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Bringing Live Stage to Porterville with the Barn Theater

Mar 03, 2018 11:00AM ● Published by Enjoy Magazine

Barn Raising

March 2018
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos By Michelle Smee

THE BARN THEATER, nestled in the South Valley town of Porterville, has brought audiences the joy of live stage productions for 70 years. Created by Peter and Kit Tewksbury, former New Yorkers and theater buffs, the theater opened July 16, 1948, with an admission price of 83 cents.

With a desire to bring live theater to Porterville, the Tewksbury team settled on Annie Smith’s barn as a perfect venue for the debut of “Petticoat Fever.” Situated across from the apricot orchard, the barn-turned-theater produced three stage shows that summer as audience members enjoyed performances from their temporary seats on the lawn. 

The Tewksbury duo were but a third of the successful theater production team. Handpicked by Peter Tewksbury, the team boasted of great talent on and off the stage. Dorothy Baker, an accomplished novelist, joined the team from the start along with her husband Howard Baker, a retired Harvard drama professor. Additionally, Douglass and Virginia Beattie, a coupling of opera and agriculture, rounded out the producing company to create a successful first season for the theater.

In an effort to capitalize on the early triumph of the theater, shows were scheduled for the winter months, but required a change in venue. The old turkey warehouse on H Street was a perfect location to shelter both performers and audience members from the harsh winter weather. Not long after changing locations, an opportunity became available to move the Barn Theater to the Green Mill Ballroom. Audiences followed the theater through various moves until finally opening its doors in the permanent location on South Plano in March 1952. The construction was funded by an interest-free loan of $12,000 from philanthropist and patron of the arts, Violet Carpenter. 

The Barn Theater sought to bring the treat of theater to communities beyond the Porterville area with a traveling troupe performing in Fresno, Tulare, Visalia, Hanford, Exeter, Taft, Shafter and Delano. Additionally, KTIP Radio broadcast 30-minute programs performed by actors from the local theater.  

By the mid-1950s, Tewksbury moved to Hollywood, where he became a successful director in both motion pictures and television. Despite the hardy start to the The Barn Theater, nestled in the South Valley town of Porterville, has brought audiences the joy of live stage productions for 70 years. Created by Peter and Kit Tewksbury, former New Yorkers and theater buffs, the theater opened July 16, 1948, with an admission price of 83 cents.

With a desire to bring live theater to Porterville, the Tewksbury team settled on Annie Smith’s barn as a perfect venue for the debut of “Petticoat Fever.” Situated across from the apricot orchard, the barn-turned-theater produced three stage shows that summer as audience members enjoyed performances from their temporary seats on the lawn. 

The Tewksbury duo were but a third of the successful theater production team. Handpicked by Peter Tewksbury, the team boasted of great talent on and off the stage. Dorothy Baker, an accomplished novelist, joined the team from the start along with her husband Howard Baker, a retired Harvard drama professor. Additionally, Douglass and Virginia Beattie, a coupling of opera and agriculture, rounded out the producing company to create a successful first season for the theater.

In an effort to capitalize on the early triumph of the theater, shows were scheduled for the winter months, but required a change in venue. The old turkey warehouse on H Street was a perfect location to shelter both performers and audience members from the harsh winter weather. Not long after changing locations, an opportunity became available to move the Barn Theater to the Green Mill Ballroom. Audiences followed the theater through various moves until finally opening its doors in the permanent location on South Plano in March 1952. The construction was funded by an interest-free loan of $12,000 from philanthropist and patron of the arts, Violet Carpenter. 

The Barn Theater sought to bring the treat of theater to communities beyond the Porterville area with a traveling troupe performing in Fresno, Tulare, Visalia, Hanford, Exeter, Taft, Shafter and Delano. Additionally, KTIP Radio broadcast 30-minute programs performed by actors from the local theater.  

By the mid-1950s, Tewksbury moved to Hollywood, where he became a successful director in both motion pictures and television. Despite the hardy start to the4               continued on page 30

theater, financial ruin threatened to close the Barn doors following Tewksbury’s exit. Fortunately, a theater education program had previously been established with Bennington College, drawing aspiring actors and stage hands eager to train local theater devotees in exchange for room and board. This program created the heart of the Barn Theater and established long-lasting relationships with thriving talent throughout California.   

Ann B. Davis participated in the theater’s education program and developed a love for the Barn Theater. Davis later appeared on television and is best known for her role of Alice on the ABC sitcom “The Brady Bunch.” When the theater faced one of many financial crises, Davis returned to Porterville with fellow performers from the Pasadena Playhouse and hosted a benefit that resuscitated the theater for a short time. 

The Barn Theater regained popularity in the 1970s, reviving the region’s live theater scene. Volunteers swarmed productions, offering their talent both behind the scenes and in the spotlight. Ralph and Beverly Rose each directed multiple shows during the theater boom. This prosperous season aided in the development of deeper community roots, later helping the Barn weather the cyclical nature of theater interest.   

Prior to the Barn’s 40th anniversary, the theater was remodeled with an addition of a lobby in 1986. Thirty years later, the 171-seat theater maintains its red barn nostalgia and continues to thrive, due to the efforts of enthusiasts and volunteers. With year-round productions and the addition of the Junior Company, a children’s performing ensemble, the Barn continues to thrill the community with the magic of live theater, and intends to do so for years to come.  •


The Barn Theater • 42 S. Plano St., Porterville

(559) 310-7046 • www.barntheater.porterville.com

“Harvey” begins April 6 at the theater



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