by Kim Taylor
MARIN COUNTY, CA – This may be hard to believe, but there are still theater troupes out there that put their shows on in “the barn.”
Take the Ross Valley Players, the oldest continuously operating community theater organization west of the Rockies, which dates back to 1930 when members of the little hamlet of Ross in Marin County established the theater group as an escape from the realities of the Depression.
The company’s first performances were given at the community room of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Other RVP venues in the 1930s included San Rafael High School and Woodland Theatre, an outdoor theater located in Kent Woodlands. Then in the early 1940s, The Ross Valley Players settled in an old barn where actors shared rehearsal space with cattle and a barn door placed across some stalls formed the stage.
Set on a hill in the beautiful Marin Art & Garden Center complex, the Barn Theatre is a two story wood structure which evolved into a 150-seat theater and the home base of the Ross Valley Players. The lobby features a display of one of the original barn doors, a historical reminder of the RVP’s humble, but earnest beginnings.
The Barn was built in the 1860s as part of the Kittle farm. During the late 1930s the barn served several functions – as shelter for livestock; a garage for the Kittle family; and storage space for Ross Valley Players costumes and props.
It was in 1940 that the barn began its transformation into a theater space with a first play reading of “Life with Father.”
It continued functioning as a working barn until 1945, when Kittle Estate became the Marin Art and Garden Center. Between 1948 and 1954, major interior renovations were made at the barn including the installation of a permanent stage in 1950s. By the 1970s, the building had stage lights, bathrooms and a small kitchen for concessions.
Over the years the Ross Valley Players has successfully completed other significant improvement projects to the Barn Theatre. Future projects include a new heating system; a complete upgrade of restroom facilities; and a reorganization of costume and storage systems that will serve the Ross Valley Players and become a resource for other community organizations.
During its 79-year history the Ross Valley Players has served as a theatrical organization where amateurs can spread their wings and practice their skills. The non-profit theatrical company presents six to eight productions each season.
In 2007, members of the S.F. Bay Area Theatre Critics’ Circle presented a special award to The Ross Valley Players, recognizing the theater company as one of the Bay Area’s oldest theater companies surviving without subsidies, presenting productions featuring community talent and for its “RAW” series featuring readings of new plays by local writers.
A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.