What began in 2004 as a joke between a few friends about producing a play has become Barnyard Theatre, an annual summer of innovation, discovery and experimentation.
Ten summers later, their richly artistic plays, accompanied by elaborate technical sets, are the only expected elements of Barnyard's performances.
True to the definition of "found space" theater, the company hosts its main stage performances every summer in a barn in Davis belonging to one of the actor's parents.
Playing through Aug. 3 is "She Creatures" by Sarah Saltwick.
Alumni of the Davis High School theater program, the founding members of the company came together during a summer break from college.
"I think when we were just starting out, we were these crazy kids out in the barn working our asses off every summer," said founder and literary manager Brian Oglesby. "I love the ambition of that."
Amid the goats, chickens and farm equipment, it's difficult to believe the barn is the scene of a variety of original productions.
"It's inescapably barn," Oglesby said. "As the afternoon goes on and as the night perches, the sun sets and you can see the sunset over the foothills and it's just this wonderful, amazing view."
Designers have managed to turn dirt floors and weathered wood into a home for highly technical sets.
"We do elaborate productions of new work," Oglesby said.
During its 2006 production of "A Flag Touched the Ground" by Nicholas Herbert, the company used a turntable to rotate the audience. Another year, during a production of "The Life of Galileo" by Bertolt Brecht, it set the stage up outside so the audience could look up at the stars, as Galileo did.
"That was my favorite moment," said actress and director Camille Beaumont.
According to many company members, there is always something unusual about a Barnyard Theatre performance.
"It tends to be story- or character-driven, with a capacity for strong visuals," Oglesby said.
Last summer's performance of "Psyche," about the Greek mythological character, combined imaginative technical work with a dramatic plot.
"We played a lot with projecting images of the actress Psyche on top of herself," Schmidt said "Basically kind of visually expressing some of the inner monologue of Psyche."
In the final scene, as the actress disappeared through a hidden door, the projected image flew off, giving the illusion that the actress had flown away.
"Experiences that are kind of once-in-a-lifetime theater experiences are kind of what we aim for," said founder and artistic director Steven Schmidt, who is also technical director for Sacramento's B Street Theatre.
It's the experimentation in a community theater setting that members say is invaluable.
"It gives you the opportunity to practice your skills and explore artistically without having a lot of pressure behind it," Beaumont said. She said that using the barn has allowed them to be less limited.
"You can try things, not preconceive the result, and see what happens," said actress and director Alicia Hunt, whose family owns the barn.
"I still remember that first year, going out and being, like, 'There's a play going on in our barn. This is the best thing ever,' " Hunt said.
Barnyard Theatre has come a long way since that first year. However, like all theater companies, it has been presented with challenges. It has been difficult to grow an audience during a three-month season while innovating and experimenting, members said.
Oglesby said the goal is to bring a professional level of theater to a community setting.
"If we had a bigger budget, I think doing theater year-round, having an artistic home and having a reason to stay here would be awesome," Oglesby said.
"For the first four years of our existence the question at the end of each summer was, 'Are we going to do it next summer?' " Schmidt said. "There's something incredibly wonderful about that, and there's something incredibly challenging about that."
Call The Bee's Brittany Torrez, (916) 321-1103.
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