A Day in the Life of The Barns
Nov 08, 2023
Long before the lights dim and a hush comes over the audience, The Barns’ nearly 300-year-old timber walls are infused with life. From backstage setup and soundchecks to food preparation and usher briefings, it takes a small army to get each artist and the space ready for a performance. Take a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of The Barns.
9 AM: Wolf Trap’s Executive Chef Chris Faessen arrives to begin food prep and check that menus, schedules, and supplies are ready to go in the Scottish Barn. Since 2004, he’s transformed The Barns’ culinary reputation, elevating each dish to be the perfect pairing for the rustic setting. This isn’t your ordinary concessions stand fare; fan favorites include delectable, mouth-watering dishes like Fried Chicken & Donuts and Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Warm Bourbon Sauce.
Recently, the kitchen underwent major renovations that allow for the preparation of a wider array of food offerings and a more enjoyable cooking experience. Faessen shares, “The best thing to happen during my time at The Barns has been the kitchen expansion and remodel. It can now be operated like a restaurant, preparing all food on-site and on the same day.”
1 PM: While the kitchen is buzzing, Tim McCormick, The Barns’ Director of Production, arrives to set up the stage, sound, and lighting as requested by the artist. A few weeks prior to each show, McCormick works with the artist’s team and suggests how to arrange staging ideas to suit the venue. He enjoys the chance to do a bit of everything, from working with artists and managers to setting up lights, sound equipment, and more. The remarkable acoustics of The Barns make it highly respected in the music community, and with McCormick’s vast knowledge, he knows the ins and outs of the venue’s historic walls to help artists sound their absolute best.
House Manager Garry Sikora arrives in the early afternoon to prepare the lobby, atrium, Scottish Barn, and seats of the German Barn. The recently upgraded atrium has been a real game-changer; it’s doubled seating capacity, and many patrons now arrive early to enjoy drinks and dinner. Sikora also checks with the artist’s crew to see if they have merchandise to sell or “meet and greets” planned with fans.
5:30 PM: It’s time for McCormick to run a soundcheck with the artist. Being onstage before the event allows performers to test out the space and settle into the improved backstage areas, including a crossover that makes it easy to move between the sides of the stage. The artist can then relax backstage until show time, enjoying a renovated artist green room space. They now also dine on freshly prepared meals from Faessen, a relatively new service which has been a hit with performers.
6:30 PM: The pace quickens when it’s time to open the doors for audiences to mingle and partake in pre-show artisanal food and beverage offerings. Sikora briefs his eight ushers on show timing, photography, and more as they prepare to welcome audiences. Sikora excels in his role—based on 23 seasons as head usher at the Filene Center prior to becoming House Manager at The Barns in 2014—and takes pride in making sure patrons have the greatest experience.
Over in the kitchen, Faessen and his team work quickly to deliver top-notch meals to hungry guests. Last year, the team moved away from using disposable dining materials. Based on the success, they will continue using china and silverware this season—both committing to environmental sustainability and further identifying The Barns as a culinary destination.
7:30 PM: Sikora opens the doors of the German Barn and audiences begin to fill the seats in anticipation of an unforgettable performance. He encourages patrons to take in the remarkable physical space—look up at the balcony that used to be a hayloft, see the history of the timber beams, and consider what founder Mrs. Shouse had in mind when creating this special place. Sikora shares, “While many exciting upgrades have recently been made to the other areas of the building, the architecture of the German Barn and the Scottish Barn has remained relatively untouched. You just can’t improve on perfection.”
8 PM: Show time! Sikora gets that taste of success every night once he has everyone seated and the lights start to dim. McCormick takes over from there, managing the control board for sound, lighting, and more to ensure a stellar show. For Sikora, McCormick, and Faessen, the signs of an excellent night are seeing eager faces as patrons arrive, listening to the first few notes from the stage, and hearing applause as connections are made between artist and audience.
Putting on a show at The Barns is no small feat, and it takes dozens to get the theater, artists, and audiences ready. Every performance is different, but what remains constant is the dedication and excellence of McCormick, Sikora, and Faessen’s teams to keep The Barns running at its very best. Sit back, marvel at this unique space, and know you’re in for a magical experience the moment you walk in the door.