Introduction | Beginnings | Purpose | Plans and Procedures
Developing Company and Material | Community Response
Evaluative Observations | Projections | Conclusions
1973 Sponsors and Donors | 1973 Advisory Board
The concept of Arts in the Parks is not new in the United States. The provision of natural and manmade theatres and amphitheatres in major American cities has been actively in process from the late Nineteenth Century. Small towns have had, and many of them now lost, band stands, opera houses, and other forms of public stages upon which the Performing Arts could be demonstrated. In the past two decades, however, the emphasis on municipal park planning and programming has been athletically oriented. A wider public acceptance of and interest in the Arts has now begun to reflect itself in park programming that provides for music, dance, and theatre, in short, the Performing Arts.
A major prototype program in the American Arts/Parks movement is the Wolftrap Farm Park on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Wolftrap offers a high quality Performing Arts program operated by a non-profit citizen’s group, the Wolftrap Foundation, in cooperation with a public agency, the National Park Service. Taking example from this cooperative venture the community of Columbia, Missouri explored the possibility of a Performing Arts program in that city’s new culturally oriented Nifong Park. The Maplewood Barn Book (reproduced as this page) attempts to document some of the process through which this exploration took place and off some observations and suggestions a to further development of this and similar projects.
Nifong Park was established as a Historical Garden Park for the City of Columbia, Missouri in 1969 with emphasis on cultural areas and activities. In the Columbia Parks and Recreation Master Plan of 1968 the proposed ten year development plan for the buildings at Nifong Park included a suggestion for use of the barn as a Performing Arts Center. However, the only activity that took place at the barn over the next four years was a Day Camp which used the barn as its headquarters. In the early Spring of 1973 some of the citizens of Columbia began to investigate the progress of the proposed theatre at the barn and found that much ground work needed yet to be laid.
In March 1973 the Nifong Steering Committee was presented with drawings of a modest renovation program which would enable the Maplewood Barn to offer a performing arts presentation outdoors at Nifong Park in summer 1973. The Nifong Steering Committee (hereafter, NSC) authorized the formation of a fund-raising and programming Advisory Committee of ten Columbia Citizens with a long-term commitment to the Columbia Community and an interest in the development of the Maplewood Barn Theatre. The April NSC meeting approved the duly formed Maplewood Barn Theatre Committee (hereafter, MBTC) and contributed one of its members to serve on the committee.
In its early meeting the Maplewood Barn Theatre Committee (hereafter, MBTC) came to share the idea that the south facade of the Barn with its huge lawn was an ideal natural theatre for dance, drama and music in a beautiful outdoor setting. It was felt that unless a move was made to begin long range development of such a facility at the site the barn would be “programmed” for another kind of activity. Indeed, it was learned that there was discussion of the barn being used as a farm implement museum. It was recognized that the community needed a quality performing arts outlet which was not directly affiliated with the academic institutions of Columbia, the University of Missouri, Stephens College, and Columbia College. The MBTC wanted to establish a theatre in the community which could serve family audiences. They wanted to make a place for the performing arts in the program and facilities of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. They wanted to enhance the loveliness of Nifong Park by bringing a quality performing arts program into it, thus encouraging the respectful use of the park and its historic buildings by the community.
Plans and Procedures for the Summer ’73 Program
A pilot season of twelve performances under the direction of Randall Bane, a local resident with professional theatre background, was chosen to sound out the interest of the Columbia community in the Maplewood Barn Theatre idea. Dates for the season were set to cover twelve evenings in late July and early August, to begin at 7:15 .m. so the shows could be completed before dark, reducing the electrical needs and allowing for young children to be home by dark. Press releases began to notify the public of the impending events and the project was underway. Over the next months the MBTC met bi-weekly to organize and to solicit donations of time and labor for the necessary renovation of the barn.
Meshing the schedules of the agencies, institutions, and individuals who played roles in the building and program processes involved in the opening of a new facility and a new program in about three months time was a great challenge. Fortunately, cooperation won out over conflict.
Four local construction companies contributed and assembled in place on the South Facade of the Maplewood Barn the twenty-four foot radius stage which had been envisioned in the original sketches. Local craftsmen and businessmen contributed labor and materials to enclose and outfit two dressing room areas, install electric power at the Barn, and construct an eight by twelve foot inner stage on the loft level of the barn.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department provided help by doing work on the grounds around the Barn and aiding in the construction of the box office. The accepted responsibility for audience safety and comfort. They also did several large mailings, provided the Maplewood Barn with a Bank Fund for which they kept the accounting and which enabled donors to make tax free contributions to the municipal project. Most importantly, they offered their support to the principle of a performing arts program at the Barn.
It was decided that a Commedia Dell’ Arte production would be an appropriate entertainment to offer as the opening presentation at the Maplewood Barn. There were several practical considerations in this choice. A gift of six traditional Sixteenth Century Italian Commedia Costumes had been donated to the Maplewood Barn by the Harlequin Theatre in St. Louis, a group which had performed Commedia extensively in the St. Louis school system. Mr. Bane was a former member of the Harlequin Company and was available to produce and direct a Commedia for the Maplewood Barn Theatre. The classic facade of the Barn with its proposed “courtyard” stage lent itself well to use as an Italian Renaissance backdrop with only minor embellishments and set pieces required.
In addition to these advantages, the Commedia offered itself as a convenient medium for covering the wide range of variation in audience age, experience and cultural level which the Maplewood Barn Theatre wished to serve. If family audience were to enjoy the performance, it would have to offer a range of characters with which the very old, the very young, and the ages between could all identify. Commedia offers this with its pair of young lovers, its middle-aged suitors and servants, its aging parents, and its ageless comics. Likewise, if a wide range of experienced and inexperienced performers was to be included in the performing company, the form of the material used would have to allow for a wide range of abilities and personalities. Commedia, because of its improvisational nature and its loose form, allows for the adaptation of a role to the capabilities of the performer. Performers are given the opportunity to develop their own roles on the basis of certain stock characters whose relationships with each other fall into timeless social patterns–with the ever present pleasant possibility that through the processes of attraction and repulsion, discord, and harmony everyone will finish at story’s end alive and well with no hard feelings and a little more wisdom. Thus it was felt that the Commedia would serve well the varied audience and performer populations that a community theatre ought to serve.
The Mid-Missouri Dance Theatre, a Columbia dance group, agreed to prepare and present two dances on each evenings program. Under the direction of Halcyone Perlman they were to open each evening with a classical ballet selecting and close each performance with a highly theatrical production of a Scott Joplin “Rag”. The two dance numbers and the Commedia made a one and a half hour show. On several occasions local musicians Lee Ruth, Lyle Harris and Gary Lawrence agreed to provide an additional forty-five minutres of songs and music for those who wanted to stay.
Development of a Performance Company and Performance Material
Open auditions for the Commedia Company, the Barnplayers, were announced through the local print and radio media. The only published requirements made for audition were age between 17 and 70 and good physical condition. On May 30 ten applicants appeared at the Barn to audition. Three performers were selected from that group after demonstrating the ability to improvise movement and content material in an energetic and creative manner, and being found suitable for a possible Commedia character. During the following week several auditions were arranged and held with individuals who had missed the first audition but had heard about the project and wanted to try out. Two more performers were selected from these private auditions. Two weeks later a second publicized audition was held. Two more performers were chosen on the basis of this audition.
By mid-June the Barnplayer Company was formed. It consisted of eight actors, five men and three women, ranging in age from 17 to 45 and ranging in stage experience from “none whatsoever” through high school and college experience to professional work. A stage manager, a property mistress, a sound technician, and six apprentices were selected on the basis of interview to complete the production company.
Three weeks of intensive evening and weekend rehearsals were scheduled to run from June 30 through July 21. Daytime rehearsals were precluded by the fact that many of the company members were employed full time or were attending school. The first week of rehearsals was devoted to group exercises derived from the work of the Living Theatre, the Open Theatre, and Viola Sponin’s Improvisation for the Theatre. Never having met or worked together before, the actors developed a close group relationship through these games and exercises. A representative exercise is one called “Sound and Movement.” The group forms a circle and one member moves to the center and develops a repeated vocal sound and complete body movement. The sound may be any kind of vocalization other than words. The movement should involve as much of the whole body as possible. When the player has developed a sound and movement and is repeating them in a definite rhythm, he moves to another member of the circle who must mirror exactly the sound and movement pattern of the first. The two move out into the center of the circle as they carry out this highly abstract and active form of communication. Once the pattern has been duplicated by the second member, the first moves into the second member’s position in the circle. The second then has a transition period in the center of the circle during which he must organically change the sound and the movement into a new sound, movement, and rhythm of his own. Once he is sure of his rhythmic repetition, he takes it to a third member, and so the game continues. Once the game has begun there should never be a moment when there is no rhythm of sound and movement in process. The entire group becomes very involved in following the course of these changing body and voice rhythms. They develop a strong sense of their own and each others vocal and movement capabilities and modes of expression and establish habits of complete body communication with each other. The parallels between the mechanics of this game and stage behavior, especially in improvisational theatre, are very great.
In addition to group work, individual physical and vocal exercises were learned and practiced by the company. Basic Hatha Yoga postures, dance exercises and diaphragmatic breathing exercises aided performers to gain control over physical and vocal tensions which prohibit the rapid physical reaction and heightened vocal projection necessary in quality stage performance.
During the second week of rehearsals work on the play itself was begun. Discussion of the basic natures of the characters found in a traditional Commedia helped the performers to know certain concepts which would provide “keys” to their characterizations. Then a story line was developed in nine brief scenes. The basic action of each scene was decided upon and the dialogue was improvised by the performers in that scene. Once the scene had achieved sufficient content and action, adjustments were made by the director to give the play visual and dramatic shape. The resulting play centered around the suit for the had of the daughter of a wealthy Venetian merchant. In the fast-paced farce fun is poked at greed, pedantry, gluttony, exaggeration, and other human foibles and social squabbles that make the course of love run less than smoothly.
The response of the Columbia community to the the Maplewood Barn Theatre’s opening program was very gratifying. Audience counts indicated that 978 people attended the twelve evenings of performance. Approximately 60% of the audience were adults and 40% were children. On the last four nights of performance questionnaires were passed out to the audience during intermission. Two hundred and eleven responses were received. Thirty percent of the audience were in their twenties, 20% were under twelve, 16% were in their thirties, 14% were teenagers, 11% were in their forties, and the remaining 21% were over fifty.
Responses indicated that about 40% of the audience learned about the show by “word of mouth” from friends or family members, another 25% learned from specific Barnplayer Company members, 25% learned from newspaper articles, and the remaining 10% found out through radio, television and other media. The high incidence of “word of mouth” information probably was influenced by the fact that these statistics came from the end of the performance run rather than the beginning. Once people had seen the show they started talking about it. Earlier audiences would perhaps have showed more reliance on newspaper and other media.
In an “open” question asking for the reason the “most liked” their visit to the Barn, about 65% responded with favorable comments about the show (“funny, entertaining, well-done”) and 35% with favorable comments about the setting (“outdoor atmosphere, informality, beautiful surroundings”). Other comments of interest were “good for the community”, “use of local talent”, “inexpensive entertainment”, “audience involvement”, and “imaginative use of the barn”.
The questionnaire revealed that about 35% of the audience come from the Southwest section of the City, south of Broadway and west of Providence Road. Only about 8% came from the entire central area north and south of Broadway from Providence Road to College/Tandy Avenue. The Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast sections provided 10%, 14%, and 12%, with out-of-towners making up 19% of the audience.
Community involvement in the project long before the audience was there to be counted was almost overwhelming, a list of individuals and business concerns which provided in-kind contributions of an estimated $3,500 in labor and materials to create a performing arts facility at the Maplewood Barn is included. The Special Friends of the Barn at the front of the book includes their names. Five Hundred Forty Dollars was raised in cash donations from Columbia citizens in amounts from $1.00 to $100.00 Most of these names appear on the Barnstormers list. The efforts of the Maplewood Barn Theatre Committee in soliciting gifts of quality materials and workmanship from the business and commercial community were well rewarded with work being completed on a very tight schedule over a period of about one month. The solicitation of cash donations was done primarily through a 1,700 name mailing list which did not produce as enthusiastic a response as might have been hoped for. Quite possibly this letter arrived at home too close to the opening date for people to take seriously a request for funds. Perhaps the construction of the letter made the procedure for contribution seem too complicated. For whatever the reasons the cash donations came from approximately 20 people of the 1,700 who were appealed to.
The response of the Columbia community of performers to the opportunity which the Maplewood Barn offered as an amateur performing arts outlet with high standards of quality and discipline was good as well. The number of people who appeared for auditions was not large but the quality of talent available in that number would have adequately staffed a much larger production than the scope of this first season could embrace. There was, among the entire performing company, Barnplayers, dancers, and non-performance staff a warm and strong group feeling, a sense of “unity of purpose” which developed early in the preparatory stages and grew through the performance run.
To view the Maplewood Barn Theatre’s 1973 pilot season as an unbridled triumph in which all things fell into place magically or by clever and carefully planned design would be a serious misconstruction of reality as it unfolded. The administrative foundations of the program, since it was after all a pilot program with indefinite future prospects, were not firmly laid. The Maplewood Barn Theatre Committee was a rather loose-knot policy making and fund raising group which was not sure exactly what was necessary for the accomplishment of its goals nor was it always unanimous in its understanding of what those goals were. Once the season was completed however, the Committee began moving toward the formation of a permanent Maplewood Barn Association which could as a not-for-profit corporation work toward long range development of a performing arts program at the barn, operating in cooperation with the plans and needs of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. A more formal structure for the handling of business by the board will undoubtedly come as specific areas of need in the development of the program become evident. In the very early stages of the growth of any organization a disconcerting “overload” of possibilities, priorities, communication problems may be expected to exist.
Communication between the Theatre staff and the Parks and Recreation staff involved in the use, maintenance, or improvement of the barn facility was very often a problem during the several month of intense and simultaneous use of the barn as the headquarters of Camp Cloverleaf, as well as the location of the new Maplewood Barn Theatre. And there were those who saw the facility as the “quiet old barn” where visitors to Nifong Park could view about 15,000 mud dauber nests and poke around in the dusty cattle stanchions. Problems of driving vehicles on wet and dry lawns had to be settled and conflicts over the relative importance of preserving the grass or delivering the concrete by the shovelful over a distance of three hundred yards had to be resolved. And such resolutions were often made in conditions of rather unpleasant tension between individuals or factions who seemed to be in conflict over “who had the right to decide what” or “what territory belonged to whom”. Ultimately, all concerned were working toward the same goal–to make the most sensible use of the facility for the greatest benefit of the populations served by it. In the end, Camp Cloverleaf got one humdinger of a stage upon which to perform its Parents’ Night skits and the Theatre got the opportunity to give some “behind-the-scenes: glimpses of performers at work to some inquisitive young eyes and ears. There was even some few hours every day when picnickers could still stroll into a quiet old barn and disturb the pigeons nesting in the rafters.
The administrative looseness of the project was reflected also in a general fuzziness of specific assignments to specific members of the non-performance staff, the technician, the stage manager, and the apprentices. Instructions from the Director to the staff were often express too generally for their content to be understood or were directed no to a specific individual but to “whomever will do it”. The result was that work distribution was very uneven and the most work fell on those who could assume duties without being assigned to them.
Perhaps a prime problem in the planning and execution of the entire project was a prime advantage as well. The Producer-Director of the entire project was a prime advantage as well. The Producer-Director of the program was also, in its earliest stages, the Acting Chairman of the Maplewood Barn Theatre Committee and performed with the Barnplayers in addition to his role as their Director. The advisability of one person having as pervasive control over the many elements of a project may well be questioned, not only on the basis of whether one person can profitably “spread himself so thin”, but as well on the basis of whether a program which depends so heavily on the efforts of one person can be thought to have any future without the involvement of that person. It is possible that in many such artistic endeavors the strong personal vision of one individual is a necessity for the creation of a cohesive final product. Plans for the Summer 1974 season figure a wider dispersion of responsibility, both administrative and operational.
The following are several recommendations for development of the Maplewood Barn Project beyond its 1973 status:
- Incorporate the Maplewood Barn Association as a not-for-profit corporation, giving it the power of contract to engage personnel in pursuance of a community performing arts program. The Board of Directors of the Maplewood Barn Association should serve as a policy-making group which will plan the immediate and long term programming of a community performing arts center, the Maplewood Barn Theatre.
- Determine basic financial needs and make funding requests to the Missouri State Council on the Arts for a matching grant and to the City of Columbia for Revenue Sharing funds for the 1974 season.
- Determine basic personnel needs. The Producer-Director, and a Technical Director and Music Director (if both are deemed necessary) should be contracted by the MBA Board on the basis of interview and paid a reasonable wage. The Maplewood Barn Theatre Staff (a house manager, a box office person and a publicity person) should be selected by the Professional Staff on the basis of interview. The Maplewood Barn Theatre Production Company should be selected by the Professional Staff on the basis of presentation of documented experience (Director, Assistant Director, Stage Manager, Set Director and two Assistants, Property Director and Assistant, Costume Director and three Assistants) and, in the case of the Barnplayers, an audition and at least one call-back. Audition and interview sessions should be completed by June 8, 1974.
- Rehearsals should begin the week of June 10, 1974. Production should open July 12 and run to August 10.
- Schedule capital improvement and maintenance needs with Park Department in February to allow planning time on their part.
- The city architect should examine the barn and make recommendations for future renovation and restoration of the Maplewood barn.
Conclusions and Suggestions
In order for an Arts-Parks program to be successful, Parks people must think in terms of “human” programming rather than “land” programming. Recreation people must think in terms of quality of program rather than quantity of population served, and Arts people must be willing and able to produce quality performances for popular audiences. Esoterism of the Arts must be kept at a minimum, sometimes leading the audience in the direction of new awareness, but more often celebrating with the audience the beauty and joy which the Performing Arts, the lively arts, have to offer.
The fact that Columbia is a college community suggests that the general level of cultivation might be somewhat higher than a comparable city of 65,000 where cultural values are not as strong. Could a program such as that of the Maplewood Barn be successful in another setting? Certainly. The material performed might have to be different. It should always lend itself to the tastes of the community. The principle, however, of cooperation between a non-profit citizen’s organization and a public Parks and Recreation agency is a viable partnership for the development of Arts programming in many communities. Qualified artistic personnel may be somewhat harder to find in some areas but it should be remembered that spirit, imagination, and creativity lie just beneath the surface in many of us.
Any given community, be it a city neighborhood or an entire small town, will find its own peculiar and distinctive process of developing a Performing Arts program in a Parks and Recreation setting, however, there are certain variables which should be considered in any such attempted process.
There should be available a facility which would make an appealing theatre. The beauty of the theatrical environment will greatly affect the success of the program. The needs and comforts of performers and audiences must be capable of being provided at the site. A theatre may be a simple hollow in the ground or an elaborate Hotel Ballroom. Some theatre facility is probably available in any community. It may sometimes take imagination and careful scrutiny to see it but it is there.
Whether the initiation for a Performing Arts project comes from an individual, a community group, or a Park and Recreation Department, basic administrative and operational structures should be established There should be an administrative body or Board made up of members from the several groups or agencies interested in the project. The operational staff should be responsible to this Board through the Director of the program and any other Board members who have supervisory control over some aspect of the program (such as ground maintenance, fund raising, etc.).
Performance material chosen for an Arts/Parks program should be carefully selected to aim at a wide audience of varying ages and cultural backgrounds. Attention to the tastes and cultural heritage of the local area is strongly advised. If an unfamiliar kind of material is to be used, be sure to provide a proper orientation for the audience.
Try to keep records of everything. Photographic, film, and written records will enable you to develop an archive, give you information upon which to make projections, and provide you with the technical information required by funding and taxing organizations.
Give strong consideration to payment of a qualified artistic staff. An Arts operation which thrives entirely on volunteerism may not receive the required devotion of time and energy from the operational leaders (directors, teachers, etc.) required for a long-term quality program. Qualified artistic personnel may not be easy to find in the community but reasonable remuneration will make the search easier.
Plan the program around resources that are readily available. Let the community or neighborhood, its buildings, its history, and its native talents speak to you. Draw upon the native population, those people who have a commitment to the community in which they live, especially for administrative and long-term policy-making positions.
Chart a course somewhere between over careful planning which cannot adapt to unforeseen changes that might occur and inadequate planning which does not anticipate basic needs of performers and audience.
Approach the project seriously and responsibly. The Performing Arts can enhance the loveliness of our parks and ad a deeper dimension of value to recreation as long as the quality of programming is high. A poor performance in a beautiful park may detract from the park, rather than enhance it.
Develop a concept of what you want the project to be. The ability to articulate with genuine enthusiasm the purposes and objectives of the project in terms of cultural development in the community will draw to the project those other people in the community who can be of help in such an endeavor.
Sponsors and Donors 1973
- Maplewood Barn Association
- City of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department
- Columbia Art League
Special Friends of the Barn
- The Aylward Company
- Bermingham and Prosser Paper Merchants
- Brady’s Glass and Pain Company
- John and Sondra Camie
- D & M Sound Systems Incorporated
- Bill Dolen and Company
- John Epple Construction Company
- Hathman Construction Company
- Knipp Construction Company
- Lawrence Kingsland III
- Lassiter’s Audio Visual Sales and Service
- Nu-Way Lumber Company
- Phillips and Company
- Mr. and Mrs. A.D. Sappington
- B.D. Simon Construction Company
- Wagner Advertising
- E.M. Brown
- Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Ferd LaBrunerie
- Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rutter
- Warren Welliver
- Tina Fabrics
- Westlakes Ace Hardward
Maplewood Barn Theatre Administration and Professional Direction
- Administration–Maplewood Barn Theatre Advisory Committee
- Producer, Artistic Director–Randall Bane
- Stage Manager–Jeanne Graznak
Summer 1973 Maplewood Barn Theatre Advisory Board Members
|VIce President||Mary Lindberg|
|Nifong Steering Committee Member||Nancy Kennedy|
|Legal Advisor||Robert Roper|
|Corresponding Secretary||Bette Weiss|
|UMC Dept. of Recreation & Park Admin.||Roger Ford|
|Columbia Dept. of Parks and Recreation||Dick Byler|
|Columbia Art League||Robert Bussabarger|
|Film Archivist||Gene Baumann|
|Columbia Chamber of Commerce||Harold Riback|
|Building & Ground Maintenance||Bruce Murray|