BWW Interviews: Onstage at The Barn: Memories from the First 45 Years with Andrea Hodgin Osborne

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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 Alesha Brevard or Derek Whittaker.

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 Andrea Hodgin Osborne, who made her debut at The Barn in 1994 in Smoke on the Mountain, quickly establishing herself as a favorite of Barn audiences and the Nashville theater community. Among my most vivid memories of Andrea was her performance-along with Tim Fudge and Darren Stuart-of "Our Time" from Stephen Sondheim's Merrily WE Roll Along, which was the closing number for the 1995 First Night Awards at Nashville Children's Theatre (and she toiled, for a while, as my personal assistant).

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"My time in Nashville was special, one for which I'm very thankful," she remembers. "Although I no longer work in the theater world, I'm so thankful to have those two years I worked professionally onstage, and the million other jobs I worked at the same time.  One of my faves was working for you at your house! Knowing all of you, working with all of you, is a rich part of my life and makes me who I am today."

"I haven't acted onstage since I left the Barn, but have done a lot musically," she says.Today, Andrea (a native of Greensboro, North Carolina) lives in Raleigh with her husband of almost 13 years, Jay Osborne and their seven-year-old daughter, who Andrea claims "is as dramatic as her mother ever was." In addition, she has a stepdaughter who is a freshman at East Carolina University and she works part-time for Capitol Broadcasting Company, writing for their corporate and employee websites.

"I moved to Nashville from Greensboro after completing grad school at Western Carolina University. I let Nashville after the summer of 1996: my grandfather had just died and my uncle was dying, so I wanted to be back near family," she explains.

Andrea still has vivid memories herself of her time in Nashville and the family and friends she came to know during her time at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre…

What was your first experience at Chaffin's Barn? I moved to Nashville without knowing a soul in the summer of 1994. Wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, but I saw an ad in the newspaper for auditions for a musical called Smoke on the Mountain at Chaffin's Barn. I signed up, auditioned and was privileged to play the role of 16-year-old Denise. Robert Keifer was my magnificent first director and his lovely bride Carol played my Mom. I loved the show and the Chaffin's vets in the play (Sam Whited, Bobby Wyckoff and Richard Daniel) and the newcomers like me. What a great memory. And that set me on a two-year theatre career that I'll never forget during my brief stay in Nashville.

What's your most vivid memory of working there? Singing with Carol Ponder, painting all the cussed dining room chairs black with Carter Thrower one summer, having bartender Don make me white Russians for after the show, the wonderful New Year's celebrations where we made the best tips of the season waiting tables all night and then drank all the leftover champagne, singing for Steve Wheaton and bringing him chocolates so I could be his pet, my coal black wig for Camelot where everyone in the cast said I looked like Wednesday Adams…nice. Oh, and my mother freaking out and not wanting to touch me when she saw me in full body make-up and sari when I played a woman from India.

What's the funniest experience you had at the Barn? Watching Bobby Wyckoff onstage. I swear he's one of the funniest men alive. Oh, and Adam Burnett as the Indian in Fantasticks…was hard not to laugh at him and stay in character!

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How about interactions with patrons at the Barn? One of the things I loved about working at Chaffin's was getting to see the crowd every night.  I enjoyed the nights I was a hostess, greeting guests, and, getting to shake hands with folks in the receiving line after the show. Can't believe I'm about to admit this, but waiting tables during the stints when I wasn't in a show was fun, too. Folks would remember me from shows I'd been in, and that was a fun jumping off point for an evening together as I fetched drinks for them. I worked at other theatres where you never really saw the audience except when you were onstage. Made me really miss the experience at Chaffin's.

One funny…can't remember the show, but one night we did the usual shake hands afterwards. After the show Martha Wilkinson commented on how cool it was to have Crystal Gayle in the audience. I freaked out (I'm a huge Loretta Lynn & Crystal fan) and said I couldn't believe it and hated I'd missed her! Martha said that I'd shaken hands with Crystal Gayle in line and was profusely thanking her for being there so Martha assumed I knew to whom I was speaking. Duh on my part. So I've talked to Crystal Gayle at the Barn but have NO memory of it.

Another cool guest memory…When I moved to Nashville I got a job giving bus tours at the Opryland. The staff was so excited that I was in a show that our boss bought tickets for a bunch of folks. They filled two tables on the floor, which made my debut at the Barn at the more special.

What was your favorite foodstuff on the buffet? The bread pudding and the chocolate pie! 

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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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