Since 1967, Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre has been a mainstay of the local entertainment scene. But this iconic institution — now in its 51st season — continues to find new ways to engage its loyal audiences.
For example, the venerable theater recently announced the winners of its inaugural “Clash of the Playwrights” competition. Chaffin’s put out the call for “innovative, never-before-produced comedy and mystery scripts” in March, revealing the winners in June.
“We had such a great response considering this our first contest,” says Bradley Moore, assistant artistic director at Chaffin’s. “We had interest from Atlanta, Charlotte, Kentucky and even Florida. And I was really pleased with the quality of the works.”
Moore reviewed each script carefully, with assistance from a panel of six theater professionals, before narrowing it down to three winners. The second- and third-place winners — “The Nearly Final Almost Posthumous Play of the Not-Quite-Dead Sutton McAllister” by Kris Bauske and “Mixed Company” by Suzanne Ward, respectively — will receive a staged reading of their plays on Aug. 15 and 16. Meanwhile, first-place winner Becky Wahlstrom will receive a full production of her play “In Stitches,” to be staged at Chaffin’s Barn Aug. 24-26.
“I think our audience will really enjoy these plays, all of which are comedies,” Moore says. “It’s a nice opportunity for them to get a first look at some great new works.”
For Wahlstrom, also an accomplished actor with extensive stage and screen credits, “Clash of the Playwrights” offered an opportunity to revisit her first full-length stage play. Tennessee Women’s Theater Project and the Centennial Art Center actually commissioned Wahlstrom in 2015 to write a play about a real group of Nashville women that had been gathering weekly for many years — sewing and sharing potluck meals, along with the stories of their lives.
“When they first approached me, the Arts Center was already planning a gallery exhibit of the group’s quilts,” explains Wahlstrom, a Chicago native who moved to Nashville from Los Angeles in 2013. “They wanted to do a staged reading of the play in conjunction with the gallery opening, so it was a tight time frame. I was a little nervous about meeting the ladies because I didn’t sew at all. But they were so lovely, so welcoming. I was still fairly new to town, so they quickly became my gal pals — I really couldn’t wait to see them every Tuesday. And while I went into this thinking the play was all about them, there’s a lot of my own life in there, as well.”
The heart-felt comedy, originally titled “A Modern Day Quilt,” was well received at its initial reading in January 2016, and was later featured as part of TWTP’s annual Women’s Work Festival in May 2016. But the staging at Chaffin’s marks the play’s first full production.
Directed by Chaffin’s Barn Artistic Director Martha Wilkinson, the cast features a number of Barn favorites, including Rebekah Durham, Joy Todd, Wesley Paine, Joy Tilley Perryman, Cheryl Hall, Linda Speir, Ashley Diggs, Terry Occhiogrosso, Yoshie Lewis, James Rudolph and Bradley Moore.
“I was so happy to hear that Martha would be directing,” Wahlstrom says. “She’s had some great ideas and the cast is terrific. I really feel like this play is such a great fit for Chaffin’s — some of the ladies I wrote about are actually patrons of the Barn. And we’ve invited them all to attend the show. It’s so exciting to see Chaffin’s Barn give room to new works — I can’t wait to see this play come to life.”
If you go
What: Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre presents the winners of its inaugural “Clash of the Playwrights” competition
When: Aug. 15-16 and 24-26. Staged readings at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (doors open at 6 p.m., with an à la carte menu available until 6:45 p.m.); performances for “In Stitches” at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (dinner buffet 6-7:30 p.m.).
Where: Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Highway 100, Nashville
Tickets: $10 for staged readings; $25 for “In Stitches” (free to season ticket holders)
Contact:www.chaffinsbarntheatre.com; 615-646-9977 or 1-800-282-2276
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