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Barnyard Theatre: A new way of presenting plays

By From page A1 | July 03, 2013

In the know
What: “She Gets Naked in the End”
Where: Grange Performing Arts Center, 3823 V St., Sacramento
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: $10 suggested donation
Info: Limited seating, call 530-574-1318 to reserve a seat
What: “She Creatures”
Where: Schmeiser Barn, 35125 County Road 31
When: 8:30 p.m. July 19-21, 25-28, Aug. 1-3
Tickets: $15 general, $12 students/seniors in advance; $18 and $15 at the door
Info: Call 530-574-1318 or email [email protected]

Each summer, theatrical wonders rise from the dusty planks of the historic Schmeiser Barn off of County Road 31 west of Davis.

Since 2004, it has been home to Barnyard Theatre — a vibrant group of Yolo County locals who have been producing plays that are unique and provocative.

It all began when a group of theater-loving Davis High School alumni returned from college in the summer in 2003. As co-founder Brian Oglesby described, he had been writing a play and called up his friends to do a reading his work. After the reading, “Steve Schmidt offered to direct it … (though) he might have been joking.”

Schmidt, a longtime friend of Oglesby, would become one of the co-founders of Barnyard Theatre. Oglesby recalled that, “It was fall or winter and sometime I called (Schmidt) up and said ‘Hey, you offered to direct it. I don’t know if you were joking or if you meant it seriously.’ ” Schmidt was up for the task and Barnyard Theatre went on to produce its first show, “My Avisia Winger,” in the summer of 2004.

The first step was finding a location. Ed Hunt, a friend of the co-founders, mentioned to Oglesby that his parents owned a barn. According to Alicia Hunt, theater company member and daughter of the barn owners, “Steven Schmidt walked into the barn and said ‘I have to do theater here.’ ”

“The first summer was amazing, ” Oglesby recalled. “We were undergrads, we were 20 years old … and we had no clue what we were doing.”

It was a rough start for the company; Oglesby said they often struggled with structural matters such as trying to figure out how to make exit signs from scratch instead of buying them. Despite this, it was a thrilling experience, he said, and after having such a fun time, the company decided to do it again the next summer.

Inside the barn

The Schmeiser Barn dates back the 1860s and has a rich history rooted in one of Davis’ earliest families. It was built by German immigrant Gottried Schmeiser on land designated by a grant signed by President Ulysses S. Grant. The property eventually came under the ownership of the Schmeiser’s neighbor, Doc Russell, who rented out the homestead to students who worked on nearby land designated for UC Davis agricultural research.

After years of continued use, Charles and Carla Hunt eventually bought the barn and surrounding land in 1996. Today, the old Schmeiser Barn is still in operation and is home to dozens of domestic animals.

“I grew up out there. … I grew up raising goats and riding horses there,” Alicia Hunt said. “All winter it’s how we keep our animals from freezing. There’s horses in the stalls and the goats are all bedded down in the straw. It’s very much a working space.”

In the summer, however, this barn becomes much more.

Barnyard Theatre offers a unique intertwining of its venue and its performances. Hunt recalled one performance, “The Sterling Affair,” where “we actually brought a goat out of her stall and onto the stage. The play referenced a woman who kept seeing goats that weren’t there. And so at the end of the show when that actress was taking a bow, we took a goat onstage with her.”

Beyond goats making the curtain call, other shows — such as “Galileo” in 2007 — allowed audiences to enjoy a play about the stars while sitting underneath a clear night sky surrounding a stage that was placed just outside the barn.

As a set designer, Ian Wallace is given a novel opportunity when preparing the stage. Every summer, the troupe is “starting from scratch, literally from the dirt floor.” This allows Wallace to reimagine the interaction between the audience and the actor each time.

Wallace has produced sets with Barnyard Theatre ranging from a house where the audience filled the empty space between the rooms to a giant turntable that would rotate throughout the play.

Who is Barnyard Theatre?

Barnyard Theatre is a fluid and expanding group of about 50 people total, and 30 who help with shows on any given summer. This year’s line-up of performances features an actress from Georgia and a playwright from Texas. Theater company members range from locals who enjoy putting on a play to professionals with master’s degrees in theater arts.

Company members are not paid; they put in all of their hours with genuine passion. They’re “people who work for the fun of it; people who can’t stop working,” Oglesby said.

“You have this unique collection of people who are local but are also turning professional or training to become professional,” he continued. “You have this desire to make theater good and make good theater in this area that you don’t necessarily have elsewhere. The desire to do really great, beautiful things.”

Hunt added: “I’ve talked to a lot of people about why they do it, why they come back to spend a summer in this dusty barn, moving heaving things. They all have their own answer, but the one thing that unites everyone I talk to, and definitely myself, is: ‘I love the people.’ ”

In similar fashion, Wallace added, “It’s a lot of fun. It’s really refreshing working with a fun group of people on a different stage.”

He mentioned that in show business, “Some people don’t get to see the light of day, ever. It’s kind of a vacation to get to go outside.”

Upcoming shows

Barnyard Theatre is hosting a lineup of shows this summer that are sure to be off the beaten path.

On Saturday and Sunday, July 6-7, the troupe will present “She Gets Naked in the End.” The show — which will be presented at The Grange Performing Arts Center in Sacramento — follows the story of a mysterious woman who enters a bar every night with confidence and men falling at her feet. Despite the men’s constant attempts to get her attention, the woman leaves alone each night. The truth to her mysterious ways, however, is locked in a woman from her past.

This is Barnyard Theatre’s first production away from the barn, and is a workshop production, with actors and stage designers putting “She Gets Naked in the End” together in just one week. The company challenges itself in these workshops to see how far they can go with a production in seven days.

“She Gets Naked in the End” is written by Oglesby and directed by Hunt.

Hunt explained that many people involved with the show “have expressed that they are artistically hungry for a challenge and they want something they can sink their teeth into … something where they have to wrestle with it and ask challenging questions.

“My favorite shows are the ones that are both heartbreaking and funny, and this show strikes that balance so well,” Hunt said. “There are so many moments that are so hilarious.”

“She Gets Naked in the End” plays with dark and light moods and poses many questions as well. Hunt said “even in rehearsal, it inevitably sparks conversation. … It’s a bold play.”

Later in the month, “She Creatures” will be performed as Barnyard Theatre’s mainstage show at the Schmeiser Barn. “She Creatures” is an original work that conveys core human emotions and experiences through fantastical creatures. Mythical creatures such as phoenixes, shapeshifters and dragons portray heartfelt stories about life experiences such as having a child or falling in and out of love. This powerful piece is expected to be a visually and emotionally striking show.

Performances will take place July 19-12, July 25-28 and Aug. 1-3. “She Creatures” is written by Sarah Saltwick and directed by Camille Beaumont.

As part of an ongoing fundraiser for “She Creatures,” Barnyard Theatre is holding a Kickstarter campaign. The company encourages its supporters to donate to the Kickstarter to help fund set design for “She Creatures.” They hope to raise $2,500 by Monday.

As expressed in the Kickstarter’s director’s note, “Donations will help us to do ‘She Creatures’ as it was meant to be done.” More information is available at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1905504213/she-creatures-by-sarah-saltwick.

Felicia Alvarez

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