Red Barn Studio
By Adrian Gerth
Located just south of downtown Wilmington, the Red Barn Studio Theater is a small building that has little in common with the granite columns of Thalian Hall. Holding true to its name, the quaint style of the building belies the interior’s comfortable setting – something that owners Linda Lavin and Steve Bakunas must have felt when they first opened its doors in 2007. When the dynamic couple decided to return to New York and the lights of Broadway, they wanted the tradition they started to live on in the Cape Fear region. After the initial plans for a donation to CFCC fell through, the artistic community presented a happy alternative in the form of Wilmington native Susan Habas and the Thalian Association (TA). As Director of the association since November 2011, Susan’s relationship with Linda and Steve lent a helping hand to the direction of the Red Barn.
“When I heard that [the CFCC deal had fallen through] I contacted Linda and we worked out this wonderful arrangement where they gave us the Red Barn rent-free for three years. We can have a summer season and a place to do plays that we can’t do at Thalian Hall.” The typical theater season allows five shows at Thalian’s Main Stage, each drawing large audiences, but also limiting the number of plays because of budgetary concerns. Because the Red Barn is a much smaller arena, local thespians can have another outlet for cheaper productions. “This is a very intimate type of studio theater with about 50 seats. So we can do different types of plays,” says Susan. Aside from the TA’s productions, the Red Barn will be used by the Thalian Association for Children’s Theater (TACT) for both rehearsal and production. Susan hopes to rent the space for special events and local acting groups to have a professional place to practice.
The transformation of the Red Barn really began when Linda and Steve began operation. The neighborhood itself provided the initial challenges, with several thefts of Steve’s equipment, as well as a physical confrontation with a burglar. However, instead of letting this deter them, the couple endeavored to change the place they lived and worked in. After working with their friend Mike O’Neill, they arranged the purchase of several building surrounding the Red Barn. “I think it was important here,” says Susan, “because they actually went in and renovated some of the houses around here and have created a lovely neighborhood. They want to continue that deal [with us] because they know that we would continue to preserve it.”
Much like the collaboration between the TA and local government allowed for Thalian Hall to prosper in the cultural community, the Red Barn is intrinsically tied to local actors and those passionate about culture. In August of this year, the TA posted a donor match challenge to the community at large in an attempt to secure donors. “Once we had the wonderful gift of this building, we needed operating funds, as we are a nonprofit organization,” says Susan. “We had an anonymous donor come with our $10K match challenge.” This really reflects the supportive relationship between the people of the Cape Fear and the artistic community. “People from all over the community supported this endeavor,” says Susan, “and we are very grateful for that.”
The Red Barn will open its winter season with Other Desert Cities, starting the first of November and running every weekend throughout the month. This Jon Robin Baitz production is making its first trip to the Cape Fear area under the direction of Tom Briggs, a long-time New Yorker who made his way down South several years ago to direct Pompeii at Thalian Hall. As the producing artistic director at St. Bart’s Play House, Tom will be the artistic power behind the Red Barn’s stage. “Because the Red Barn is such an intimate space,” says Tom, “it gives us a chance to do smaller plays, with smaller casts.” A finalist for the Pulitzer in Drama, Other Desert Cities is “a brilliant play that is perfect for our space,” says Tom. In a fortunate twist of fate, Linda Lavin had created one of the original characters of the play, Silda, who will be portrayed by Suellen Yates in the upcoming production. “We have an extraordinary cast,” says Tom, adding “We’re honored that Linda and Steve have entrusted us with their beautiful theater.” The large-scale productions at Thalian Hall provide a grandstand for Cape Fear culture; Tom’s cast will provide you with an alternative, as they are looking forward to giving the community “intimate, contemporary drama.”