BWW Interviews: Onstage at The Barn: Memories From the First 45 Years with Joy Tilley Perryman
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 Rona Carter or Brian Russell.
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.
What was your first experience at Chaffin's Barn? I moved to Nashville in 1997 and immediately started auditioning around town. My first audition at the Barn was for Mr. Chaffin himself for a Backstage show called Hiccup. I was a wee bit intimidated to be auditioning for the man whose name was on the sign. But I made him laugh (I have since come to find out that is in and of itself a rare thing. He has heard every audition piece, ever). However, he did not cast me but I knew I was going to work there eventually. And, four weeks later, a talented and highly discerning woman named Lydia Bushfield cast me in Par for the Course and I knew I had found a new theater home and family.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 Joy Tilley Perryman, who this past holiday season starred in It's A Country Christmas, Carol. Today, Joy shares her memories of her Barn experiences to the ones that we've been sharing for two weeks to celebrate the 45th anniversary…
What's your most vivid memory of working there? There are so many! Literally, when you run a show five times a week, sometimes seven, for six weeks a run and then wait tables in between shows you make a gracious plenty of memories. But I will try and pick just one. I think it has to be the chills I felt sitting in a completely darkened theater (John let us turn off even the aisle lights, so it was pitch black), then hearing Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky and watching the stage descend with a pinspot on a rope ladder that was coming down just a few inches above the stage. On the ladder were Buddy Raper and Brian Sears playing an angel and a ghost. The show was Lydia Bushfield's Ghost of a Chance and that opening moved me in a way that I had not felt since college. The show starred Lisa Marie Wright and Buddy and Brian. I was the wacky next door neighbor and Joseph Nobles was a scream as Lisa Marie's three blind dates. It really is still so vivid, it was different from anything I had seen done at the Barn. I also have a vivid memory of being locked in the bar, but we better leave that one alone...
What's the funniest experience you had at the Barn? Again there are so many, but the story I tell all the time actually happened while I was waiting tables. It was during the run of Neil Simon's Proposals and Holly Shepherd and I were sharing a waiter's station. We had been running our mouths and not paying attention to time and we suddenly were afraid we had missed intermission and we both had about a million bar tabs to settle. So I go peek through 3 (that's the exit to the buffet) and I think the house lights are up and it must be intermission. I motion for Holly to come on and we go running at top speed through the curtains and through the scrim in that corner that had been painted to look like a forest. We bust through and that's when I realize I thought the house lights were up because there is a spotlight in that corner and the cast is playing the bird's funeral scene right there on the level right below us. We were fully lit and of course we are now starting to laugh hysterically. o, we back up and fall all over each other getting back out of the aisle. We trip, we wind up on the floor of the buffet laughing and rolling around like complete lunatics. Later, we find out that John was videotaping that performance and the camera was aimed right at corner 3, so our "guest appearance" is fully documented for history. Also, Eric Tichenor pantsed me one night during Par for the Course and I had to sink down into the window box with him to pull up my pants, I mooned all of B. I was wearing proper undergarments, of course.
How about interactions with patrons at the Barn? I love the Barn patrons. Over the years, in all my many roles at the Barn (I've worked on the stage, on the floor and in the box office and one horrible night I worked in the kitchen), I came to know and love so many of these people. They feel like family.
What was/is your favorite foodstuff on the buffet? The peanut butter pie is simply the best ever. And I love the pickled okra we used to have on the buffet.