The Red Barn Players of Ellwood City have been providing laughter, music, mystery and drama to those who appreciate live theatre performances for more than five decades.
On March 5, 1955, a call went out through the Ellwood City Ledger inviting citizens of the Ellwood City Area to a meeting in the Municipal Building on March 7 for the purpose of organizing a local theatre group to stage adult productions and children’s plays.
Mike Raykovics, formerly of Ellwood City, was the prime mover in getting some 50 individuals to attend, and he led the discussion at the meeting. He was selected as acting chairman of the group until a permanent type of organization could be formed.
Those in attendance chose the following people to act as a temporary board: Williams C. Kegel, Mike Raykovics, Bob Grant, Sally Monks, Miriam Schweiger, Charles D. Bisceglia, Amy Cooper, Samuel C. Mullin Jr., Eleanor Shapiro and Eleanor Chima.
The board held its first meeting on March 12. At that time they discussed acquiring a charter, seeking patronage and the possibility of staging a play in the near future.
The Youngstown Players Inc., a similar group from Youngstown, Ohio, was of great assistance to the young theatre company in two ways. First, at a March 21 meeting, John Fankhauser, general manager of the Youngstown Players, gave some helpful hints on the formation and operation of a local theatre. Second, the Ellwood City group was invited to Youngstown to see a preview of the group's production of "Rebecca." This preview gave those attending some very useful hints and ideas concerning the staging of a play.
The next general meeting of the board was held on March 28 and those in attendance chose The Ellwood City Players as the formal name of the organization. Then at the April 11 meeting the officers were elected as follows: Mike Raykovics, Chairman; Charles D. Bisceglia, Vice Chairman; Eleanor Shapiro, Second Vice Chairman; Amy Cooper, Secretary; and Lewis Shirey, Treasurer.
By April 19, the Board of Directors had sent for and received many play scripts. After reading and discussing the various plays, they announced that the first play to be presented would be a three-act comedy, "John Loves Mary." The director of the play would be Bob Grant. Auditions were to be held on April 27, and the play was to be presented the latter part of June.
Even though a great deal had been accomplished to this point, one very important factor was missing … the theatre in which to present the plays. This was taken care of when Theodore TerLinden of Franklin Township generously donated the use of a red and white barn located in a country setting surrounded by green hills, deep valleys and large fields. The barn was situated along the Ellwood City-Zelienople Road (Route 288) in Franklin Township.
Although the barn was in very good condition, work needed to be done if it was to be ready for the opening of the first play. The members held their first work party on May 8. Eighteen people spent three and one-half hours cleaning hay from the barn. When the largest part of the cleaning was done, the hammers and saws were taken to the barn and a stage and proscenium were built. At the same time, others designed and installed a crude lighting system.
While all of the construction was going on, Grant was holding rehearsals for "John Loves Mary." Since some of the cast members were helping to prepare the barn, Grant had his problems not only in attempting to work around construction, but also in trying to get actors to stop working long enough to rehearse. Despite all of the problems, the director and his cast were well prepared when the curtain opened for the first presentation on July 8, 1955, with nearly 200 people in attendance. The review in the following night’s Ledger was headlined "Players Production Scores Smashing Hit." Three plays were presented during the first season and four plays each season thereafter.
Since the Players had been so successful during the first season, they could afford to pay for the use of the barn. Arrangements were made with TerLinden to prepare a lease for the use of the barn and adjacent grounds.
A few points of interest: For the first couple of years, sheep were housed in the basement of the barn. While there was dialogue on stage, one could hear the sheep putting on their own performance downstairs. When nature called, one had to use an outhouse, but later indoor plumbing was installed. To view the play, patrons had to sit on benches and chairs; later wooden theatre seats replaced them. Some time later, upholstered seats replaced these.
organization applied for and was granted a non-profit
charter on July 23, 1956. At this time the name was officially
The Red Barn Players of Ellwood City. The purpose of the
was as follows: "The production and staging of plays,
concerts, and other histrionic performances. The fostering and
dissemination of interest in dramatic arts and other forms of
The past recipients of the "Sammy" award have been Samuel C. Mullin, Jr., Joseph A. Ferrara, Joseph V. Mazzocca, Robert D. Hazen, Tom Tillia, John Hrbolich, Dolores Maloney, Dr. Bill McNutt, Eileen Hazen, Dottie McNutt, Mary Jane Tillia, Henry Karki, Bonnie Nolan, Richard Maloney, Dennis Stich, Greg Zimmerman, Thom Bennett, Bette Ferrara, Tom Bickert, Robert S. Hazen, Nancy Thomas, Don Pletz, Hazel Zimmerman, Susan Osborne Brown, Vonnie-Kaye Brough, Sue Ann Aiken, Chris Gaughenbaugh, Harvey Pletz, Tammy Herb, Paul Angelucci, Debbie Warner, Tammy Erkman, Aaron Zimmerman, and Drew Martin.
In 1987, the Red Barn Players established the "Joseph V. Mazzocca Memorial Scholarship Fund" to pay tribute to the late Joseph V. Mazzocca for his many years of outstanding service and dedication to the organization and the performing arts.
In 1996, the Red Barn Players added still another award to honor new members who give unselfishly of their time and labor to the group and the performing arts: "The Presidents Award to a New Member."
The following have served as presidents: Mike Raykovics, 1955; Charles D. Bisceglia, 1956; Williams C. Kegel, 1957-58; Thomas Danner 1959-60; Samuel C. Mullin, Jr., 1961-62; Ray Bratton, 1963; Jack O’Brien completed the term of Bratton who resigned; Joseph V. Mazzocca, 1964-65; Bob Stahl, 1966-67; the Rev. James Tilton, 1968; Robert D. Hazen, 1969; John Hrbolich, 1970; Joseph A. Ferrara, 1971-2005; Tom Tillia, 2006-2011; Tom Bickert, 2012 - 2017.