With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh.

Robert Porterfield.

35 cents or the equivalent in victuals

Price of admission to the Barter Theatre when it opened, 10 June 1933.

The Barter Theatre was originally constructed in the Town of Abingdon as a place of worship by Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church in 1831. Later the brick structure hosted theatrical productions staged by the Sons of Temperance. In 1890, the group donated the building for use as the town hall. Still later it became headquarters to the local fire department, which placed an alarm on the roof. Until 1994, the alarm sounded as necessary, day or night, and, were it to ring during a performance, the actors were instructed to freeze their positions, resuming the production upon the cessation of the disturbance.

1939 poster advertising the Barter Theatre.
1939 poster advertising the Barter Theatre.

In addition to competing with the fire alarm, actors in the early years contended with noisy livestock bartered for tickets. Chickens, pigs, and other animals often milled about the back of the theatre. Also, the town jail was for a while located directly beneath the stage — and even after the space was no longer used for holding criminals, it was employed as a quarantine for dogs suspected of rabies. When, by the 1950s, the building was in need of improvements, Porterfield was able to acquire the remains of the now-demolished Empire Theatre in New York City. With a volunteer crew, over a single weekend, Porterfield salvaged $75,000 worth of furnishings and equipment from the Empire, including seats, carpeting, paintings, wall tapestries, and a lighting system designed by Thomas Edison. Several portraits were also salvaged, including one of Maude Adams, the original Peter Pan.

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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