Idaho Arts Quarterly » East Idaho

Plays in a Barn

An experimental theater opens in Pocatello

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What is it about the theater that is so compelling? Perhaps it is the opportunity to watch all of the idiosyncrasies of humanity from a distance­—allowing the viewer to laugh, cry or even rejoice in all the varieties of existence.

Oscar Wilde put it so eloquently when he said, "I regard theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being." Even if you don't believe that theater offers insights, there is no denying the pure enjoyment that comes from a night at the theater.

Whether you are an audience member or an actor, the theater has much to offer. Having an outlet to explore and share who we are in a theatrical setting is an important part of any community, and with the arrival of Theatre in a Barn, Pocatello has a new venue in which to have such experiences.

Shelley Canalia and Bo Hudson are passionate about Theatre in a Barn, their new experimental theater that made its debut this January. Nestled between a deli and a coffee shop, Theatre in a Barn is a unique combination of many things. An important feature of the theater is its accessibility to all people. You don't have to dress up to feel comfortable at this theater. "An evening at Theatre in a Barn is not an intimidating experience," Hudson said.

Canalia, the owner, acknowledges that the name of the theater may seem an unusual one. "Actually, the name is sort of silly to a lot of people, but it really means something to me. When I had my first theater job in Pennsylvania, it was in an old converted barn. I loved it so much. When I started talking about putting together the theater, I thought about that and came up with Theatre in a Barn."

Canalia has been involved in professional theater since the age of 14, at which time she moved away from home to further her theatrical education. Canalia said she has always wanted to have her own theater, so the opening of Theatre in a Barn is especially significant for her.

Both Canalia and Hudson have a rich background of theatrical experience. Canalia, among other things, did an internship in Pennsylvania and worked for Burbank Theatres as a costumer. Hudson has a bachelor of arts in theater and is currently a professional voice talent for commercial campaigns throughout the country. Some of her clients include Ford, Winn Dixie Supermarket and Proctor and Gamble.

When I met with Hudson and Canalia, they were busy working on a play, which is one of the many responsibilities they have taken on in connection with the theater. They spoke with unwavering energy of all of the projects they would like to be involved in. The collaboration of these two very talented women is an exciting addition to Pocatello's cultural scene.

A first introduction to Theatre in a Barn would proceed in the following manner: You enter the theater through Goodys, a popular deli in Pocatello. To the left is The Grind, and straight ahead is the Goodys bar. A glass door just past the coffee shop with "Theatre in a Barn" printed in large red letters is the entrance you're looking for. Upon opening the door, the first thing you would probably notice is that you can take in the entire theater in a single glance.

A simple stage with modest lighting is located at the front of the theater and at the moment serves as a farmhouse porch for Harvest, their current show. The theater's walls are painted black and a local featured artist's work offers a soft contrast to the darkness. Church pews and chairs are used for seating and the audience nearly sits on the stage, which is no more than a foot higher than the floor.

At such close proximity, audience members feel that they are part of the activity on stage. In comparison to a large theater where there is a distinct separation between actor and audience, here, the two almost merge into one. There is something about being close to the action that makes it that more arresting. It is harder to distance yourself emotionally when you can feel the intensity coming from the stage.

Relatively small in size, Theatre in a Barn offers a cozy and unintimidating setting for a theater. Canalia emphasized that a large part of the appeal of the space is that it is "theater in an intimate setting." Hudson spoke of the importance of attracting all types of audience members—especially those who are not always as inclined to attend the theater. The relaxed approach that Theatre in a Barn sets even the most wary audience member at ease.

Drawing talent from within the community is important to Canalia and Hudson. "We want to be a venue for people who might not have a venue," Canalia said.

Local playwright Christopher C. Taft's Harvest is currently being performed at the theater. His first play Internal Affairs opened in February, and was the first show to run at Theatre in a Barn. According to Canalia, they "had a great response and sold out almost every night."

Harvest is a one-act play involving the current war in Iraq. Taft focuses on a farm family in which the son, after graduating from high school, enlists in the army and is sent to Iraq. By focusing on how the son's decision affects the family, Taft is able to raise some important concerns with a less-than-threatening approach.

The small cast of four delivered an impressive performance and I, for one, was left wanting more. Taft's play Tap Tap is a period play set in New York City in the 1950s, and will open June 8.

Tap Tap is a comedy that Canalia described as "smart" and "sardonic," involving two couples and a night at the theater. Canalia, who is directing the show, commented how "great it is to be able to workshop with the playwright and make adaptations as they are needed." Both the director and playwright benefit from such a process.

What really seems to be important to the founders of Theatre in a Barn is to be open to all possibilities. The Freak Show, a local improvisational comedy group, has become a regular act at the theater. The group recently formed and is made up of six members who pick a theme for the night and, according to member Bridget Close, "play a bunch of games on stage where the audience participates."

"The space is really nice," Close said. "I like that it is so personal and you can make a connection with the audience."

Canalia and Hudson are also interested in hosting theme-based birthday parties that involve a menu of choice, a show and the opportunity for the guest having the birthday to go on stage and take part in the action. These parties would be available for children as well as adults, and an age-appropriate play would be performed. Coming up within the next few weeks is Jumpin' Beatnik Weekend, which will feature live jazz, poetry and the chance to dress up as your favorite beatnik.

Also on the schedule for this summer are a comedy club and live music. For all shows, doors open at 7 p.m. Audience members are encouraged to come early, stop in at the bar for a drink and help themselves to the hors d'oeuvres that are served at every performance. This is also an excellent time to check out the featured artist's work.

Hudson and Canalia want Theatre in a Barn to provide a variety of options to the younger members of the community as well and have a couple of different projects in the works. At this time, they are working with children from Holy Spirit, a private Catholic school in Pocatello, and will be putting on the production Tales of Wonderland.

They are planning a summer children's acting studio with two sessions in June and July. The studio will be open to children kindergarten through eighth grade, and will teach acting skills, costuming, make-up and scenery. At the end of each two-week session there will be a full performance by the children. Both Hudson and Canalia are looking forward to using their experience to work with children in the community.

When I met with Canalia and Hudson, I was impressed by their dedication to the theater and enthusiasm for all that the future may hold. "We are able to get up and go to work every day and do something we love," Hudson said.

That phrase has so much meaning in a world where too many suffer through work that they derive no pleasure from. By merely being around these two women, I found myself caught up in their energy and left feeling optimistic and ready for an evening at Theatre in a Barn.

I was not disappointed when I went to see Harvest the following evening—I found the experience to be all of the things described to me. The acting was that much more effective because I could witness every detail and movement of the faces on stage.

Sitting in a pew, while oddly reminiscent of attending church, also gave me the opportunity to feel a sense of camaraderie with other members in the audience. And while all the action was taking place, I noticed Canalia back in the shadows looking proudly on at all that was taking place in her theater.

A theater cannot survive without the support of the community in which it is located. The people of Pocatello have made it clear that they are going to help ensure the longevity of Theatre in a Barn. Canalia and Hudson plan on making Pocatello their home for quite some time.

In the short amount of time that it has been around, Theatre in a Barn has already been a success. We are given the chance to view plays in an original and thought-provoking setting, and this is just the beginning.

Canalia and Hudson are always open to new ideas and new faces, hoping to make the theater a growing experience for all who are interested. Who can say what the future has in store for Theatre in a Barn—or what Canalia and Hudson have in store for us?

Theatre in a Barn, 905 S. 5th., Pocatello, 208-406-7252, www.theatreinabarn.com.