Maplewood barn celebrates 40th birthday

Isaac Pasley

Photo illustration by Asa Lory.

Nifong Park theater, which caught fire, is in the process of rebuilding. After almost two years of rebuilding, Maplewood Barn will once again be open. According to the theater’s official website, the new Maplewood Barn is slated for completion in time for the 2012 performance season, which begins in May.

The old theater, located in Nifong Park near the intersection of U.S. 63 and Grindstone Parkway, burned down in March 2010 because of arson. The new barn is being built on the same site.

“Maplewood Barn Community Theater holds a unique place in Columbia theatrical history;  it is the original community theater in town and remains the only outdoor community theater,” said Michael Scott, a board of directors member. “When fire destroyed the historic barn two years ago, there was a tremendous outpouring of sympathy but also a clear message that mid-Missourians wholeheartedly supported the rebuilding of this local institution.”

To finance the reconstruction of Maplewood Barn, Scott sent a $60,000 check to the city council in June 2011, which the council unanimously approved, according to Maplewood Barn’s website. The project officially started about two months later.

This year will be the 40th season of theater productions at Maplewood Barn. The original theater opened in 1973, but the building itself had been around for more than 100 years before then.

Throughout the last 40 years, Maplewood Barn has been a popular entertainment venue for Columbians. It is a theater center for both young and old participants.

“It’s really fun, and the people there are really, really good people,” senior Ellen Thieme said. “It’s just a fun place to be.”

Maplewood Barn is also important to theater students, as they play roles in the summer, among other things.

“At Maplewood Barn we offer an intensive summer production series,” acting teacher Mary Margaret Coffield said. “The Columbia Entertainment Company [does too]. They do stuff throughout the year. By having Maplewood Barn, Columbia gets a lot of theater.”

Putting on a successful show requires the effort of many people, and Coffield said the board of directors is in charge of most of the operations. Other people chip in, too.

“They are interested in any community members to audition to take their place,” Coffield said, “and they are also interested in community members who want to do technical theater. [The board members] draw on volunteers from all over the place.”

Like many who remember Maplewood Barn, Coffield was sad when it was destroyed. The fact that someone did it intentionally especially shook her.

“I feel bad for them because replacing a theater is expensive,” Coffield said. The arson “was disturbing to hear about.”

The new barn will be an exact replica of the original historic structure, but will be built out of fire-resistant material. It will also be equipped with several modern amenities that the outdated building lacked, such as restrooms and running water.

“I’ve seen plans for the new building,” Coffield said, “and I’m really optimistic for the community that the new buildings will help them out.”

The board of directors will also release a commemorative book for Maplewood Barn, “Theater Under the Stars: An Informal, Pictoral History of Maplewood Barn Community Players.”

In addition, many Columbia residents have their own memories of Maplewood Barn. Coffield’s most memorable Maplewood Barn moment was when she brought a group of her theater students there during the 2005-06 school year.

“My favorite was the time that Maplewood invited my Acting 2/3 students to do a performance on the Maplewood Barn stage,” Coffield said. “It was a nice time. I had a great experience working with the people at Maplewood Barn. They give a lot of people an opportunity to have fun and be entertained. An awful lot of my students have been in their shows, and I feel very happy for my students.”
By Isaac Pasley