BWW Interviews: Onstage at The Barn: Memories From the First 45 Years with Amanda Card McCoy

March 28
9:46 AM 2012


Offering further proof that time flies when you're having a good time, it's been 45 years Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre opened its doors to the Nashville and regional theater-going audience. Since 1967-when A.W. and Puny Chaffin founded "The Barn"-thousands of people have made the trek to the big red barn in West Nashville, witnessing some of the best shows to be produced in Music City, and in the process getting to know all the actors, artists and technicians who've brought all a myriad of shows to life.

Throughout those 45 years, regardless of the title or names on the marquee, The Barn has offered every one of its audiences exciting professional theatre and a mouth-watering buffet fairly groaning from the weight of the assembled Southern delicacies.  In fact, when you talk to people about their memories of The Barn, they're just as likely to mention peanut butter pie or corn pudding as they are to recall the onstage antics and offstage friendships of such performers as Martha Wilkinson or Mark Delabarre.

Since 1967, Chaffin's Barn has provided employment to some of the best actors to be found on stages anywhere, launching careers for actors who have gained critical and audience acclaim all over the country. And during that time span, Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre has been hailed as one of the Top 25 tourist attractions in Nashville, "Best Buffet" and "Best Place to See a Play" in The Tennessean's annual Toast of Music City contest and in Nashville Scene's "Best of" as one of the top three "Best Places to See a Play." In addition, Chaffin's Barn was the recipient of The First Night Lifetime Achievement Award and its shows, directors, choreographers and actors have taken home multiple First Night honors over the years.

In recognition of The Barn's 45 years of bringing the magic of live theater to the stage, we continue our special series of Onstage at The Barn: Memories from The First 45 Years, with actress Amanda Card McCoy, who made her Barn debut in the acclaimed comedy Boeing Boeing, which was followed closely by her performance in Nate Eppler's Modern Love. Today, Amanda shares her memories of working at The Barn to the ones that we've been sharing of late to celebrate the 45th anniversary…

What was your first experience at Chaffin's Barn? My first experience at Chaffin's was playing Janet in Boeing Boeing this past Christmas. I had always heard from other actors in Nashville that working at the barn was like comedy boot camp, and this definitely proved to be true! There's nothing more rewarding than doing a fast-paced farce like Boeing Boeing with people like Nate Eppler and Martha Wilkinson who are comedic geniuses. It's like a runaway train-you just have to jump on board and hold on! 

BWW-Interviews-Onstage-at-The-Barn-Memories-From-the-First-45-Years-with-Amanda-Card-McCoy-20010101What's your most vivid memory of working there? My most vivid memory would be performing my monologue in Modern Love. Nate Eppler wrote this incredible, really fast-paced monologue that Laurie (my character) blurts out to Alice (played by Jennifer Richmond) in which Laurie confesses EVERYTHING she's been hiding, "instantly crying" as the stage direction says, in about one breath without stopping. I'll never forget the first time I performed it when the audience was really into it. They started clapping after it was over and the delightful Jennifer Richmond-unscripted - says "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" After about a beat I got up, went back to the beginning, and performed the whole thing a second time (miraculously, without passing out). I love the spontaneous energy that comes with being in a show at the Barn - there's nothing like it! It was one of my very favorite moments I've ever had onstage and I'll never forget it! 

What's the funniest experience you had at the Barn? At the end of Boeing Boeing, Bertha (played by Martha Wilkinson) gives Janet (who I was playing) a letter from America. This bit always gave me a hard time because Martha is so hilarious, and I had so much trouble keeping myself from laughing. She would march over to me every night, her hands full of suitcases, with a hat on her head that had these feathers on it, and as she marched over these feathers would bounce, and then she would reach into her pants and pull the letter out and hand it to me saying "Here is a letter. For you. From America." One night, the letter proved to be a little more difficult to remove from her pants, so I stood there with Martha inches away from my face, digging in her pants for the letter that had fallen a little farther down one of her pant legs than usual. When she finally found it and managed to pull the letter out and delivered her line, it took all of my strength to keep myself from laughing (I'm sure that I at least cracked a smile, but I was definitely stifling some chuckles).

A close second would have to be during our Secret Santa gift exchange. Mary Jo Weaver, our stage manager for Boeing Boeing, was my Secret Santa, and I had written on my Secret Santa form that I loved Dolly Parton and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. The things that she did for me were AMAZING! One night she actually delivered my present to me during a performance! She hid my presents in my TWA flight attendant bag that I had to unzip and dig through in my first scene. During the performance that night I sat down, unzipped my bag, and there was a picture of Dolly Parton and a package of cookies! It was not easy hiding my surprise and excitement from the audience. Another night, she asked Bryce Conner to get in his Dolly Parton costume that he wore in A Country Christmas, Carol and deliver some presents to me. It was wonderful!

How about interactions with patrons at the Barn? One night during Modern Love we had a very fun, talkative audience. There was a scene I had with Corey Caldwell, who played my brother, and I would ask him "Don't all boys want to kiss all girls all the time?" This night, one of our audience members screamed out "YES!" Everyone started laughing and Corey, being the cool Carey Grant clone that he is, looked at the man and said "I couldn't have said it any better myself." It was perfect!

What was your favorite foodstuff on the buffet? I'm crazy about the barbecue! Joanna Hackman and I always got a plateful of that barbecue before Boeing Boeing performances. I love it! That and the loaded mashed potatoes are to die for!

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors - the history of which can be traced to 1989 and the first presentation of The First Night Awards - which honor outstanding theater artisans from Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and also includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors recognition. Midwinter's First Night honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. An accomplished director, Ellis helmed productions of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, all in their Nashville premieres, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show. Ellis was recognized by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror. In 2015, he directed William Inge's Picnic for Circle Players and Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years for VWA Theatricals, with The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest set for spring 2016.

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