It was August 19, 1977. They hoped for 300 to attend the three performances. Instead, over 850 people came to see the first show at the new little community theater … a standing room only sell out! ...that’s how it began; in a 1924 cattle and hog barn with borrowed chairs and light bulbs in coffee cans for stage lights. A tight-knit crew of 35 dedicated volunteers and a cast of ten, the first-ever ‘Born in a Barn Players’ made their debut. All led by a young music teacher with a dream.
Diane (Bjornberg) Reece was the new English, speech, and drama teacher at Weeping Water Public Schools when she realized just how much talent there was in the schools as well as the surrounding community. Diane was quoted in an August 1977 newspaper article, “There are so many talented kids around here, but if they don’t go to college, they don’t have anywhere to continue to use their dramatic talents”. This realization sparked her dream of a performance space where anyone interested in performing could gather and do just that. A rich legacy that continues today; 45 years and over 250 shows later.
As the story goes, others agreed a place to perform in the community was a good idea so the search for a space began, eventually leading to the Howard Rathe farm near Manley, Nebraska. The theater group approached Rathe with the idea of converting the barn and Rathe was quick to admit he initially turned them down. However, his wife and daughter persuaded him and the project was launched with Rathe becoming one of the new theatre’s biggest supporters. A cement floor was poured and the interior was power washed to clean many years of barn ‘dirt’ from every surface. The stage and balcony were built, water lines were run, walls were painted and the entire building was wired for electricity.
As the work was happening Diane gathered a group of high school and community performers and began rehearsals for the rock opera “Godspell”. In less than eight weeks the barn was renovated, tickets were sold, the show was ready and the Lofte was born! While the cold weather ended the season, it was obvious the little theater must continue, and continue it did. The Born in a Barn Players operated out of that much-loved barn for 29 years.
In 2006, after a successful capital campaign and a construction loan obtained from the USDA, a beautiful post and beam style barn was built on a prairie hill just east of Manley. The cast, crew, volunteers, staff, and audience members could now enjoy a climate-controlled year-round performing arts facility. Today, the Lofte offers six core season productions as well as many special events such as the Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, a free Veterans Day tribute concert, and hosting one-act competitions between area high schools. The Lofte also facilitates a week-long children’s theater workshop at no charge to attendees. In addition, the facility serves as a sought-after rental venue for happenings such as weddings, dance recitals, and visiting performing artists.
We are proud and excited to present our 2022 season Please join us and, “Keep the legacy alive for another 45”.
Written by Patricia Heather