Red Barn Theatre Memories

I very rarely dig into my past lives while posting; my blog has always been, first and foremost about gardening and nature, but a seemingly small event has been pushing its way to the front of my brain and it won’t go away until I write it down.

I spent big money this last weekend so I could see “Stephen Sondheim’s Company” at the movies. I thought it would be a PBS concert with various performers singing the different characters parts and perhaps a narrator. Surprisingly, though the orchestra was right there, the performance was the whole, actual show with set pieces, dialogue and choreography. It was fantastic. And it reminded me of the summer I worked at the Red Barn Theatre in Saugatuck.

I was 19 years old and after auditioning all year for one musical after another, finally  got a part at the New Vic Theatre in the chorus of “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”. I’d like to think that it was my great singing voice that got me in, but it was probably the fact that I impressed the director by borrowing music from the show and learning a song in 2 hours, between the afternoon and evening auditions.

It turned out that the director had gotten a job managing a professional summer stock theatre in Saugatuck and decided to just bring the whole production up as the first show of the season. This would save rehearsal time and money in sets. I was flattered that he asked me if I could stay and work the whole summer as an apprentice (what I lacked in talent, I made up for by being a hard worker). He even offered me a stipend, to make up for the money I’d be losing from my regular part-time job at the local newspaper. I felt it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and couldn’t turn it down.

I loved “How to Succeed…” As a secretary, I sang and danced my way through the show. A couple of old, dear friends were also in the musical and I made friends with the other actors. Most of the cast managed to find places to sleep in the tight living quarters behind the barn; I got the short couch in the living room and slept with my feet hanging off the end. I really loved what I was doing.

After the show ended, most of the cast went back home, leaving a small company of performers that would live together for the rest of the summer. I think I was the youngest in the company, at least it felt as though I were the youngest.

There are times in my life when I feel like an outsider; an observer, watching the rest of the world interact with each other, as though thru a window. The summer of ’74 was one of those times. I listened from the backseat of a car while one married cast member discuss homosexuality to another. Years later I realized that, in his own way, he was coming out of the closet to us. I watched while company members dealt with unrequited love, infidelities, strained marriages, new and long-lasting loves, and sexual confusion.  I learned that my best friend in the world should never eat alcohol injected strawberries, as she would end up in the bathroom with me holding her hair out of the way while she threw up (that was after she tried to make out with all the single men at the party). I found out that another old friend, using her alter-ego “Ruthie”, confided to me and our other roommate, in the character’s little girl voice that she thought she might be frigid.  And then there was the do-dah lady. It was like living in a soap opera. It was a very educational experience to a very naive 19-year-old college student still living at home.

The one show we did that summer and that is haunting my thoughts as I write, is “Company”. I really related to the Bobby character; he was also an observer, not a participant of life, just like me. The only time I really felt alive was onstage or working on a show in some way. However, I was not onstage for “Company” I was the property mistress. In fact, I became property mistress for the whole season even though I had never done props before. I’ve got to hand it to the director; he was able to see potential in me that I never knew I had. He gave me a soprano part in one musical, telling me that he knew I could hit the notes, he gave me solos, and he put me in charge of props. He pushed me to try new things and surprise, surprise! I actually found I could do it!

Throughout the production of “Company”, I would run around backstage making sure props were in place and removing them after each scene. Still, I would always be at the stage left curtain, to watch Kirk sing the final song, “Being Alive”. Every night it would bring tears to my eyes. I would cry for the beautiful words, the wonderful voice expressing hope for love, the ache in my heart also wanting someone to love me. It was sad, it was beautiful, it was hopeful.

I was 19 years old.

The film that I watched this weekend brought this all back again. Sometimes you get so caught up in the day-to-day mundaneness of living that you forget the important influences of your past.

So here it is. The Song.

Being Alive by Stephen Sondheim

Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who’ll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive, Being alive, Being alive.

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive, Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive, Being alive, Being alive!


About Jill-O

a girl who likes lakes, trees and critters; making an attempt at living the artistic life.
This entry was posted in biographical, theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Red Barn Theatre Memories

  1. commonweeder says:

    I love summer theater! And right now I am reading Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim and listening to recordings of his great shows. Wonderful.

    • jillo says:

      If you can get a recording of Company, I highly recommend it. Better yet, try to see the film if you can. It’s not a cheap ticket and it’s only playing at selected theaters so you may have to wait until it comes out on DVD.

  2. Did you see the Lincoln Center performance? I didn’t hear about it until it was too late and I am really hoping it comes out in DVD. I love Company, one of my favorite Sondheims (tempted to say I love them all, but I’m not really crazy about Assassins).

  3. Sherwood Snyder III says:

    Ah, the Red Barn Theater….Jim Webster, the founder was a close friend and I worked at the “original” barn with him at the helm. Have posted some snapshots of our year there under my Weebly account, Sherwood Snyder. Do give it a look if you like nostalgia, my constant companion of late. S

  4. Cathy says:

    Enjoyed my visit to your blog……… How exciting a time that must have been….


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