Barter Theater Costume Designers Create a Green Space That Feeds Body & Soul!

Barter Theater Main Stage
127 West Main Street
Abingdon, VA 24210
(276) 628-3991

Barter Theater

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by Danielle Bussone

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, VA

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, VA

The closest thing to Broadway one can find outside of New York City, at least in the US, is the Barter Theater. The Barter, Virginia’s state theater, has put Abingdon on the map, making it a destination for tourists from around the world. One has only to attend a performance, any performance, to recognize the breadth of the talent that resides in this tiny corner of SW Virginia.



Some members of the Barter’s Costume Shop

Often overlooked is the team of artisans who works anonymously behind the scenes to create the stages and costumes that bring fantasy to life at the Barter. The costume designers occupy a building about a mile from the main theater. Like the mice in the story of Cinderella, they scurry about cutting patterns and transforming rich fabrics to produce the pageantry of as many as four productions at a time, and twenty shows annually. They either buy the costumes and alter them or make them completely from scratch.


Barter's Costume Design team's urban garden.

Barter’s Costume Design team’s urban garden.

I happened to become engaged in a conversation with the family (mother, sister and father) of one of the costume designers, visiting from Montana, whom I met one Saturday morning at Abingdon’s busy farmers’ market. They told me about the urban garden the costumers designed in front of their building. An urban garden, in downtown Abingdon? Of course, my interest was piqued. I gave Sarah Pak a call and arranged for a lunch interview at my home, only a couple of blocks from where she worked. Sarah originally moved here from Montana four years ago, coincidentally the same month Rich and I moved to Abingdon. We also are both January babies, born two days and approximately two decades apart. Clearly, we were destined to meet! Pak’s father owns a SE Asian restaurant in Missoula, Montana called the River Wok, which serves vegetarian dining options.


Yellow squash: ripe for the picking

Yellow squash: ripe for the picking

Sarah arrived with a shoebox filled with gorgeous napkins of various colors and textures, a gift from the costume design staff. As I sometimes send platters of food I’ve created for them to enjoy, the Barter Costume Design Team is intimately aware that I am writing cookbooks. They thought I could use these lovely unique napkins for food photography, and they were right! To me they are worth their weight in gold!


Pots of fresh herbs and onions

Pots of fresh herbs and onions

What had existed in the garden space of their building, before this creative team decided to get their hands dirty, was an unattractive grouping of tired boxwoods that had clearly seen better days. They were ugly and brown, hardly an inspiration to creating art. The costumers requested and received permission from the Barter management to transform the beds in front of their building into an edible landscape. They felt it would be a bonding experience for the costume shop as well as a fun experiment for everyone.


Edibles and Ornamentals travel with you up the steps to the costume shop

Edibles and Ornamentals travel with you up the steps to the costume shop

“None of us had any experience in gardening,” Sarah admits. “at least not on this level. So there wasn’t a lot of planning that went into it. We knew we wanted squashes in one area, because we knew they would take up a lot of room. Not knowing how big things would get or what plants would take over the garden, we just planted them. Next year we’ll know better how the space will work out.”


Sunflowers and Marigolds surround tomatoes and other edibles

Sunflowers and Marigolds surround tomatoes, peppers and other edibles

It looks like the experiment has paid off! One of their earliest crops was the broccoli, which is reported to have been delicious. Now the tomatoes are taking off as well as the yellow squash, eggplant and zucchini. There is a pot of onions resting inside one of the beds and pots of carrots adorn the steps to the entrance of the building. They planted a row of sunflowers they thought would look pretty against the red brick. They now sort of loom over the garden as protective guardians while marigolds form a border at the base of the bed as a first line of defense against invasive insects. Basil, dill, lavender, rosemary and sweet peas are included in the mix, some in the ground, others in pots arranged in and around the beds. Each day a new bud generates excitement among the novice gardeners and mature plants find homes with whomever feels like cooking on that particular day. It’s truly a communal effort.


Squash bed: taking up lots of space

Squash bed: taking up lots of space

Creating a green space that offers daily enjoyment, feeding not only their bodies but their creative souls, the costume design team at the Barter Theater is onto something big. Hopefully, this is a trend we’ll see more of in the future. But for now, in Abingdon, VA, the Barter Theater is once again at center stage.




Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health.”

Danielle’s region is SW Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, and anywhere she happens to stop for sustenance along the road. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

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