Barter Theatre is the State Theatre of Virginia.

Nestled in the historic and picturesque town of Abingdon, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, the theatre started in 1933 amid the Great Depression and exchanged “ham for Hamlet.”

Katy Brown started her new job as Producing Artistic Director of Barter Theatre in late October of 2019.

She is the first and only woman to lead the 88 year old theatre.

Photo credit: Carolyn Wilson

Friendly and always smiling, Ms Brown loves all things about theatre, quietly listens more than she talks, and always gives her “Team” credit for her theatre’s success.  Before plays begin she asks patrons to support her theatre and says “no amount is too small.”

In March of 2020 Barter Theatre was shut down by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order because of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

This new woman in a new job reacted with calm professionalism.

This is a story about how tenacity, innovation, and talent helped world class Barter Theatre serve over 70,000 patrons while other theatres remained closed.

Among many other innovations, Ms Brown decided if Barter Theatre could not perform indoors, it would perform outdoors.  So Barter at the Moonlite was born.  And what an amazing idea!

As 2020 came to a close, Ms Brown reported:

As the end of this year draws near, and I look back at the many challenges Barter Theatre tackled, I am reminded that together we can do incredible things. We met those challenges with determination. Since January, Barter patrons have enjoyed the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, Macbeth: From Our Homes to Yours, streaming performances through Barter on Demand, special conversations with Barter’s artistic company via Inside Barter, the Young Playwrights Festival online, and Barter at the Moonlite Drive-In where nearly 20,000 people have experienced live theatre in an innovative new way. Ultimately, we served over 70,000 patrons – evidence that tenacity is in our DNA!

And Ms Brown produced all of this safely, with no reports of COVID outbreaks related in any way to Barter Theatre.

Here is a Spring 2021 update from Ms Brown:

Barter Theatre’s Spring and Summer Plans!

Hi Everyone!

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since we shifted from our planned 2020 season, and the seeds of what became Barter at the Moonlite Drive-In were planted. It has been an incredible journey that, while challenging, has also led to some experiences that were previously unimaginable for all of us. Many of you have been asking: “What’s next?” and I wanted to take a moment to share what you can expect from Barter over the next few months.

We will be completing the spring season at the Moonlite Drive-In with Alice in Wonderland. Directed by Susanne Boulle, this interpretation will be an Alice like you have never seen it before. Magic, curiosity and music all will all mix together at the drive-in.

Starting June 18th, we’ll be kicking off summer at the Moonlite with Always… Patsy Cline. This musical show follows the friendship of Patsy and one of her most devoted  fans, and features all of the greatest songs by one of America’s most iconic voices. We are thrilled that, due to a recent negotiation with the actor’s union, Barter favorites Kim Morgan Dean and Tricia Matthews, will be taking the stage for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

On July 16th we’ll start a series of concert events, Music at the Moonlite, performed by actors you know from Barter Theatre’s resident company. We’ll dive into all the girl group hits of the 50’s and 60’s with Doo-Wop at the Drive-In, and bring you the hits from the most popular musicals of all time in Barter sings Broadway. Come out and tailgate the night away with actors you love, singing the songs you love.

The biggest question you may have is the same one that is in our minds every day: “When will Barter be back in its theatres?” The answer is: as soon as it is safe and we are approved to fill a significant enough portion of the theatre to make it economically feasible.  We will continue to announce our plans seasonally, so that we can gauge the best time to move indoors. In the meantime, Barter’s summer programming is designed to celebrate the combined fun of the drive-in and Barter Theatre, and we hope that you’ll come along with us as we take these next steps towards the future.


Bristol Herald Courier March 21, 2022: