two, then drift away to other things, only to be replaced by new
faces, energetic, dedicated, and eager to take over where the last group left off. As has often been said,
"The show must go on". Who knows, maybe it's time for you to get involved!