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The Barn that Dreamed of Being a Theater


Think neighborhood block party. Add a little nachtmusik, a grand piano, an operatic tenor—and a barn. Don’t forget the barn. It wouldn’t be the same without the barn.

“We thought about knocking it down,” says Marc Deaton, aforesaid operatic tenor, from the home he shares with his husband John Johmann in Madison. “Especially after part of it collapsed after a bad snowstorm. But it’s an original post-and-beam construction.” Deaton waves an arm toward the window facing the barn. “I couldn’t let that happen.”

Rather than see their lovely barn torn down, Deaton and Johmann (a marketing manager for a major bank in Manhattan) hired a firm that specializes in the restoration of period structures to rebuild it. It took over a year. Today, the pine and oak barn is sleek and clean and proud. Much of the original timber is spliced with new wood, fitted and joined together with wooden pegs. It’s a beautiful barn.

To be clear, Deaton and Johmann don’t keep cows in their lovingly restored barn. Instead, there’s a piano, lighting equipment, and a bunch of chairs. The barn is home to Madison Lyric Stage, a homegrown theatre company which presents theatrical entertainment ranging from opera and chamber music to dance, cabaret, and stage plays for friends and followers.

Madison Lyric Stage is a sponsored project of a non-profit arts service organization called Fractured Atlas. It relies on the donations of its audiences, and the kindness of strangers. “What I like about it,” Deaton explains, “is that it brings the whole community together. After the performances, the actors mingle with the audience, the audience mingles with itself, and people get to know each other. It’s intimate. The barn only seats about 85. It’s like a private club, a private party.”

There wouldn’t be any party if Deaton hadn’t fallen in love with Connecticut’s shoreline. Deaton and Johmann have an apartment in Manhattan, and they were looking for a weekend place. Deaton remembered singing with the Opera Theatre of Connecticut in Clinton, and liking the area. They looked around and loved the beach. They found their house. “We decided this was the place,” he says.

Their weekend place morphed into a home, and Deaton morphed into a local. “I was still travelling a lot when we first got the house,” he says, “but I loved it here, and then I started the theatre company. I took fewer and fewer engagements overseas because I wanted to be here, and I am lucky enough to be able to choose to be here, rather than traveling.”

Overseas was where Deaton established his reputation, although he was born in California, studied at Southern Utah University and Loyola in New Orleans, and apprenticed at the Santa Fe Opera. “I went to Europe in 1988,” Deaton says. “I was 23 and I think I was lucky to be where I was at the time. When the Berlin Wall came down, many young artists fled and I was able to take on the roles that the older singers wouldn’t. I was living in Vienna and I was developing and perfecting my repertoire.”

He expanded his repertoire. He was sought after for his strength in singing Wagner and Strauss, but he didn’t want to be confined to certain roles, so he branched out with Carmen, Otello, and Aida. Against the advice of his agent, he took on the lead role in Jesus Christ, Superstar.

“I’m glad I did,” Deaton says. He now offers master classes in his home and in the barn, and gives the following advice to his stu- dents: “Listen to your mentors, but don’t let anyone define you.” Madison Lyric Stage begins its 2015 season in April with selections from masterpieces of Germany’s Weimar Republic, including the music of Kurt Weil.

Visit their website for information about the remainder of the season, reservations, and information about how to join Lyric’s small circle of friends. For those who wish to support the barn arts (or if you’re just curious), Madison Lyric Stage is holding a fundraiser on Saturday, May 23. There will be Tuscan inspired cuisine and wines, followed by a performance. It promises to be a wonderful evening of friendly farm dining, with music.

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