BWW Interviews: Onstage at The Barn: Memories From the First 45 Years with Chambers Stevens


Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, the venerable venue that has mounted some of the best theater Nashville audiences have seen since its founding in 1967, celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. Since that day in 1967, when A. W. and Puny Chaffin opened "The Barn" Dinner Theatre, it has offered every audience exciting top quality professional theatre and a mouth-watering buffet, fairly groaning with Southern delicacies.

When The Barn opened way back when, it was a thrilling time for the Nashville community hungry for entertainment offerings and "The Barn" has been serving that need ever since as one of the Nashville's unique landmarks: the city's first professional dinner theatre, where audiences have been treated to some top-flight comedies, musicals and mysteries in the four-and-a-half decades since then, continuing to produce top-quality comedies, musicals and mysteries year-round-the musical revue Too Old For The Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star) continues through April 22.

In the process, 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, 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." Chaffin's Barn has been the recipient of The First Night Lifetime Achievement Award and its shows, directors, choreographers and actors took home multiple First Night honors over the years.

Now owned by the second-generation Chaffins-John and Janie, who were recognized among Nashville's Top Entrepreneurs of 2012 by Business Leader Magazine-The Barn has touched the lives of many, both onstage and off.

Today, we continue our special series of Onstage at The Barn: Memories from The First 45 Years, with actor/director/playwright Chambers Stevens, still known as "Steve Chambers" to many of his Nashville followers, who before moving to Los Angeles had appeared on practically every stage in Music City USA, including the magical descending stage at The Barn. Now known throughout the world for his work with aspiring actors and for the many critically acclaimed plays he has written, he gives credit where credit is due: His Barn experiences helped him achieve his dreams.

"I am so grateful for having the chance to work at Chaffin's Barn," he says. Today, Chambers shares his memories of The Barn and its impact on his subsequent life and career in the theater…


What was your first experience at Chaffin's Barn? Chaffin's Barn, or The Barn Dinner Theatre as it was called when I was growing up, is the reason I am an actor. Growing up, my parents' monthly date night was going to see a show at the Barn. They would get dressed up and get us a baby sitter. I loved the next morning when my mom would show me the program and my dad would tell us his favorite part. Sometimes he would be laughing so hard at the memory that that my brother and I would be rolling around on the kitchen floor listening.

When I was 12, my parents took me to The Barn to see a show for the first time. I believe it was The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.  I remember being entranced by the actors…and that there were a series of murders. The lights would go black. We would hear someone play "Three Blind Mice" on the piano. And when the lights came back up someone was dead.

Of course the Barn's stage is in the round.  And I was sitting on the aisle. When the lights went down and the music started to play, the actor playing the murderer exited up my aisle. He accidently brushed by me. My heart stopped. I couldn't breathe. To have been than close to a murderer! When the lights came back up my parents thought I had had a stroke.

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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, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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