LOCAL FOLKS: Radio gig leads Barton to theater habit

PONTOTOC – You never know when a chance encounter is going to lead to something meaningful.
Pontotoc native Davis Barton is a case in point. In the 1970s, he was selling ads for a radio station in Kentucky. He got word that a professional theater company had a problem.
“They needed some sound effects, so my radio career helped with that,” the 60-year-old said. “Back then, we recorded everything ourselves because there weren’t good effects libraries.”
His thunderstorm for a production of “Glass Menagerie” had people in the audience wondering if the thunderclaps were theater magic or something happening outside.
For other productions, he recorded snorting horses and hooves clomping through gravel. One show needed a coyote, so Barton did his best coyote impersonation.
“I’d record it. Back then, it was on reel-to-reel tape,” he said. “I volunteered with them for four years.”
When he eventually moved back to Northeast Mississippi, he had skills that the theater community could use. Another chance conversation led him to Tupelo Community Theatre, and he has no idea how many shows he’s worked at The Lyric Theatre.
“I got tired of that after a while and dropped out,” he said. “Then Pontotoc talked me into coming back.”
Now, he’s vice president of Pontotoc Community Theater, where a team of people have been trying to build something special for their town.
“We’re depending on volunteers for anything that gets done,” he said, “and there’s always room for more.”
Over the years, Barton has sold advertising for radio stations and newspapers. He’s also worked in manufacturing, but determined that wasn’t for him.
“I’ve had a photography studio since 1997,” he said.
In the fall, you’ll often find him on the sidelines shooting photographs at football games.
Over the past two years, you also could’ve found him at the Pontotoc Community Theater building on Main Street.
“We found this building was open and available,” he said. “The first thing that we thought was, it’s small. Then I said, ‘It’s small, yes, but we’re small.'”
According to the previous owner, the building was the site of Pontotoc’s Model T Ford dealership.
It was bare when the theater bought it. Volunteers built a stage and installed sound and light equipment. It has about 130 seats that were donated by a church that was remodeling.
“The layout of this place, literally, was drawn on a napkin,” he said. “We tried different options on paper until we found what we wanted.”
When the time comes to expand, the theater owns property behind the building.
“We’re a nonprofit, but we still need to get our 501(c)3 status that would make us eligible for grants,” Barton said. “That’s something we could use some help with.”
Barton might never have gotten involved if the theater in Kentucky hadn’t needed help creating a thunderstorm on command.
“I haven’t recorded anything in a long time. I usually go online and buy it or find it for free,” he said. “Sometimes, you can’t find exactly what you want, so you edit it. I enjoy that.”
And he doesn’t mind letting other people take the bows after a show.
“I’ve always been backstage or at the tech board,” he said. “I don’t want to be on stage, but I have a lot of fun offstage or backstage. That’s where I belong.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.

Party time
– If you’re feeling a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n’ roll, the Pontotoc
Community Theater’s ready for you.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, the theater on Main Street in Pontotoc will feature acoustic rock by The Porch Rockers and country from The Dirt Road Band.
Tickets are $5, and proceeds will benefit the theater.
Call (662) 489-0094 or 489-5042 for more information about the concert or to volunteer your talents at the theater.

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal