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Reel-ing in the years at The Barn III

Goodfield theater venue has rolled with the punches

by Steve Tarter | Photo by Ron Johnson |
Cast members of a show standing in front of the Barn Theatre

The old Barn in Goodfield ain’t what she used to be.

Indeed, it’s now the showcase for a musical light show, a place for community fundraising and a successful wedding venue. Oh yes, they still do dinner theater there, too.

The Barn III continues the theatrical tradition started by Mary Simon and the late Chaunce Conklin in Goodfield in 1975.

Abby Reel, owner of The Barn II Dinner Theater
Abby Reel, owner of The Barn II Dinner Theater

Abby Reel seized the initiative in 2018 when she purchased the storm-damaged Barn from Simon.

She saw the possibility of the Barn as a stage for both shows and matrimonial events. The former associate director of career development at Illinois Wesleyan University, Reel, 40, already had experience catering weddings and special events.

Fundraising commenced, then construction with the rebuilt facility opening in 2019 with a full schedule. But just when Reel thought her Barn raising was headed into high gear, the pandemic hit.

“We were dark for a year-and-a-half,” she said, recalling the curtain coming down after a Barn show on March 15, 2020.

But Reel didn’t stay in the dark. She sought out David Henry, a lighting expert from Nashville, who traveled to Goodfield to help Reel develop her own light show program.

“We installed an outdoor light show complete with speakers,” she said, explaining that it allowed people to stay in their vehicles and be entertained for a holiday program. Up to 70 cars an hour could be accommodated in the spacious Barn  parking lot.

“We all needed a little hope at that time,” said Reel. Today the Barn’s lights and music serenade customers as they leave the dinner theater, she said.

COVID forced other changes. Seating for the dinner theater was set at 215 while wedding events allow for 300, said Reel.

“We no longer could offer a buffet,” she said. Now customers order from a limited menu, with servers on hand to deliver those orders.

“We tested the new dining model in May 2021 with reduced capacity,” said Reel. By July of last year, packed houses greeted the Grand Old Country Tribute show, she said.

Inside of The Barn III dinner theater in Goodfield.
The Barn III dinner theater in Goodfield.

In October 2021 the buses were running again, said Reel. “We have a very healthy bus group who come from all over Illinois as well as from Iowa and Missouri. Many relationships date back to the Barn’s early days,” she said.

Reel is well aware of past shows staged by Conklin and Simon because she was part of them. Introduced to the Barn by her parents, Les and Carolyn Reel, she was only 5 when she first visited. “The Barn’s always been part of my life. I bused tables there as a freshman in high school before working as a waitress. I was in my first show my senior year,” she said.

Reel’s organizational talents are in evidence everywhere you look. The schedule is set. “May, June and September are wedding months,” she said, noting that space is already booked through 2023. “We’re scheduling wedding events for 2024 now,” she added.

“As for the dinner theater side of the business, we do five shows a year, at least two developed by our own company,” said Reel. Barn shows routinely run a month.

She also has community events planned called “quarter auctions” along with a Sip and Shop event on Saturday, Nov. 12 to kick off the holiday shopping season.

With 70 employees working various hours and schedules throughout the year, Reel may be among the top five employers in rural Goodfield. She’s quick to credit her staff for the ongoing success of the venture.

“We all wear a lot of hats here. The majority of the actors are employed elsewhere — at businesses such as State Farm, Caterpillar or the post office,” she said.

“I’m in shows. Most of the managers are in shows,” said Reel.

The Barn III dinner theater
The Barn III dinner theater in Goodfield.

Sagan Drake is an example of one of many at the Barn wearing multiple hats. She’s box office manager, sales manager and assistant theater director. Jimmy LaHood is both sound engineer and music director, while Gina Cooper serves as the dining manager.

Other staff members include Sara Thomas, the sales and operations manager; Kris Thomas, the head chef who also mows the Barn’s yard; Rebekah Elder, the weddings and special events manager; and Naki Schrock, the assistant manager.

Marketing manager and production designer Tracy Simmons recently came on board after 17 years at WTVP-TV, Peoria’s public television outlet. Now she works on sets for the stage instead of for the TV studio. “She’s the perfect addition to the team,” said Reel.

As if there isn’t enough continuity from the facility’s illustrious past, Barn III also features co-founder Mary Simon as managing theater director. She directs “Run for your Wife,” a comedy running from Sept. 29 through Oct. 30.

All of this activity doesn’t phase Reel, the mother of two children — 10-year-old daughter Leslie and 5-year-old son Amos. Her only worry is that she can’t get to everything.

“People tell me we should do more music, that we should hold concerts. My problem is that I don’t have a Friday night open for two years,” she said.

Steve Tarter

Steve Tarter

is a Peoria Magazine contributor who was born in England, raised in Boston, moved to Peoria to attend Bradley University and decided to stay. He has spent a career in journalism and public relations
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