For some time Dr. L. J. Opsahl had had a dream of a local community theatre, featuring local talent, local direction, and a place to go for entertainment of a quality better than most of the road shows which appeared here now and then.
He had been working toward that end for months, so many of the steps toward incorporation were ready for consideration by the people he had invited to attend a meeting. Tom Walsh acted as chairman pro tem. He opened the meeting, called for an open discussion of the objectives of the group, and several presentations were made by people who had been quietly working to bring them to fruition.
At 9:30 p.m.,Tuesday, Sept. 15, 1964, 12 citizens whom Dr. Opsahl had invited to a meeting in the Lawson Memorial Library gathered there expecting great things to come from it —- but they realized that they were inexperienced and would be a part of a project, led by people who were just feeling their way toward success, eager to begin even though the odds of their being successful were not in their favor.
Several people who had been working toward a theatre goal, reported that they felt there was a good deal of interest in the community.
Attorney Leif Langsjoen presented proposed articles of incorporation, which were unanimously adopted. The original incorporators were Tom Walsh, Ronald McCamus, Dr. L. J. Opsahl, E. T. Fridner, Leonard Johnson, Leif Langsjoen, D.E. Miller, Murray Hansen, Geneva Molenaar, Ralph Demgen, and Mrs. W. E. Lindberg. Walsh became president, Opsahl, vice president. Fridner, treasurer, and Miller, secretary. Opsahl was also named general manager of the project.
Once the preliminaries were out of the way, things moved rapidly. After a general discussion, the corporation authorized the purchase of Murray Hansen’s barn on the southwest edge of town. A Barn-Cleaning-Mulligan-Party was planned for four days later and nearly 50 persons answered the call for help. The barn was cleaned out that day. When it was time for lunch some of the volunteers were not recognizable because of the dirt and hay being brought out of the nearly century-old building. Don Kennell brought a Mulligan Stew out to the site and it all disappeared into hungry stomachs.
Once it had been cleaned, work began on the building. All the shingles were replaced on one side of the roof, broken windows were replaced, the hay loft floor had been repaired, all the doors were closed firmly and securely. The first consideration was to winterize the building so work could go on in spite of the weather.
There’s a long list, in the records, of all the furniture, building materials, paint and other essentials which had been donated to the project. Craftsmen plied their skills gratis, and planning for the summer season’s presentations was underway. In short, a lot of people had adopted the Barn and helped in every way they could.
There was an open house Jan. 31 to show people what had been accomplished. Forty hardy souls disregarded the weather and came out to help everyone involved celebrate.
The hay mow was the stage (complete with elevator). The auditorium was in the center of the building, and the remainder was the lobby where the ticket office and the art gallery were located. While everything was not finished, but the stage, auditorium and a small balcony were ready and John Esbjornson had come aboard as artistic director.
The Barn opened the evening of June 10, 1965. The program for that evening was three 4-H one-act plays. Two of them cancelled out that morning, but John Dean came to the rescue with a vocal recital.
It should be noted that the concrete lobby floor was poured the night before the opening and had not set by opening time, so first nighters entered the Barn by walking the planks which spanned the lobby floor.
The Barn was on its way offering different plays scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights each week. Rehearsals had been going on since early in the year. Now, with good weather, some of the things which needed doing could be done outside. Murray Hansen’s lawn quickly became an adjunct to the Bam itself. Sets were built and painted out there. Local artists gave lessons on the lawn, and the work on the building exterior, which had stopped for the winter, picked up where it had left off.
Tickets were $1 or six events for $5. Early audiences were small but it didn’t take long for the Barn entertainment to be playing to sold-out houses. The first musical was a revue in July, which had a ticket line that completely circled the building.
Major problems had been resolved but smaller ones remained, and patrons took those minor incoveniences in their stride. Barn swallows which had been nesting in the barn loft for years refused to give up their territory and made spirited bombing raids on people seated below. Mr. and Mrs. Claude Thompson never missed a performance and they always brought umbrellas for protection. One unfortunate lady (but a really good sport) was bombed by a swallow during the first act of a play. She went home, washed her hair during the intermission and was back in her seat by the time the curtain opened for the next act.
The rest rooms were not ready for use, but the Hansens solved that problem by leaving their bathroom open to patrons.
One unusual event stands out in Barn memories. The soprano lead in a musical the Barn was doing at that time, went to her own wedding that Saturday afternoon, sang her part in the musical that night and then was the guest of honor at an unexpected wedding reception on the lawn following the performance.
Over the years, there’ve been changes — great changes — from those early pioneering days.
Only one of the original incorporators is still with us, but there have been literally hundreds of people from this area who have done their share, and more, to effect change after change in these past forty-seven years — too many to be specific — and the results of their efforts are there for all to see in the places and the performances which have brought The Barn to the place and the location it now enjoys. The new season is upon us and The Barn is ready.