Barn Arts Collective takes center stage

Artistic director Andrew Simon inherited the half-acre property from his grandparents, who once ran an antique shop in the barn. PHOTO BY KATHRYN CAWDREY

The pouring rain didn’t dampen the spirits of folks flowing into a small red barn in the Tremont village of Bass Harbor one recent Saturday night. They came to hear New Jersey indie hip-hop artist Namarah and crew record her debut album “Deia.”

Namarah and her nine-piece band captivated the crowd as they performed “a not so happy love song” and other tracks from “Deia.” The 19th century barn came alive with Namarah’s melodic voice and the sounds of a trumpet, accordion, keyboard and other instruments.

Namarah is just one of more than 200 actors, musicians and other artists who will grace in the Barn Arts Collective’s rambling performance space this summer. The performers range widely from a New Orleans trio, Nutria, and legendary Stand-up Commedia Dell’Arte performer Francesco de Puccini to the 3 Sticks animal glam band and raucous one-man operetta Willi Carlisle and Joseph Fletcher.

New Jersey hip-hop artist Namarah performed “a not so happy love song” and other tracks from her first album “Deia,” which was recorded in the 19th century barn.

Not all performances are suited for children, but their rating —PG-13 or R — is always made clear. Admission is by donation.

Andrew Simon and Brittany Parker are the Barn Arts Collective’s artistic directors. They make their home on the half-acre property overlooking inner Bass Harbor. The barn also is home base for the 30-somethings’ theater troupe and extensive residency programs.

Simon inherited the residence from his grandparents, who ran an antique shop in the barn. Visiting every summer as a child, he delighted in the old pieces and bric-a-brac in the barn as well as beachcombing along the shore.

After his grandmother died in 2008, the 33-year-old New York-based actor was shocked by the old barn’s bareness after its contents were removed. He also saw an opportunity. The vision came to him to create a place for artists to bring their talent and energy without paying copious amounts of money to rent a space or recording studio.

The nonprofit Barn Arts Collective and its Hamilton Project were born nine years ago. Through the latter, one of the Collective’s two residencies, artists get a roof over their head (11 beds) and space to work on a concept or project for free for a week. As was the case with Namarah, the residency may involve outreach in the local school and always culminates in a live performance.

“We believe that the arts are for everybody,” the Barn Arts Collective’s co-artistic director Andrew Simon said. “We do the best we can to follow through with that and to make it indiscriminately available.”

“It’s all individual artists who come with an idea for a project,” Simon said. “They come prepared to support progress on everybody else’s projects, so it forms this temporary ensemble.”

The Hamilton Project’s name was inspired by Simon’s discovery of a 1887 tax record that valued the Bass Harbor property at $10 — the bill that features American statesman Alexander Hamilton. The actor was especially amused by the tax because his piece of land is priceless to him.

“Accessibility is crucial to us. We believe that the arts are for everybody,” Simon said. “We do the best we can to follow through with that and to make it indiscriminately available.”

In addition, Simon and Parker produce and perform their own shows, including the highly popular “We Run the Ship,” in which audience members audience become the cast scattering and learning songs aboard imaginary vessels. “Pinnochio” is among the productions this summer.

“We spend so much time sitting down, looking at our screens or being on our computers,” Parker added. “When you go to the theater, you’re supposed to sit down, and we’re doing enough sitting right now.”

Before every show at the barn, Simon and Parker invite the community, audience and performers for sangria around a campfire. Then the multi-aged audience fills the barn where seating can become scarce.

On this rainy Saturday night, the place was packed. Some people brought folding chairs while others squeezed three to a loveseat, and the rest filled the stairs and floor space. The crowd spilled out into the gravel driveway, holding umbrellas.

For Namarah’s last song, the folding chairs were cast aside and the audience stood and everyone danced.

“I’m very concerned with the intersection of theater and hospitality,” Simon said. “We always have a curtain speech, we have a fire going before each show and we try to make the audience feel as welcome as possible.”

He added, “You know, because it’s my house.”