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Young county thespians benefit from Barter Theatre's summer workshop

By: Veronica Burniston
Freelance Writer

Heritage Hall was brimming with color, laughter, and promising young talent on Friday, May 16, 2014, as the Barter Youth Academy presented its Demo Night to family and friends in Johnson County. With four separate groups (ages 5 to 18), the performances not only delivered humorous, adventurous stories but also encouragement to the young actors and actresses as they learned more about the profession of acting and shared their love for the stage with the audience.
A division from the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, the Barter Youth Academy (BYA) is an educational program for students grades 2-12 where they are given the opportunity to sharpen their skills in storytelling, performance, and mastering the basic theater vocabulary in a safe and encouraging environment. Offering spring, summer, and fall workshops, BYA has a handful of campuses in Virginia and Tennessee, including locations such as Bristol, TN; Marion, VA; and, of course, Mountain City, TN.
Performing first on Friday night, the BYA Pre-Academy (2nd grade) presented the audience with a colorful story by Kathryn Otoshi called “One.” The young and energetic actors and actresses effectively displayed their emotions to the audience through facial expressions and physical movements that sent chuckles rolling through the room and made many a parent proud as they watched their children come alive on stage.
Shortly following the Pre-Academy performance, the BYA Elementary School group gave the audience a humorous interpretation of the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Donning just as much color as the Pre-Academy’s wardrobe, the Elementary School group took the audience on a trip with creative, hilarious characters, such as the Emperor’s company: The Minister of Fashion, The Sultan of Style, The Duchess of Dressing Up, The Grand Poohba of Toiletries, The Overlady of Overdressing, and, last but not least, The Underlord of Underwear. Brought together by a talented young group, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” delivered more than laughter and smiles to the audience; it gave them a “fashion show like no other.”
Next, the BYA Middle School group took the viewers on a fantastical journey of discovery, courage, and hope as they performed “Journey to the World’s Edge” by H. Bagdasian and E. Joselovitz. This story was about self-discovery, learning that what really defines a person isn’t physical appearance or how the world views he or she, it’s what rests inside them that matters. Embroidered with magic, kelpie-humor, and friendship, “Journey to the World’s Edge” was a surprisingly enlightening tale, delivered by a group of talented students, whose love for acting and entertaining proved just as engaging as the story itself.
Completing the night, the BYA High School group performed scenes from the plays: “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson and “August: Osage County” by Tracy Letts. Both scenes focused more on character interaction and dialogue than physical movement. Behind each conversation, deeper emotions stirred, surfacing in offhanded comments and word choices. The awkward yet “brilliant” interaction of the two characters Rosanna, a runaway bride, and Henry Harry, a lonely and quite unsociable man, in “Brilliant Traces” created a humorous dialogue and gave the audience a glimpse into the complexities of being human. In the scene from “August: Osage County,” three very different sisters sat around a table in deep discussion, tangling the past, present, and future into a mess of missed opportunity, loss, and family issues. In both instances, the High School group successfully brought together scenes with truth, emotional baggage, and a powerful (almost raw) sense of broken, mending, and budding relationships.
All in all, the BYA groups gave the audience a splendid night of entertainment and family fun, a night many parents, children, and friends will remember for years to come.
The BYA in Mountain City is made possible by the generous funding of The Cook-Everett Grant, Puffin Foundation, Ltd., and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund.
For more information about the BYA, visit the Barter Theatre website at