Piano keys reflect from Rosemary Snow's glasses as she plays piano for the "Big River" auditions Monday at the Red Barn Theater. Jill Torrance

This is the second in an occasional series about imaginative, artistic Southern Arizonans.

With her gray hair pulled back and hammer in hand, Rosemary Snow climbs up onto the stage and turns over a coffee table, part of the set for "A Bull in a China Shop," the latest production at Red Barn Theater.

The 76-year-old theater owner bangs the leg back into place then moves onto the next item on a never-ending to-do list.

Snow has devoted the last 15 years of her life to the Red Barn Theater, which she opened at 948 N. Main Ave. as a space for creative people to flourish.

The retired music teacher and mother of five puts on plays and recitals, doing everything from writing original screenplays and scores, to creating and repairing costumes and sets.

Snow also gives music lessons and leads the Red Barn String Orchestra along with the Red Barn's Children's Drama Group.

"Rosemary is all inclusive and so welcoming," says Annette Chavez, who followed her children to the stage when Snow asked her to be in a play.

"I like acting because it's a form of art. It's very rewarding," said Chavez. "I am so grateful to her (Rosemary) for offering a place for that to happen."

While most of her productions take place on Red Barn's stage, the performers also take their shows out to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

"It's not a money-making operation but we do the best that we can," says Snow, who directs with a firm hand and challenges her performers 2/3 many brand new to theater, to push themselves to be better.

The theater keeps Snow active.

"If you don't use something you lose it," she says. "If I didn't keep active I would deteriorate faster. You're going to deteriorate - you can't help that, but you will do it faster if you don't keep active."

Snow came from a military family, and her family moved around a lot before reaching Lubbock, Texas, where she attended high school and college.

She earned a bachelor's in viola and music from Texas Tech, then moved all over the West, teaching music. After some turbulent years that saw several moves and the end of two marriages, she ended up in Yuma, raising five children on her own.

Snow taught music in Yuma public schools for 17 years. In 1986, she moved to Tucson to be closer to her oldest daughter. She worked as a seamstress and taught private music lessons for the first few years.

In 1994, she bought the roughly 2000-square-foot run-down, vacant building for $150,000 on North Main Avenue with money she inherited from her mother. The building had most recently been home to a rough-and-tumble nightclub called The Stop.

Snow had something else in mind.

"If you are in music, you start to get into musical theater," Snow says. "I started with children doing children's plays. I always put music in them because I like music and I think music is easier to learn than lines and acting."

The Red Barn is "a true community theater," says Joanne Anderson, who has worked with Snow for the last six years to create the the Red Barn Theater Company. "Our doors are open to anyone and everyone who wants to get involved."

Anderson, who has 40 years of experience in theater, was looking for a venue when she came upon Snow and the Red Barn. " Her enthusiasm attracted me to her because it matches mine," says Anderson.

"Rosemary plays a very important part and vital part. She's my musical director," she adds. "I am very fond of her. When we need help she's always there."

The company pays a monthly rehearsal fee along with a performance fee that helps Snow with expenses.

The theater has hosted more than 100 shows since it opened. There are usually at least two projects going on at the same time.

On some nights, you can find Snow in the basement, running rehearsals amid the tubs of old costumes and props. File cabinets and shelves are stuffed full of old detergent boxes, which are in turn crammed with pages and pages of music and notes.

"Every show I do has a file in a file cabinet," Snow says. "In case I do the show again, I don't want to throw anything away that I might need again, so that's why I have this stuff every place."

She knows most of the songs by heart.

"I know hundreds of songs," says Snow. "I can just sit and play the piano. I can sing a lot of them. My base is the oldies, the Frank Sinatra era. I do a lot of '70s and '80s songs, not a lot of recent ones. I do a lot of Latin music, I do country music, I do calypso music. That's my very favorite - I love calypso music."

Despite the steady schedule of performances, the theater contends with anemic attendance and a tight budget.

"The biggest struggle is getting enough money," Snow says. "Because people, basically, don't go to children's theater because they don't figure it's going to be any good and sometimes it isn't. But sometimes it is."

Why does she do it?

"I know it makes a difference in the children in my drama group, they learn a lot," Snow says "They learn things they don't learn in school."

Constantly cleaning, organizing and repairing, Snow's at home around here. You get the feeling that this old barn needs her as much as she needs it.

"I plan to do this for as long as I can," she says. "I'd like to do more. I'd like to write more plays and I'd like to write a book."


Before it was the Red Barn

• 1920 - Built

• 1925 - Joe Lee Chinese Grocery Store

• 1926-31 - Sunrise Grocery Co.

• 1932-34 - Sing Chong Grocery

• 1936-40 - Don Chun Grocery

• 1941-42 - Service Cleaners

• 1944-46 12th Ave. USO

• 1948-49 - Phil's BBQ Pit

• 1950-51 - Arizona Restaurant Supply Co.

• 1953-60 - Standard Mattress Manufacturing Co.

• 1965 - Zebra Sales Co. (novelties) Dumes Dist. Co. (grocery wholesale)

• 1967 - Western Collegiate Inc. Sweaters/ 3-D Emblem and Lettering Co.

• 1971-81 - American Legion Post 74.

• 1983 - Players Lounge

• 1984-91 - The Stop Tavern

• 1994-present - The Red Barn Theater

Source: Rosemary Snow