BWW Interviews: Onstage at The Barn: Memories From the First 45 Years with Joanna Hackman

BWW-Interviews-Onstage-at-The-Barn-Memories-From-the-First-45-Years-with-Joanna-Hackman-20010101

Believe it or not, 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 Michael Edwards or Martha Wilkinson.

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 Joanna Hackman, who recently made her debut at the Barn in the hit comedy Boeing Boeing, and who will be leaving Nashville shortly to give the West Coast a shot at her (and those of her husband Daniel Hackman) talents…

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What was your first experience at Chaffin's Barn? My Barn experience really began a year prior to my first show there. In December 2010 Dan was cast in It's A Wonderful Wife, and that was when we were introduced to the wonderful craziness that is the Barn. I know my actual first experience was coming to see Dan's show, but I really can't tell you much about it. I can tell you what I consider my first experience happened gradually as Dan was cast in more shows and we began to spend more time there. I didn't know these people and I wasn't even an actor there yet, but they took me in as one of their own. I have never felt so much love and acceptance from a group of people so quickly. It's a family.

What's your most vivid memory of working there? Boeing Boeing was my first (and, as we are moving, probably last) show at Chaffin's Barn. The whole experience is so vivid in my mind (I mean, it was just a couple months ago) There are several moments running through my head... doors not staying shut/audience members leaving doors open, Nate Eppler shoeless on stage because his fell apart, the time I face planted into the ottoman, the fastest costume changes ever with Amanda Card McCoy and Jennifer Richmond, catching the spray of numerous spit-takes, trying not to laugh at whatever ridiculous thing Martha Wilkinson had written on the prop envelope, sharing youtube videos in the dressing rooms, Corey Caldwell falling up the stairs and crawling out of the curtain, trying to think of horrible things to steel myself for the moments made me want to break on stage the most. Boeing Boeing was one of my favorite shows.  It was amazing to work with such talented and giving people.  I will always treasure my time at the Barn.

What's the funniest experience you had at the Barn? Well, funny things definitely happen on the stage, but sometimes it gets funnier backstage. During Christmas we played Secret Santa.  I was Secret Santa to Jen Richmond, and I've gotta say it was a little bit tricky to do secret things for someone you share a dressing room with.  Well, Jen wanted her Secret Santa to play some naughty tricks on fellow cast members. I had a great time planting notes, destroying stuffed animals, and messing up other people's dressing room stations... Things got intense and it turned into a Secret Santa war. Someone started doing things to mess with Jen. They wrote mean things on her mirror, changed out her light bulbs to the energy saving ones she hates, etc. Everyone was trying to guess who was responsible for all the pranks. It was a ridiculously hilarious moment when it came to the big reveal and we found out that it was actually Jen doing those things to herself.  

How about interactions with patrons at the Barn? There are two specific moments I had with patrons that I remember very well. The first was a night when I was hosting, and I was trying to gracefully escort a couple to their table. Well, I am not the most graceful. I was pointing out the buffet as I slid down the steps and almost fell on my behind. I caught myself at the bottom and tried to continue on as though nothing happened.  I didn't make it too far before the nice lady was tapping me on the shoulder so she could hand me the heel that had broken off my shoe.  I then had to take them to their table barefoot.  I can't imagine what she thought of me! The second was something I'll never forget.  I had come downstairs after the show, and a gentleman stopped me. He shook my hand and said, "Thank you for coming to work tonight. You made a difference." Such powerful words that we all need to hear.

What was your favorite foodstuff on the buffet? Oh, I love the rolls! I'm all about the rolls.  I had a battle with myself every night about not eating five of them.

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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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