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Audience walks around Marysville farm to watch unique play

MARYSVILLE – Scene: A husband and wife are sitting at a dinner table. The husband seems overly excited.

Husband: "I want to take you to this really unique play called the "Barn Show" but you're going to have to wear your boots."

Wife: "That's odd. Why would I have to wear boots to a play?"

Husband: "Make sure they're hiking boots and not cowboy boots because we're going to do some walking."

Having the audience walk from scene to scene around the small Marysville farm owned by Gail and Terry Johnson is only one of the things that makes the "Barn Show" unique.

The fringe theater group Blood Ensemble is performing the play, which actually is being touted more like an event – that combines local legend, tall tales and new fiction to tell the story of a family over the previous 100 years.

Audiences will have a unique experience, moving to different spots on the farm for the various acts and having the opportunity to join in during other parts of the play.

"We want to heighten the emotions, make the audience feel more alive," said Dayana Anderson, a founder of Blood Ensemble out of Seattle and one of the actors. "If they are more awake and invested in the play... We want to get people to that place."

Anderson said it's hard to put a label on the play but it's basically historical fiction with moments of levity.

The Johnsons are hosting the play because Terry answered an ad on Craigslist that said a theater group was looking for a barn for an onsite performance.

"We fell in love with it immediately," Anderson said of the barn, adding it was winter and freezing, and there was hay on the ground that had been there for years.

Upon talking to the Johnsons they found out the farm had been in the family since 1943. The one request of the Johnsons was that the play honor the family. "They wanted us to play homage to the property," Anderson said.

The Barn Show does just that. The play starts with the barn. "They created the script around that," Terry Johnson said.

The event shows a fictional family during three timelines: 1905, 1952 and 2014. Blood Ensemble members tossed out "moment" ideas throughout the process. Tying the moments together formed the play.

"It was fascinating to watch," Johnson said. "It was very impromptu how they came up with it. Someone would just go off in another direction."

Johnson said the script was finished in late May. "It's been full bore ever since," she said.

Johnson said she's been involved with community theater before, but never like this. "This is a much bigger scope of a project than I imagined," she said. "The magnitude of it is inspiring."

Johnson said she was confused when the troupe first started talking about it.

"When we met and talked in February it sounded like a bunch of chatter. I was thinking, 'What have I done here?' I didn't get where they were going with it," she said. "They step outside the normal, buy your tickets and come in and watch it. It's something beyond. It's a brand-new thing up here."

Johnson, 66, said she has gotten along well with the actors, who are in their 20s and 30s. "The minute I met these kids I fell in love with them," she said. "They laugh a lot and are enthusiastic."

The feelings are mutual," Anderson said. "Getting to know them has strengthened my faith in people," she said of the Johnsons. "They are wonderful, genuine. The play wouldn't be what it is without who they are."

Johnson said it has been fun to see the young people learn to enjoy the countryside. "We are in the sticks by the way," Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Anderson said audience members will have an adventure.

"They will be on the move," Johnson said, adding at times the audience will watch all three eras at the same time.

Johnson said she's seen only two of the five scenes, but the acting is excellent. In one scene, a character gets rather preachy, and Johnson said it was quite real. "I wanted to bop him," she said with a laugh.

Johnson said the acting troupe is dedicated.

"I thought we lived too far out," she said. "But the kids come out regularly then go home and have to get up and go back to work in the morning in Seattle," she said.

Johnson said the cast of about 17 is fun, but the play isn't funny. However, the actors are good at pulling the audience in. Johnson said her son was watching and got pulled into a dancing scene in the barn.

"That was hilarious," she said.

Anderson helped start Blood Ensemble four years ago. A small group of them had attended Western Washington University in Bellingham together and settled in Seattle after graduation. They went to some Tectonic Theater Project training together and decided to form their own troupe on "moment" performances. They decided on Blood Ensemble for a name because they wanted something "essential to human life - making theater essential" is their goal, Anderson said.

She said their play-producing process involves brainstorming many ideas, researching and then finding a director to whittle it down.

"You stock your refrigerator full of art then pull out a chicken dinner," she said of the process, which she described as "very organic."

Anderson said the audience will be the only ones who can see the various generations of the family, and that costumes play a role in helping the audience understand what is going on.

"It's fascinating seeing all the eras in the same room at once," she said.

The play includes the audience meeting the characters and seeing the property. Audience members are led in groups to individual scenes, one era at a time. At intermission the cast has a party and audience members can dance or play charades with them. Themes in the play include starting a farm and trying to build a legacy, but life getting in the way with the tragedy of losing a baby and inner demons of alcoholism and decisions that can ruin a family for generations to come. The five-act play also includes music, fights, romance and even the supernatural.

Megan Jackson, another founding member of the ensemble, said Blood Ensemble is all about creating unique experiences.

"We always like to show theater in a different way," Jackson said. "We want this to be a fun, interactive experience."

Jackson said the ensemble isn't concerned that the audience will be small.

"We put a lot of love and work into this," Jackson said. "We want people to see it, but the intimacy is so important. It's a trick balance."

In the four years Blood Ensemble has existed, it has put on five plays. This one also will feature a bus coming up from Seattle, making it truly an event.

"We want to push the envelope and see more art like this," Anderson said.

Tickets are available online at brownpapertickets.com for about $30 each. Some may be available at the door.

Because of its limited barn permit, only about 20 tickets can be sold each night.

The scheduled dates are: July 11-12, 18-19 and Aug. 2-3.

The location is Gail and Terry Johnson's property at 4829 87th Ave. NE in Marysville. Take Highway 528 toward Highway 9, turn right on 84th, left at East Sunnyside Road and left on 87th. In about one-fourth of a mile the property will be on your right.

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