Southern Agenda

Seat Swap

Illustration: Tim Bower

When the historic hamlet of Abingdon opened its Barter Theatre in 1933 during the Great Depression, patrons could either pay thirty-five cents or “barter” the equivalent amount of produce or livestock to see a show. Legend has it that the playwrights Tennessee Williams and Thornton Wilder were compensated for their work at Barter with Virginia ham, and Gregory Peck went door to door borrowing furniture for a set. This year, the theater marks its ninetieth birthday back in its own space after putting on shows during the pandemic at a drive-in theater. “There is something in our DNA, both as a theater and as a region, that is at its best when it’s having to go up against hard things,” says Katy Brown, Barter’s producing artistic director. The theater will set up an audio booth for guests to record their favorite memories, and in keeping with tradition, for several shows, patrons can either pay the ticket price or bring food donations that support Feeding Southwest Virginia, a local pantry.