Barn Theater Rises From the Ashes

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COLUMBIA - On Thursday, Columbia's Maplewood Barn Theatre will usher in a new era of outdoor entertainment with the opening night performance of Fiddler on the Roof. The performance also marks the beginning of the theatre's 40th season of shows under the stars in Nifong Park, a feat that was almost threatened two years ago.

On the night of April 5, 2010, the theatre's 133-year-old iconic red barn was the victim of a suspicious fire. The entire structure was consumed by flames, black plumes of smoke could be seen from miles away and by morning only charred pieces of wood remained. It was a night that Barnies, those who are involved with the Maplewood Barn Theatre, still remember vividly to this day.

Byron Scott is the theatre's historian and was teaching in England at the time of the fire. He said it was toward dawn in London when he got phone call after phone call informing him about the fire. "It was like one of my own children had died. But I knew it wasn't going to stop us from anything," said Byron.

And Byron was right. According to Michael Scott, president of the theatre's board of directors, less than 24 hours after the fire destroyed their historic barn and all of the props, costumes and tools within, Columbia Parks and Recreation informed him they wanted to rebuild. Michael also said he received an outpouring of e-mails from across the state offering everything from tools to lumber to other various supplies. "We had the offering of at least two barns somewhere in rural Missouri that people sweetly offered if we could move it, they would let us have the barn," said Michael.

While Michael said moving an old barn certainly had a quaint appeal to it, it was not a practical option. That year, the theatre pushed the start of its season back one week, but raised the curtain and performed every single scheduled show at Nifong Park on the site of the former barn. The season went on to become named the ‘Phoenix Season.' "The theatre never died. I was never a giant fan of the ‘phoenix dubbing' of 2010 because I don't know that it really made any sense. It's a great metaphor but we never went into the ashes to begin with," Michael said.

Now two years after the infamous fire, the Maplewood Barn Theatre has a new barn, one that history buffs will surely enjoy. Byron said the red structure looks like what the old barn must have looked like in 1870 from the outside. Although the new barn is historically accurate from the outside, on the inside it features some modern conveniences.

The new barn will feature heating and air conditioning as well as indoor plumbing for the first time in the barn, something Barnies young and old said they are looking forward to. "It's really good we have plumbing now because we don't want to be seen and we don't want to wet our pants," said Raychel Mooney, who plays one of the daughters in Fiddler on the Roof.

The barn also features significant accessible upgrades including an ADA sidewalk that leads from the parking lot through the middle of the audience. Michael Scott said that means anyone can get from the parking lot to the show and up to the bathrooms and back without ever leaving the pavement. A significant change from the years of walking through the grass and gravel.

With the 40th anniversary season also marked the release of a new book chronicling the history of the Maplewood Barn Theatre. Byron Scott, author of "Barnies: Forty Years of Theatre Under the Stars at Maplewood Barn," said the book contains photos from the very first show to the rebuilding of the new barn. Byron also said the book was only possible because of the community response after the barn's archives were destroyed in the fire. He described the book as being like a family album.

As the cast and crew prepared to put the finishing touches together for opening night, how fare they've gone in two years is clear. "It's weird in a way when you think about it. If this fire was started by someone, little did they know, here we turned into a godsend," Michael Scott said.

Performances of Fiddler on the Roof are in Nifong Park on May 24-27, May 31-June 3, and June 7-10. Click here for ticket information.