Rice Lake, Wisconsin
From a Red Barn Theatre Review, by Isabel Popko, Nov. 1978
The Red Barn Theatre at the junction of State Highway 48 and County Trunk M is visible evidence of the things that country folks treasure ---enterprise, cooperation, hard work, and native talent. It's natural that grass roots theatre should flourish here, nurtured in a community where the arts are loved.
From the time she first gathered a few actors around her to perform in St. Joseph's school gym in Rice Lake in 1961 until they moved into the barn in 1967, the Red Barn Theatre was only a gleam in the eye of the director, Nina KIauss, mother of five with a background of professional training and experience. People responding to her invitation to form an amateur theatre group caught her enthusiasm and voted to form a non-profit corporation. The state charter was granted on 24 May 1962 for The Hardscrabble Players, Inc.
An appeal for a place toe perform caught the fancy of Cap Hagen Hardscrabble ski hill owner, who allowed the Players to perform there rent-free for four summers, while the search was on for just the right barn. In 1966, the players performed in the Rice Lake High School auditorium. That was the year that Mrs. Klauss discovered the sturdy but faded little barn, nestled in the hillside beside a grove of pine.
From the beginning the barn was a hit, as much as were the plays. Descendants of the builder have told of the homesteading of the property in about 1864. The first barn was made of logs, which was replaced by the present structure in 1904. To celebrate the barn raising on 4 July 1904, there was a dance on the new floor...the little barn's first public entertainment.
When the Players moved into the barn it had been idle for about twenty years. The first necessity was a new floor and stage in the loft, built in 1967. In 1968 the concrete stable floor was removed and a new slab poured, followed by remodeling to divide the space into storage, dressing rooms, restrooms and lounge areas. The silo was converted into a stairway leading from the theatre to the lounge.
Other improvements included a tiered floor for the audience, a succession of used theatre seats, a ticket office, and a light and sound booth. In 1973 a large pole-type building was built against the north wall to provide space for work on sets, storage, wardrobe and additional dressing areas.
The lounge boasts of a concession stand and space for display of art by local artists. In 1978 a patio was added beyond the porch, and in both 1977 and 1978 landscaping was completed. The interior of the lounge was remodeled in 1988, and in 1992 a second remodeling was undertaken to refurbish the exposed south wall of the lounge. During the 1999 season a "red shed" for set construction, storage and rehearsals was built to the northeast of the Barn. More extensive landscaping was undertaken in 2002.
The People. While one's attention goes initially to the structure, a theatre is, first of all, people---the ones who desire dramatic art in the community, the ones who want to perform, the support staff of backstage workers, and the management to assure the theatre's continuation. Talent abounds and arrives from every walk of life and every age. Professionals share the stage with students, farmers, housewives, clerks, teachers, artists, and musicians. Summer people plan their vacations to attend or participate in Red Barn productions.
The financial support of the theatre comes principally from the income of the plays. Also, in many recent years the Red Barn Theatre has been honored to receive grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Low ticket prices are made possible by the free work of actors and by the countless hours provided by behind-the-scenes volunteers.
Honors. In 1977 the Players realized a long-cherished intention: awarding scholarships to those with talent, ambition, and a record of service to the Red Barn. Following the director's death, the scholarship was renamed in her honor as the Nina Klauss Memorial Scholarship. Each year outstanding performers and one non-performer are awarded the "Barney" award.
The Hardscrabble Players are proud of the Red Barn Theatre, which is the result of the combined work and care of the company and the community. The Players appreciate and welcome friends and visitors as they strive to serve the cultural interests of a wide geographic area.
Nina Klauss, Our Founder
How Best to Reflect on Her Memory?
It's a thought which has been pestering me since I was asked to undertake the task. But then it dawned on me that Nina herself was the Champion of Champions when it came to "pestering." She would not--could not--accept a "no" from anyone. She could "pester" anyone into acting, building a set, donating a prop for a show, or buying an ad for the season brochure. And she "pestered" with such love, such dedication, such enthusiasm that it usually wouldn't dawn on you until much later that you had been "Nina'ed" again.
I first met her in 1980 or 1981 when I was relatively new to the area and decided to see if I had fortitude enough to audition for a play being done at the Campus in Rice Lake. Being offered a part was surprising, but nothing could have prepared me for the moment I met the whirlwind who would be playing my wife in the show---Nina. She was unique---a bundle of tightly wound electrons without a shy molecule to call her own. I quickly learned to brace myself for the rush of Nina. It was a matter of get ready or get run over. By the time the final curtain had fallen on the campus play, I had learned more about the "Barn" than I could imagine and I had been "pestered" into auditioning for a Barn show that summer some 25 years ago.
Nina was (and in many respects, still is) the Red Barn Theatre. She selected plays, cast them, directed all shows, decided what to charge and what to spend, and was a performer without equal---it was a monarchy and Nina was the undisputed Queen---we wouldn't have had it any other way! I can remember only two occasions over the years when she was flustered. The first was in the mid 80's when I was nominated from the floor to serve on the Board of Directors---I was not her hand-picked choice. I was railroaded in before she could devise a counter strategy. I do hope she got over that.
The second time she was flustered was on stage during a performance of "The Gin Game." I showed up for a Saturday night performance coming direct from a wedding reception and having had at least one too many Manhattans and precious little memory of my lines, she wanted to nail my hide to a wall. It didn't help that Nina was notorious for not exactly memorizing her lines word for word. I learned a valuable lesson that night---never again! I would like to take this opportunity to personally apologize to all who were in the audience that night who had trouble following the plot---you folks only saw about half the show.
When, Nina passed unexpectedly, I happened to be the President of the Board (she had apparently forgiven my original election). I know many of us wondered how the Barn would survive without her. In the end, all that was required was that we continue to do things as Nina would have done. Using that as our guide, the Barn continues to prosper. After all, the Barn is so much more than weathered boards, moths in spotlights, and a bat diving from the rafters---the Barn is people. Wonderful people who have so greatly enriched my life---Mark B, Colleen S, and Frank K from that first show so long ago to Rick S, Bill K, Terry W, and Patsy V in the 2005 show and all of those in between---but most of all, Nina.
I can still hear that strange, infectious, and wonderful laugh of yours in the silo---you'll always be there!