The Most Famous Stage in Virginia
One of Abingdon’s oldest attractions is the legendary Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia. The theatre began in 1933 with one man’s idea to have patrons pay with produce. Now it has grown in to a year-round theatre with more than 160,000 visitors each year.
Barter Theatre Productions
Barter is a professional Equity Theatre, with a resident company of paid actors who perform in more than 25 productions each year. The theatre operates two stages on Main Street in downtown Abingdon, the historic Barter Main Stage, originally built in the 1830s, and Barter Stage II, a more intimate space that is home to edgier new works, as well as the Barter Players children’s theatre. Barter’s plays run in repertory, meaning visitors could see up to 5 different shows in a single weekend!
Whether it’s family-friendly musicals like The Wizard of Oz or Mary Poppins or original southern and Appalachian works like Keep on the Sunny Side: The Songs and Stories of the Carter Family, Barter has something for everyone.
Barter also offers a gift shop, dining, and backstage tours of the theatre.
During the Great Depression, many actors were literally “starving artists,” while Appalachian farmers had produce rotting in the fields, unable to sell their goods. Robert Porterfield, an enterprising young actor, returned to his native Southwest Virginia with an extraordinary proposition: local residents could barter produce from the farms and gardens of the region to gain admission to see a play.
So on June 10, 1933, Barter Theatre opened its doors, proclaiming “With vegetables you cannot sell, you can buy a good laugh.” The price of admission was 40 cents or equivalent amount of produce. Four out of five Depression-era theatregoers paid their way with vegetables, dairy products and livestock.
The theatre went on to become a launching pad for famous alumni like Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn, Kevin Spacey and other entertainment giants.
Eight decades later, Barter’s unique heritage is celebrated with at least two performances a year when patrons can barter for their tickets with a donation of canned goods for an area food bank.
See a show
Barter Theatre operates February through December each year, with performances Tuesdays through Sundays. The repertory schedule means performance times vary, so view the Barter calendar online for more information, or request a Barter Theatre brochure by calling the box office at (276) 628-3991.
Packages are available for groups and individuals. Contact your hotel or B&B about Barter packages, or contact the Barter box office at (276) 628-3991. For information on bringing your group to Barter Theatre, contact Monica Hall, or visit our page for tour operators.
As it celebrates over 80 years of productions, Barter is still the epicenter of Abingdon’s cultural life, which also features live music, world-class museums, galleries, and a wide variety of working artists’ studios. Visit our Arts & Culture page to read more.