It’s been such a long time since we’ve seen our Barnstormers family, so we’re checking in to see how they’ve been! Abby and Brendan talk about how they got into theatre, their work at BST, and their experience the last 12 months.
My name is Brendan Proal, I am 22 and have been working in various theatre settings for the past 6 years as an actor and technician.
I got into performing in high school. I had always been intrigued by the entertainment industry and performance art. I attended a show at the high school the year before I started there and was deeply intrigued. I decided it would be a great outlet to create and work with a variety of talented passionate people who were like me. It was in the high school theatre program that I met Abby, and we had multiple opportunities to perform together, including scenes that would be nominated for national festivals and competitions. After performing for the entirety of high school I enrolled in the theatre program at Dean College and it was through them that I was introduced to the Barnstormers Theatre. The Barnstormers had been a common place for Dean students to spend their summer and I had enough tech experience to be recommended to spend the summer of 2018 in Tamworth as a carpenter. I returned the following summer of 2019, and this year Abby came as well. These two years became my most formative as a member of the theatre. I got to work with amazing directors and designers from all over, have conversations with actors from all types of mediums and locations. I also had the opportunity to get grow onstage, with Bob [Shea] allowing me to take small roles in shows such as Damn Yankees and The Man Who Came To Dinner, while taking larger roles at college such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and The Stage Manager in Our Town.
Working at The Barnstormers presented many blessings and challenges. Some of my favorite moments spanned many hours of building new things and getting to interact with actors with so much talent and wisdom to share. The most notable of which being the ever glowing Doug Shapiro who became a quick friend and mentor and Will Johnston who quickly became one of my closest friends. I was also challenged by being thrust into positions I hadn’t expected to take, such as needing to quickly take ensemble roles and learn parts a handful of days before opening or having to jump onto the sound system and do some quick designer fixes when the original designers weren’t available. All of which tested my abilities and pushed me to grow.
Coming back my second year with Abby in 2019 was a different experience entirely. It was fun and new but also came with its challenges. I had figured out how to operate in the space my first year and coming in with my partner required me to change up how I had done things. There was a lot of compromising and communication that needed to happen between people who had very different ways of doing things, but we welcomed the challenges and both grew so much throughout the season, as artists and as a team.
COVID has been difficult for everyone, but performers and artists are having an especially hard time. I haven’t been able to pursue my art the way I would like, but friends and I have done what little we can to create projects for ourselves. I have recently been looking into voice-over acting, as it has been recommended to me before and I’m interested in exploring the new horizons and what is possible for the time being.
I think moving forward at least for the near future, much of acting has and will continue to be performed on the virtual stage. I have seen many performers and artists begin online companies and projects, be it radio play, online readings, virtual performances in full costume and any other way that we can make our art seen in this difficult time for the industry. But as difficult as this time is I have no doubt performance art will adapt and survive as it always has. Artists have always been stubborn and resilient and I know that we will use whatever tools we have now and in the future to continue to do what we love to do, and when this pandemic is over we will come back to the stage stronger and with more drive than we’ve ever had.
Hi, my name is Abby Dwyer!
I was that kid that was always fascinated by live performances. The choreography, the lights, the costumes, and the stories themselves drew me in so quickly I was taking dance classes from four years old and in theatrical performances as soon as I hit the fourth grade. I actually met Brendan in high school through the after school theatre program! From there I went on to study Theatre education at Bridgewater State university. While there, I performed in three musicals, a few straight plays, and three immersive productions, I was on the stage management team for two shows, and costume designed one. All the while, I was working in the scenic, prop, and costume shops, learning as much as possible. The summer after my junior year, I worked with the Weston Playhouse on six different shows as a costumes and wardrobe intern, and the next summer I worked at the Barnstormers Theatre! I learned about BST because Brendan had worked there that same summer I was at Weston, and on my few days off, I would make the three hour drive to visit and volunteer with BST. I quickly fell in love with the quiet town of Tamworth, and the entire BST community, from breakfast at Rosie’s, to the cheery faces of Doug Shapiro and the rest of the family that BST has created. I knew I had to be a part of it.
Actually working at BST was WAY different than volunteering! The hours were long, the standards were high, the strikes seemed never ending! I remember the summer of 2019, we went to change the set from The Man Who Came to Dinner into Spiders Web, and the tech crew worked in shifts over 39 straight hours to make the complete change! It was exhausting work, it caused a few injuries, but the sound of applauding audiences, laughter, even some sniffles and tears during the shows, and the friendships that still exist almost two years later are what makes it all worth it.
Working with your significant other is always challenging. Brendan and I have very different methods of attacking work: I am the type to read out the IKEA instructions completely before I take all the pieces out, and sometimes he’ll jump right in! Neither way is wrong, but they do cause some tension when being forced to work on the same project. But having the occasional day off to hike, or visit the other store for lunch could bring us right back together! Overall, it taught us a lot about ourselves, and each other, and how to work together no matter what the project or problem is.
Now, after working for the Barnstormers, I had already graduated college, and accepted work as the costume shop first hand at a university. I was doing this part time with my full time day job, and accepting small freelance costume projects whenever I could. I planned to continue in the world of theatrical costumes, and was in the process of negotiating a raise and more full time position with that university when we went into lockdown. I started with taking projects home to complete, with the hopes of them being used, then one by one the performances we were preparing for were cancelled. It was honestly devastating. I lost that job completely, and within the month my day job was closed down as well. Now being over a year into this pandemic, I have worked on some small projects to keep myself busy, however I can’t see myself going back into a theatre any time soon. Some states are beginning to open them now, but to think about having to wear masks in a theatre, to not be able to hug my coworkers, or hold celebrations after opening night, or to have the passionate production meetings in person, it just wouldn’t feel right. I know a lot of peers of mine share that sentiment, but others can’t wait to get back into the game. I honestly couldn’t guess how this year will look for the performing arts, it absolutely won’t be normal, but it could be existent, and that alone gives me hope that one day we can all come together to create something incredible, one of a kind, and real. It may be a little far away, but it will be so worth it when it’s here!