A photo from my Barn Theater days. From 1978 to 1986, I had served in many roles at the old Barn Theater in Montville, New Jersey. From stage hand to actor, it was all a great learning process for me.
Reflections Of The Barn Theater Era
By Richard Mabey Jr.
The road taken for learning the process of writing scripts, was a long hard path for me. By 1978, I had taken several courses on script writing at various colleges in northern New Jersey. Also, I had attended several seminars on how to write scripts that would sell. But, deep in my heart, I knew that I needed to learn more about the nuts and bolts of script writing.
In 1978, I joined the Barn Theater and began working on various plays. I worked hard. At first, I served as a stage hand. I did everything that no one else wanted to do, including sweeping the floor of the stage. I was determined to learn everything I could about what makes a good play tick.
I worked my way up from stage hand, to prop master, to stage manager, to assistant director. It was a long hard road. It did not happen overnight. I kept notes on the smallest details of things that were important to writing a good script. Things like including time for actors to change costumes, or giving stage hands time to change scenes. I learned about lighting, sound, set design, set construction, ticket sales, advertising, refreshment sales during intermission, and the list could go on and on.
The point of it all is this: I wasn’t afraid to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I wasn’t going to stand on ceremony. I wasn’t going to stick my nose up in the air and say, “I’m too good to do this or that.” And, wow, did I ever learn a lot about theater. I learned about timing of lines, stage blocking, voice projection, stage presence, the importance of detail in set construction, all of it helped me to grow as I worked on writing various scripts at home.
I had my heart and mind set on writing a stage play about my beloved great uncle, Earl Mabey, who was killed in France, while fighting in World War I. Once in a while, I would show portions of this script to some of the movers and shakers at the old Barn Theater. They would be polite in their response. They would simply say something like, “that’s nice. It’s a nice play.”
I could tell that they were definitely not interested in considering it for production at the Barn Theater. It was a painful process. On the one hand, I deeply respected and admired the big wheels at the theater. Yet, on the other hand, I knew that I wasn’t going to get any further at the old Barn Theater. I had learned all I could learn there.
I wanted very much to direct a play. I had been honored to be the assistant director for one of the original one-act plays that was produced at the Barn. But the hurdle from assistant director to director, seemed like making a jump across the Atlantic Ocean. Somehow, some of the movers and shakers, still saw me as the guy who swept the stage floor. Even though that had been several years ago.
I had acted in quite a number of plays at the old Barn. I had acted in feature roles and did well in them. I had paid the price, I came up the hard way. But still, the door to the hallway from being an assistant director to director was locked tight.
So, without having any hard feelings, in 1986, I moved on to a theater group in the nearby town of Parsippany. There, I had the chance to take act in lead roles. I was given the chance to direct several plays. A whole new horizon opened up for me.
I will always hold a dear and special place in my heart for the people of the Barn Theater. But, if I had not moved on, I would have never gotten the chance to grow in the theatrical arena. I believe that the people at the Barn, were sincere and meant well. But some of them still remembered me as the fellow who swept the stage floor. Even though that had been a long time ago. Even though I had grown in my knowledge of what made for a successful theatrical production.
Please do consider this. Sometimes you need to move on, in order to grow, to take on greater challenges. It could be in a job, in a career, in a volunteer service, or in a community organization. Sometimes there is no escaping the remembrance of being still seen as the person who swept the stage floor. Sometimes, without harboring hard feelings, you just need to move on, in order to grow and move forward.
Peace and harmony,