An Interview with Erin Barnes on The Bridges of Madison County
Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach, FL is gearing up for its first production of 2019: the beautiful, moving, and powerful musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County. We sat down with Erin Barnes, who is playing Francesca.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I have lived in Jacksonville for more than 20 years, and have loved getting to know the incredible arts community we have here. I moved to Jacksonville to attend JU, where I got my degree in classical vocal performance. I was a transfer student from the University of Northern Colorado, where I was a theatre major with an emphasis in acting. Since graduation, I've worked all over the place as a vocalist with Bella Voce Cabaret and the singer of a jazz trio called the Miletstones. I'm a pianist as well, and have had the chance to be either onstage or in the orchestra pit at Players by the Sea, The 5 & Dime, Theatre Jacksonville, ABET, Orange Park Community Theatre, and at the Limelight in St. Augustine. My favorite roles in recent years are Aunt Spiker in James and the Giant Peach, the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Morticia Addams in The Addams Family. I've been very busy the last few years in local theatre, but I also stay busy during the day as a music teacher to 650 students at Assumption Catholic School and as a Mom of 3 children, ages 17, 12, and 9. My husband, Matt, and I met when we worked as singing waiters together, and he is my constant support and my biggest fan. In my spare time, I love to write songs and collect cats (I currently have 6 of them).
Why were you attracted to auditioning for this production? What does it mean to YOU as an artist?
I was ecstatic when I heard about this production. I fell in love with the score about a year ago and it has been at the top of my list of dream roles. I subsequently read the book and was fascinated by Francesca. She is a 40 year old mother and housewife, and you don't find many stories centered around a woman like this - an average woman who has forgotten her hopes and dreams that inspired her in her youth. I was excited to sing the gorgeous songs and explore a little of Francesca's world and motivations for making the choices she makes in the story.
Can you tell us a little about the character you're playing?
Francesca is an Italian woman who is transplanted to the flat farmland of Winterset, Iowa after marrying her husband, Bud, a soldier in World War II. The bulk of the story takes place in 1965, when Bud takes the couples' children to a state fair and Francesca finds herself swept up in a whirlwind affair with a photographer passing through town. Meeting Robert Kincaid causes her to question everything about her life. She realizes how much of herself she's lost over the years to the mundane tasks of raising children and struggling to make ends meet on the farm. She is a committed mother, but unable to resist the passion she and Robert share for the four days they are together. Her ultimate choice of whether to destroy her family by leaving with the man she loves or give up her chance at a happy fulfilled life with Robert by staying in her place as dutiful wife and mother is a heartbreaking one.
Why is it important to tell this story?
I think everyone loves a love story, on some level. I like that this story is not black and white - it's a nuanced look at people who are imperfect, struggling to do the best they can with the options with which they are presented. There is no perfect, nor entirely innocent, character in this setting. My hope is that people will empathize with each of the characters, and maybe recognize some of their own personality or similarities in the choices they make.
What is community theatre to you?
Community theatre is a an art form, an expression of passion for creating and participating in art that is available to everyone. It is in its best form a true representation of the diversity of a community, a platform by which people from all neighborhoods, all ages, and all walks of life can come together to create something. The joy of a community theatre production lasts far beyond the final curtain call. Theatre changes people. It teaches empathy, teamwork, and celebrates courage and vision.
What do you hope audiences leave thinking or feeling after the show is over?
I hope that people will enjoy this beautiful score as much as I enjoy singing it! I hope that audiences leave our show feeling a bit sad, because the ending certainly has a somber feel, but also that they, like Francesca, can be happy that they got to share this story with us, however briefly. Ultimately, nothing lasts forever, but in the end, "love is always better".
Any other words you'd like to share?
I want to share how grateful I am to Lee Hamby, to Suzanne Hudson-Smith, and to Zeek Smith for the opportunity to help tell this story. I want to extend those thanks to David Diehl and the rest of this cast and crew as well, because in theatre, just like in Iowa, you're never alone.
See Erin Barnes as Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County here at Players by the Sea from January 25 - February 16. Tickets are available at playersbythesea.org or by calling 904.249.0289.