About the Theater
Located in Abingdon, Virginia, Barter Theatre began in the 1930s during the Great Depression to allow people to see stage productions by bartering goods like produce and animals for tickets. This created the idea of “ham for Hamlet” trading, and it is the reason for the theater’s name.
Robert Porterfield of Washington County, Tennessee, created Barter Theatre based on this idea of bartering. Porterfield was an actor himself, and was even praised by President John F. Kennedy for his work at the theater.
Robert L. McKinney’s novel “If You Like Us, Talk About Us,” is a biography of Porterfield’s career. Now, before shows are performed at Barter, directors often tell the audience, “If you like us, talk about us by posting on social media or telling your friends,” in homage to the founder.
The theater was built in 1830. It was originally a church, but the building has been remodeled several times. He opened it in 1933, and tickets were sold at 35 cents. If people did not have money, they could trade something of equal value for admission.
The theater was designated as the “State Theater of Virginia” in 1946. A historic marker is located near the theater, which details the origins.
Several famous actors have been on Barter Theatre’s stage. Tony award winner Elizabeth Wilson; Gregory Peck, who played alongside Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday;” and Wayne Knight from “Jurassic Park” are a few of Barter’s alumni.
Today, monetary payment is required, but Barter Theatre’s legacy is continued. It is home to many resident actors and production workers.
Barter reaches out to the community by allowing field trips to be taken to shows, hosting matinee performances for students, holding special performances for children and hosting the Young Playwrights Festival each year to feature creative high school students’ work.
Barter Theatre features plays and musicals year-round on its two stages, Gilliam Stage and Barter Stage II. The 2017 spring season included “Mamma Mia!,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks” and “Uncanny Valley.”
The summer season will feature “The Savannah Sipping Society,” “Footloose: The Musical,” “The Cottage,” “Leaving Iowa” and “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Tickets for all Barter productions may be purchased on the theater’s website or at the box office located at 127 W. Main Street, Abingdon, Virginia. The box office is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.
Raina E. Wiseman
Barter Theatre, advertising representative
Everybody cut footloose!