Willmar's Barn Theatre gets creative with being creative

Live theater performances have been curtailed because of the coronavirus, but The Barn Theatre in Willmar is providing a creative outlet for performers and the audience during a virtual variety show that will be held next week.

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Cindy, played by Kayla Watson, confesses her sadness after her boyfriend ended their relationship in February of 2019 during a dress rehearsal of “Suds” at the Barn Theatre in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The coronavirus that has temporarily closed down many community entertainment venues, including The Barn Theatre in Willmar, is testing the creative powers of people who thrive on being creative.

“We just have to work a little harder,” said Naomi Lindquist, executive director of The Barn Theatre.

The doors of the downtown theater have been closed since mid-March and the performance of “A Year with Frog and Toad,” that was supposed to have been held in April, was canceled.

“Shrek the Musical,” which was scheduled for July, has been postponed until the summer of 2021.

The confines of the theater, the current guidelines for social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and unknown factors for future guidelines during the pandemic mean live theaters will likely be one of the last venues allowed to open, she said.


“We have a great loss in not being able to produce theater for our patrons, but we are working to move forward as best we can,” she said.

The pandemic has made for some tough decisions for the board of directors, which remains “very positive,” said Lindquist. “We just hope and pray we can keep moving forward” and eventually open the doors to the public.

Until then, The Barn is implementing some new options.

Eager to find a way for volunteer performers to express themselves and for loyal Barn patrons to experience local talent, the theater is hosting a “virtual variety show” next week.

It starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 11, and is expected to last about an hour.

Details are still being ironed out regarding the line-up of talent and what media platform will be used to watch the event. Viewers are asked to check the Barn’s website and social media page for details.

Lindquist said some of the acts in the show will include music and selected scenes from “A Year with Frog and Toad,” “SUDS,” “Big Fish,” “The Savannah Sipping Society” and others.

“The cast is coming together to rehearse and perform a song or a scene from their show. We have other snippets in the works and are excited to present some of our great local talents,” she said.


“We have a lot of talent in Willmar to showcase,” she said, “it’s just going to be presented in a different way.”

Lindquist said she hopes the virtual variety show fills a gap for performers.

“Many cast members are feeling a missing part of themselves without theater,” she said. “The arts have a very needed place in many people’s lives and fill a creative need for many.”

She said the show will also help fill a void for people who love the theater and “enjoy some laughs” and look forward to being “lost in another world for a couple of hours.”

While watching the show at home instead of in the theater, viewers will have the opportunity to donate online to the Barn.

Not having shows on the stage means there hasn’t been revenue in the coffers and bills still need to be paid, said Lindquist.

Donations will help the theater “keep the lights on and pay the mortgage” and be ready to open the doors for live performances when conditions with the pandemic allow that to happen.

The theater is also doing some activities this summer for kids.


Lindquist said The Barn Theatre received a grant through Willmar Main Street and the city of Willmar to present “Child’s Play” on Wednesdays in downtown Willmar this summer.

A series of "pop-up" events will be conducted each week in different downtown locations, interactive sessions that are designed to give kids and families opportunities for creative expression. The start date is still to be determined, with information expected to be available on the theater’s website and its Facebook page.

The Barn also received a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council for its summer productions. Lindquist said the board of directors is looking at the possibility of presenting one summer production at an outdoor location. That idea is just in the development stage, however.

The Barn Theatre also received a small grant from Rethos Places Reimagined , a Main Street Support Fund, that Lindquist said will be used when the theater is eventually able to reopen to help the theater retain its public presence.

When the theater is allowed to reopen, Lindquist said every precaution will be taken to protect performers, the behind-the-scene volunteers and members of the audience.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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