NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — The Theater Barn, a non-Equity professional theater, is suspending the remainder of its 2022 season following the last performance on July 3 of its current production, Agatha Christie's “Fiddlers Three.”
Producing artistic director Allen Phelps attributed the decision to COVID-influenced weak attendance and a discouraging projection of advanced ticket sales for the remainder of the theater's 38th season — three musicals: “Murder Ballad,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Forever Plaid;” and a comedy, Willy Russell’s ”Shirley Valentine.”
The balance of the summer will be filled with fundraisers and special community programs. HRC Showcase also is scheduled to produce staged play readings July 30 and Sep[t. 10. Phelps told The Eagle he expects that the readings will be produced as scheduled.
“We are closing the theater to save the theater,” Phelps told a near capacity audience at Sunday’s matinee.
Saying that other small theaters in the region have been experiencing declining attendance because of COVID, Phelps explained that the decision to “pause" the remainder of the season has to do with presenting shows that show no indication of producing meaningful revenue.
“It’s been a tough decision, especially having to let go of the talented young actors and artists we have hired for the summer,” Phelps said.
Sunday's matinee was the first time this season more than 100 theatergoers were in the 154-seat theater, Phelps said.
Phelps has every expectation that The Theater Barn will be back in 2023. “The question for us is how to produce a season cost-effectively,” he said, adding, after taking a beat, “maybe we’ll do four Agatha Christies,” referencing the huge popularity of the Christie play each year on the Barn’s schedule. Indeed, due to large ticket demand for "Fiddlers Three,'' extra performances have been scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday [June 29] and 2 p.m. Thursday [June 30].
“We will be back,” Phelps told the enthusiastic audience.
The Theater Barn was founded in 1984 by Joan and Abe Phelps in a building at the Tilden Shops on Route 20. In 1989, the theater moved to its current standalone site on Route 20 roughly one-half mile west of its former location.
It produces a 10-week summer/fall season of musicals, comedies and one Agatha Christie mystery.
Phelps was named producing artistic director just before the start of the theater’s COVID-canceled 2020 season, essentially taking over from his semi-retired parents.