The Bell Road Barn Players is Kansas City’s oldest community theatre and looks forward to presenting its 61st season in 2015. The group’s remarkably long existence – without a permanent home and especially in the changeable environment of volunteer performing arts organizations—is a testament to its history and its dedicated leadership. Through the years it has evolved from a family pastime to a not-for-profit community-based operation. Jenkin and Barbara David, founders of the original Bell Road Barn Playhouse, moved their family to the Parkville area in 1952 when Mr. David accepted an administrative position at Park College. Two years later, they purchased property on Bell Road that included a house and small barn. Both having considerable background in theatre, the Davids converted the barn into a “playhouse” as a summer activity for their four young daughters. “You Can’t Take It with You” was the first production, and early plays were cast with family members, neighbors and friends.
Mr. David went on to become professor of theatre at Park College, and the “Bell Road Barn Playhouse” provided students with summer experience and academic credit for many years. Audiences and community involvement grew, and by 1977, the Bell Road Barn Playhouse had registered as a Missouri 501(c)(3) corporation, elected a board of directors, and received tax-exempt status.
Following Jenkin David’s death in March 1984, Barbara David and daughter Jane David Fopeano stepped in to supervise the theatre’s 30th anniversary season. Beginning in 1985, the board of directors assumed an active role in day-to-day operations. Mrs. David announced her decision to retire and sell the Bell Road property during the 1986 season, which concluded with Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
The search for a new home ended when Mr. Ed Young offered the use of a renovated storage facility in Riverside. The David Theatre, named for the founding family, opened in Riverside in June 1987 with the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes.” Unfortunately, the David Theatre suffered irreparable damage in the July 1993 flood, just days after the season ended. Following seven seasons of growing attendance and exposure in Riverside, the Bell Road Barn Players again searched for a place to perform. Through the generosity of Park College an interim home was established on the Parkville campus for the Bell Road Barn Players’ 40th season.
The musical revue “Gilbert & Sullivan: A Command Performance” opened the 40th anniversary season shortly after Park College renamed its Alumni Hall facility as the “Jenkin & Barbara David Theatre” in honor of Jenkin David. A letter from Mrs. David was read at the dedication ceremony, in which she wrote: “Jenkin would be happy to know that his efforts have been rewarded, and that so many friends and neighbors fondly remember the Barn and the plays.” In October of that year, a long-term agreement was announced for the Bell Road Barn Players to make Park College its home beginning with the 1995 season. That arrangement lasted for 13 years.
Because of increased enrollment and changes in leadership on the Park University campus, in 2008 the Bell Road Barn Players again went on the road. The Board produced two musicals, at Park Hill South High School, a children’s show in conjunction with Park Hill Community Education, a 9/11 tribute, The Guys” at the Meetin’ House and a historical review of Bell Road Barn at Platte Senior Services before returning to Park University for a short stint.
Over the years, the Bell Road Barn Players have been served by hundreds of talented actors, directors and technicians, and from the financial support of devoted season pass holders and corporate patrons. The theatre’s 60 preceding seasons have offered a balance of old favorites and new works, including the Kansas City premieres of “84, Charing Cross Road” (1988), “Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar & Grille” (1992), “The Art of Dining” and “Shadowlands” (1993), and The Producers (2009). The theatre group is also fond of bringing back old favorites. For example, “Our Town,” recognized at the Bell Road Barn Players’ signature production, has been presented seven times in its history and “You Can’t Take It With You,” its first production in 1954, reprised four times.
The Bell Road Barn Players’ board of directors established an endowment fund in 1994 to help ensure the organization’s future. The names of donors to the Fund, as well as those of persons memorialized or honored by gifts, are displayed at its performances. The board also instituted the Peter Fopeano Scholarship fund to honor the memory of the David’s grandson and Jane Fopeano’s son, who died unexpectedly in November 2008. Peter grew up on the Bell Road Barn stage and served on the Board of Directors. This scholarship helps young performers.
For information on the Fund or the Scholarship, contact Treasurer
From its origins on Bell Road to its time in Riverside and Parkville, the Bell Road Barn Players remain dedicated to the organization’s mission of fostering the development of community appreciation and participation in the theatrical arts in Platte County, Missouri. That mission continues to drive its search for venues to perform and ultimately a new home for the theatre.