When Hannah Ingram came to Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia, 15 years ago it was supposed to be for seven months.
“I was first called in to audition for Barter back in 2008, for the role of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” a role I’d performed before. When they called me back, they also auditioned me for the lead role in “Evita” – a role I never imagined I could play. I’m forever grateful they saw it in me – I guess I convinced them I could do it because here I am. My time at Barter was originally only supposed to be a seven-month contract, but I fell in love with the Barter way of life and the community in this beautiful corner of the world. So, I spoke to Rick Rose and told him I’d be interested in working here as much as possible, and he said there was a spot in the AEA Resident Company that would be a good fit for me. Fast forward: I’m still here, 15 years and 82 shows later,” she says.
Ingram started in the theater world when she was an infant.
“I actually grew up in a theater family. Both my mother and my father are professional actors – my father worked on Broadway, did national tours, worked regionally all over the country, and my mother was a graduate and undergrad theater professor for many years, in addition to performing. (They’ve recently retired here to Abingdon.) So, I grew up in a theater environment – apparently a few times, as a tiny little babe-in-arms, I was literally passed around backstage between other actors and the stage management team when it came time for my parents to make an entrance onstage. That was a long, long time ago though – a different era and a wild and wonderful theatre for young audiences company my parents worked with back then – I definitely don’t think that kind of thing would ever happen now.
“The theater world is where I feel most at home. There’s just something about it: when you find your place in it, you never really want to leave it. So, I can’t say there was ever a particular moment – it’s been something in my blood and in my heart for as far back as I can remember,” she says.
Like most working actors, she’s often had a second job.
“I always joke that, for so many of us, we move to New York City or Chicago or L.A. to become professional actors and end up becoming professional auditioners. It can take so much out of you. Then there’s the whole actor-waiter cliche, but I actually never went the route of food service. Well, except for a couple of catering gigs, but I was terrible at it – constantly going in the out door of the kitchen, atrocious at balancing trays, ugh – terrible. I’m definitely more of an office person – I like to organize things; I love a good spreadsheet; I can’t ever turn off the proofreader part of my brain. When I lived in New York City, I luckily landed a great support staff job at an international law firm right in Times Square. Because the law firm operated 24-7, I was able to go to auditions during the day and work second and third shifts at the law firm at night.
“That law firm was smart enough to hire a lot of theater folks for their support staff – we were always grateful for the flexible work hours and, let’s be honest, we have a great work ethic. So, while the job itself was dreadfully monotonous, the real-life characters I met during my time there were absolutely incredible,” she says.
Other real-life characters Ingram admires are her Barter family.
“There is no other place like this that I know of, and it’s because of the people. The thing that first drew me to Barter was the wonderful communal spirit of this place. Every December I’m honored to serve as chair of Barter’s annual Holiday Auction & Potluck event, which is not only a big fabulous homegrown company party, but also a fundraiser for our local United Way of Southwest Virginia. In just the one night, the Barter Family and their families come together to literally and figuratively ‘feed each other’ and celebrate the past year of collaboration, all in the spirit of raising thousands of dollars for United Way by bidding on each other’s incredible handcrafted and uniquely created items. It’s the best of the Barter spirit –bringing together our collective creative force and work ethic to serve others and celebrate how lucky we are.
“As far as influence, I do want to give a shout-out to the many incarnations of the powerhouse Barter Ladies’ Dressing Room. As I’ve been known to say to anyone who will listen: The Barter Ladies’ Dressing Room could solve all the problems of the world... if anyone would just ask us.
“I consider the desire to grow and improve to be a crucial ingredient to anyone’s artistic integrity. Here in Barter’s AEA Resident Company, we never get to settle; we never get to put it in park and coast; it’s always your turn to stretch to the limits of your creativity and skill set. I used to be very timid about taking risks or making big character choices onstage. I’m not sure exactly when that changed completely, but I know that it was a direct result of being surrounded by colleagues I trusted and having found an artistic home where I’ve been encouraged to take risks in a limitless capacity.
“If someone working a true repertory theater schedule (rotating through multiple shows/rehearsals per day) ever tells you they’re bored, you should probably take them to get their adrenaline levels checked. No day is ever really the same, which can be very exciting. But also: No day is ever really the same, which can be very stressful. There are fairly immediate rewards along the way – the victory of doing a rehearsal run completely off-book, or the sound of heartfelt applause from an audience.
“But there are also more long-term rewards from working in a repertory company, and I’m grateful to be at a point in my career where I can recognize some of those, too. Looking back over my 82 rep productions here, I feel incredibly proud of the thousands of unique characters I’ve brought to life and whose stories I’ve represented to countless numbers of audience members. Theater requires empathy and communication and genuine interest in another person’s perspective – and it demands those things of both the audiences and the theater artists. In a Resident Company performing repertory theater, it’s particularly important that we transform and represent unique and diverse characters from show to show, and I find that challenge to be endlessly magical and rewarding. The best compliment I’ve ever gotten was from a long-time Barter patron who made it through an entire show I was in, only to ask Rick Rose why I wasn’t in it. (Hint: I had bushy eyebrows and a mustache.)
“When you’re a working actor, every day is Game Day. Either there’s a show to do for an audience who’s paid to see you perform, or you’re rehearsing/practicing with fellow theater teammates with a tight timeline to create the best experience possible. No matter what, we’ve got to bring our A-game physically, emotionally, vocally and professionally. A union actor’s typical work week has only one day off, usually Monday. Even that one day-off is often spent working on lines and music, or meal-prepping for the upcoming week, or catching up on errands/appointments. So, if you rarely see us out and about, except on Mondays, that’s probably why,” Ingram says.
She believes in being involved in the community around you.
“It’s incredible to be able to put down roots in one place and invest in the community by buying a home and building a family, while still remaining steadily employed virtually year-round doing what I love and am passionate about. When you consider the fact that my job is a steady job at a theater? Whoa. This Barter life is truly unheard-of anywhere else.
“As an AEA Resident Company member, I’m not just in town for the run of a show and then gone after six weeks. I live here, this is my home. I’m actually invested in this community. If audiences are thronging to see a Barter show, Barter thrives ... but more importantly, so does the community and the people who live and work here ... which is also us. To have had a chance to build a life here, that’s the greatest gift of all.
“I believe it’s an active thing to ‘love where you live.’ I ran for Abingdon Town Council back in 2018, and during that campaign I made it my mission to learn everything I could about the politics and inner workings of our little Town of Abingdon, Virginia. I will never regret the time and energy I spent doing that. In fact, I’m of the mind that every individual should step up and take a turn leading in a civic-minded way – but only if they’re truly ready to come at it from a place of learning and collaborating. I’ve also served (or currently serve) on several local boards. I currently serve as an appointed citizen board member for the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, as well as the board for Symphony of the Mountains, and the steering committee for Washington County Independent Neighbors. I also currently work as a certified career coach and program coordinator with the Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education Program. To anyone out there who loves to complain but doesn’t volunteer to become part of finding a solution, I say: ‘A little less talk, a little more do, if you please,’” Ingram says.
Ingram has some advice for young actors.
“In this business, it’s smart to think of yourself as a magpie. In the improv world, we are taught to respond ‘Yes, And’ (meaning you should always affirm and then build upon what your partner has just given you). That’s pretty much how I view the world and the concept of “growth,” theater-wise or not – just keep on saying “’Yes, And’ and keep on building that skill set.
“Hopefully if we’re doing our job right, we make what we do look easy and natural. But it’s not easy; a sustained and healthy career in theater is a business; it’s a craft. To be an actual working actor, you need to be motivated and versatile and thick-skinned and ready to take big risks day after day. Also, becoming a student of human behavior doesn’t hurt.
“Lastly, I’d remind a young actor that people don’t just wake up one morning and run a marathon. Training and discipline are important ingredients because this job is not for the faint of heart. You’ll need to love working hard despite a constantly uncertain future,” she says.
Ingram believes in her community both in and out of Barter and encourages everyone to “Be excellent to each other.”
She is in two summer shows, “9 to 5” and “Always a Bridesmaid.” More information can be found at bartertheatre.com.