By L. David Wheeler For Messenger Post
June 16. 2014 8:11AM
NAPLES — The late Barnetta Carter defined her goal as Bristol Valley Theater’s artistic director as “life-affirming theater.” It’s a goal she lived up to, according to David Munnell, the longtime colleague and 20-year life partner of the actress and director who died in 2010.
“She had a great eye for plays that would appeal to a summer audience and challenge them a little bit,” said Munnell, who now teaches theater at Rochester Institute of Technology. “She chose a season that was both highly entertaining and engaging — the plays she chose had a little bit of meat on their bones. … I think she really stuck to that mission, with the way she chose plays that celebrate what it is to be human.”
Plus, he added, “She had an amazing ability to persuade people to do things that needed to be done.”
Ms. Carter, the Naples theater’s artistic director from 1992 to 1998, is being honored with the dedication of Bristol Valley’s newly renovated lobby in her name. The Barnetta Carter Memorial Lobby, with a plaque in her honor that was installed last Monday, was dedicated Saturday in a private ceremony for family, friends and donors.
The lobby is an appropriate choice to bear her name, Munnell said: “Barnetta was always a presence in the lobby, seeing people and talking with them.”
The lobby renovations — which include new lighting, refinished floors, new carpeting, renovated concession area and redone bathrooms, as well as a ceiling mural/sculpture — come as part of the second phase of a three-pronged series of upgrades at the theater, according to Karin Bowersock, Bristol Valley’s executive and artistic director. The first phase addressed infrastructure needs (furnace, air conditioning and the like); the second phase was cosmetic renovations to the public areas, including lobby and auditorium. The third phase will address non-public spaces like dressing rooms. A $225,000 New York State Economic Development grant has helped finance the renovations.
A mural designed by Shelley Barish — described by Bowersock as an Impressionistic view of a summer sky — is suspended from the lobby ceiling on four wooden panels, designed by Ben Heibach in the image of tree branches. “The effect that we wanted is that you’re looking up at the sky through the branches of the tree,” Bowersock said.
The dedication also comes as part of a naming-rights program at BVT, in which several elements from bell tower to restrooms will bear the names of donors or those they honor. Munnell and George Hamlin IV — Canandaigua National Bank and Trust chairman and an occasional Bristol Valley actor — spearheaded the lobby project, Bowersock said: “George reached out to a great number of people who worked with Barnetta, and had been influenced by her time here as an artist and a person.”
Ms. Carter, who had performed off-Broadway and in several episodes of “All My Children” — as well as frequently acting in and directing productions at what was then the Bristol Valley Playhouse — assumed the director’s role at a time of transition. The theater was beginning its first year in its new and current venue, a former church, after one season performing in a Canandaigua school after having to vacate the old Seman Road playhouse due to a rent dispute, and the theater was in financial straits.
It was a challenge, to say the least. In a Messenger interview, Ms. Carter once recalled, “There was nothing there. No costumes, no computers. There was a shell of a building which, thank God, had pews that were left and some great woodwork and a basement that had not been broken up into Sunday school rooms where we could hold rehearsals.”
After her time with BVT, Ms. Carter moved into education, using theater techniques to teach Rochester students in an arts-in-education program for which she was recognized by then Gov. George Pataki and New York State Academy for Teaching and Learning. She later became director of the prestigious H.B. Studio in New York City before returning to the Rochester area as her health declined.
Bristol Valley’s 2014 summer season got underway last Thursday with the opening of “Oh, Coward,” a celebration of the songs and dialogue of playwright Noel Coward. The show continues through June 22.