When John A.K. Barker moved to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley to teach drama in 1966, he didn’t bemoan the lack of cultural opportunities.“He just created them here,” says his widow, Marye Barker. “John was a starter.”
Saturday night, Lewis-Clark State College theater alumi and others will gather to honor the late instructor at a benefit to raise money for a scholarship in his name. There will be a lobby display of photos from Barker’s decades at the college, 1966-1999, and a slide show of past productions.
Barker died Feb. 7, 2011.
A highlight will be a 7:30 p.m. reading of the comedy “You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running,” featuring Kathryn Claassen, Stephanie, Tom and Shirlee Hennigan, John Nydegger, Mark Arnot, Tom Schumacher, Beth Atkinson and others influenced by his career.
When Barker moved from Detroit to Idaho, the state brought out the outfitter and hunter in him, says his wife, but many others knew him for the opportunities he created for area drama lovers, young and old. The more than 30 years he was at LCSC, the theater program was at its most vibrant.
The Silverthorne Theater benefited from his presence. With his background in set and light design, he slowly changed the theater from barely functioning to state of the art.
“He took this on as almost a personal challenge that he was going to change these inadequacies, even if he could not change the base problem,” says retired professor John Nydegger, who hired Barker.
Barker continued to work on theater improvements even after his retirement, Nydegger says.
One of the things Barker was most proud of was a touring children’s theater company. During the holiday break, LCSC students traveled the region performing in small rural schools in places like Pierce and Elk City.
“He gave up his Christmas vacation to take these children’s shows into little 2-by-4 schools. They still remember us,” Nydegger says.
Old photos of the troupe show “wonderful makeup and simple costumes,” says Nancy Lee-Painter, associate professor of theater at LCSC.
Sets weren’t an option, so simple props, like a ladder to show an upstairs, were used, she says. “I can tell they really relied on the imagination of the children who came to see them.”
The children’s theater productions put them on the map at national conventions, Nydegger says. “We were known in the Pacific Northwest as a very effective theater program.”
The touring children’s program ended when the state canceled its funding. LCSC’s theater department was closed a few years after Nydegger, Barker and Shirlee Hennigan retired and their positions were not filled. The program still exists to a lesser degree. Students can minor in theater.
“I do appreciate the support I’ve had in the administration in even creating a small program so those opportunities are still available to students,” Lee-Painter says.
When she was hired by the college to teach, Barker would appear whenever he thought she might need some help, she says. “He was just such an active community member and advocate for the arts, we wanted to recognize his contribution.”
Donations to the Barker scholarship can be made to LCSC, Scholarship Foundation, 500 Eighth Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.
Bauer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2263.
If you go
What: Reunion and scholarship benefit honoring the late John A.K. Barker
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Silverthorne Theatre, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston
Admission: Free; donations to the John Barker Scholarship fund are welcomed.