Katy Brown, director of the Barter Theater, moves the place forward | Arts & Theater


Katy Brown came to the Barter Theater as an intern for three months in the summer of 1998.

She was a budding actress – well, sort of. She really wanted to direct shows. She also wanted to encourage all the actors to put themselves at the service of the public, like a ministry. It’s part of what she calls her “Peace Corps mentality” – and a clear return to regularly attending the Baptist church where she grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.

Today, at 46, Brown is artistic director producer at the Barter Theatre. She is the first female to hold the leading role and only the fourth person overall to hold the lead role since the Barter Theater opened in 1933.

“I love to learn stuff — all that stuff. But I’ve always been in charge of group projects,” Brown said.

“I don’t fancy being in the limelight. I’m not an actor at heart. I’m a director at heart,” she added. “And when I’m at my best, I’m helping someone else.”

This has not been easy. While Brown has been at Barter since her internship in 1998, she took the reins towards the end of 2019. And just when she wanted to launch shows in 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic closed the Barter Theater and its satellite scene a few yards across Main Street in Abingdon.

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Still, Brown was resourceful and drove Barter’s cast to the nearby Moonlite Drive-In Movie Theater to stage shows with a new twist. This decision kept the Barter Theater alive and popular. This year, Brown is back on Main Street on the main stage.

All in all, Brown reflects on the amount of “absolutely collective effort” it took to sustain the theater.

And yet, many in the community point to Brown’s new approach to bringing bartering into a new era, while mirroring the past.

Former Abingdon mayor Wayne Craig worked with Brown when the Barter Theater announced it would be holding shows at the Moonlite.

“Katy has always been very professional,” Craig said. ” She is creative. She is cooperative. She understands what to do. »

Brown rose through the ranks at Barter. She’s done it all since her internship – from acting on stage to running a spotlight.

For a few decades she was particularly concerned with a traveling troupe known as the First Light Theatre, later called the Barter Players. This barter branch held shows from Ohio to Florida.

Brown also retained her remarkably youthful look.

“When I was an actress, I played a lot of very young people,” she said. “I always looked very young.”

Sometimes, she says, she wasn’t supposed to be the director during auditions. So, as she talked about actors wanting to land roles on stage, she could hear who cared about playing for the people — and who maybe just wanted to play for themselves.

Once, comically, her youthful appearance led her to the principal’s office of a college where the barter players were performing.

“The teacher didn’t believe me that I was with the Barter Theater,” Brown said. “She thought I was a student in the hallway.”

Now, as the leader of the Barter Theater, Brown looks at operations with both the energy and experience of youth.

“Until I turned 30, I never looked like who I am, which was a very interesting part of being a leader. But it also had its own set of positives,” Brown said. “I always felt both older and younger than me.”

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