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The Barter Theatreat 133 West Main is Virginia's state theater. One of the oldest professional theaters in the country, The Barter began during the Depression and has helped launch the careers of people like Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, and Ernest Borgnine. It gets its name from the old practice of trading food and other products for admission. Today this tradition lives on as one production a year accepts donations for the Food Bank as admission.
There are 2 stages offering both afternoon and evening performances. The main theater seats a little over 500 people while Barter Stage II seats 167 around a thrust stage making the audience feel almost like a part of the production. Truly no trip to southwest Virginia is complete without experiencing live theater at the Barter.
Like the town itself, the buildings of the Barter have an interesting past. Both were built in the early 1800s as churches. Later, the main Barter was used as a fire station and as a jail. Barter II was used as a gymnasium for the women's college next door in what is now the Martha Washington Inn. When Robert Porterfield got the idea to start a theater in Abingdon, he brought furnishings from a New York theater slated for demolition. Among the furnishings was the light system designed and installed by Thomas Edison; this light system was used in the Barter until the 1970s.
All the seats are very close to the stage and the acoustics are great. They also offer a set of earphones at no charge in the gift shop for those needing a little hearing assistance. If you plan to go more than once during a season or going with 3 friends, be sure to inquire about the "Early Bird" tickets, available for almost half the normal rate (but you must commit to 6 tickets).