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The Kinsey Tent Show
"Family Photos"

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Information courtesy of Pat Beeson
]]> (Super User) Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 13:23:36 +0000
Kinsey Tent Show - PICINDEX Kinsey's Book

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The Kinsey]]> Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:52 +0000 Kinsey Tent Show Family Photos
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The Kinsey Tent Show
"Family Photos"

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Information courtesy of Pat Beeson
Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:55 +0000
Kinsey Tent Show - News6 Kinsey newspaper articles

March 25, 1974

Profile: Kinsey Komedy Kompany Was Just The Beginning For Kate by BOB MERCER Staff Writer

KATHRYN KINSEY TRAVIS enjoyed the tent show circuit (Photo by Bob Mercer)

Ask her how she began her more than 50 years in show business and she will reply curtly, "I was born in a trunk to show business parents."

From the time she took her first steps as a child until her retirement from the stage in the early 1950s, Kathryn Kinsey Travis, the grand dame of the Ohio tent show circuit, had been delighting audiences with her comic routines; her musical performances; and affecting many with tragic impressions.

When she decided to retire--it must have been a difficult decision--her keen theatrical instincts and her love for music--as with most congenital characteristics--never left her.

Mrs. Travis, usually called Kate or Kinsey by her friends, is probably best know in Findlay for her lively piano playing and as the propietor [sic] of the Little Theatre Shoppe on North Main Street.

The shop, which rents costumes of all kinds for all occasions, was purchased by Mrs. Travis in 1960, shortly after she arrived in Findlay.

To view all the various props--make-up wigs and robes-- it would seem to certainly provide a link to her past. And, indeed she does find herself providing costumes and props to quite a number of amateur theatrical productions and high school plays. However, she says, her biggest customers are the party-goers. We usually have couples come in who want to go to their costume party as a pair of something-or-other, she added.

Mrs. Travis is also associated with Theatrical Accessories, Inc, in Findlay, a wholesaler that makes and sells various kinds of headpieces and other costume items used by establishments all over the country.

When she had given up the stage as a means of entertaining, she directed her energies toward the piano, and has been making music in the area for more than 15 years.

Mrs. Travis recalls that it was the piano that brought her to Findlay when she came to play for the Kathleen Concannon Dance School in 1958. Eventually she began playing in the pit at musical productions put on by the Elks Club. "It was fun and I got to know many of the musicians around town," she said.

"I've always enjoyed music," she said. "Playing the piano is really a form of relaxation for me." She is currently playing at the Palm Steak House on Friday and Saturday nights and enjoys every minute of it.

But for all her activities, she still likes to recall her years in show business when the presentation of dramatic productions "under canvas" was in its heyday. "It was a great life," she recalls.

Her acting career began at an early age when she toured Ohio with the Kinsey Komedy Kompany, a repertory group composed of Kate, her parents and her sister.

"We would come into a town and stay for several weeks, performing a different show each night, which would include mysteries, comedies and drama," she said. You were always aware that most people wanted to see a particular kind of production, she noted. Different towns were interested in different types of plays whether it be a mystery or rural comedies--which were very popular.

The tents were usually set up like a small big-top at a circus, she explained, the sides of the tent were usually lined with bleachers while the more expensive seats were on the floor in front of the stage. She further explained that most of the shows used one set, but when a play required several sets, they usually hung from the ceiling and lowered at the appropriate time similar to how it is done in many theaters today.

After some 30 weeks on the tent show circuit in the summer, the show would present their plays in an indoor theater during the cold winter months--for obvious reasons, she said. We usually limited ourselves to one show a week in the theater, she added.

There was no dearth of playwrights during this period, she noted, "There was always a Neil Simon type around somewhere. We would simply pay for the rights to use them for the 20-30 weeks that we worked."

"Among the 25 or 30 shows in Ohio, the Kinsey troupe was regarded as the best," she commented. It was a very prestigious group with actors and actresses who had been around a long time. One man, she remembers, had been with the company for more than 27 years.

"It was a popular notion among actors and actresses that unless somebody died, you couldn't get into the Kinsey show," she said.

She recalls that she left the Kinsey show at about the age of 16 to, as she put it, "see how the other half lived." She made the rounds with various musical shows for four or five years during the early 1920s and even tried a bit of vaudeville, which she described as a very painful experience. It just wasn't my kind of entertainment, "I felt like a fish out of water," she said. It didn't last very long, she added.

Later she married Jimmy Travis, a fellow actor, and "we see-sawed back and forth from the west coast to the east occasionally joining up with my mother's show," she said. It was during this time that she was raising her only daughter, who was born in a motel room. Mrs. Travis noted that if her mother hadn't gone home periodically, she probably would have been born in a dressing room. Commenting on her acting experience. Mrs. Travis said she invariably played the ingenue (the role of an inexperienced young woman) in the comedy sketches. However, she said, that on many of the traveling shows, she and her husband would sign up for "general business." This meant that the actor or actress didn't do any specific thing. She said, "One would usually play a wide range of supporting rolls [sic] form one day to the next."

It would seem that doing a different show every night for several weeks would cause an actor or actress to confuse his or her lines, but Mrs. Travis insisted that was no problem, "Once you learn it, you learn it and it sticks with you. Sometimes we would decide to do a play that we hadn't done for five years, and present it the following day.

After her husband died and the public began to turn their attention to movies and television in the late 1940s, Mrs. Travis dropped out of show business. Following this she devoted most of her time to music and playing the piano and worked in a factory in order to send her daughter through school.

"The tent shows and theater had been my whole life," she said, and added that she knew it was time to quit when the public's interest began to wane.

She has no regrets, "It was fun. If I had to, I would do it all over again. There were some bad times. If the tent blew over you would be wondering where your next meal was coming from. It was a great life."


]]> Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:55 +0000 Kinsey Tent Show - News5 Kinsey newspaper articles

The Madge Kinsey Players open in Van Wert, Ohio, for a midsummer evening's entertainment. Tent shows are often the only "live" talent small towns ever see

Pix #2 - Dorie Field of the Kinsey Players and some of her puppets. She's checking the phony hen that lays a phony egg. (Photo unavailable - if anyone has access to this article and the photo, please contact Carol Wangler

Madge Kinsey Graf, once billed as the "Phenomenal Child Artist," has trouped all her life.

Otto Imig, second from left below, plays thepopular "Toby" role in a Kinsey scene


HITS in the TALL CORN By VANCE JOHNSON (Collier's for August 20, 1949)

Long ago Broadway and Hollywood posted the death notice for the repertory theater, but out in the great midlands tent shows are still playing to standing room only.

The author, a Washington correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, has been a newspaperman for 20 years. He has been interested in tent shows ever since the day he saw the Sadler company as a boy in Texas.

This summer, out in the "tall grass country," a grand old American institution long since given up for dead by Broadway and Hollywood is still going strong. It is the repertory theater.

Generally it holds forth under a gaudy red and blue tent like the big top of the circus, appears every Monday morning in perhaps half a hundred small cities and towns in the heart of America, stays for a week, offers a new play "each and every evening," and moves on.

Repertory's custodians are a sturdy band of professionals who have been beating the hinterland trail for well over a quarter of a century regardless of depression and war. While Broadway mourns for the "days that were" and nearly every season launches a highly publicized but singularly unsuccessful attempt to "revive" repertory, and while earnest and artful--and subsidized--groups struggle mightily to "keep the drama alive" in old barns, circular theaters and the like, these hardy troupers go about their business as if no one had ever questioned their likelihood of success.

With them, repertory is not a lark or an experiment; it is an established, regular and profitable way of life. They just set up their tents on vacant lots, school campuses and fair grounds in Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Nebraska, Texas and a few other near-by states and watch the quarters and half dollars roll in.

On a hot evening last summer, when I caught up with the Schaffner Players at Lewistown, Missouri, I found them playing to an audience that outnumbered the population of the town by at least 300. A week later, at Goodland, Indiana (population 1,000), I saw another company doing the same thing. Fully, 1,300 people who had come for miles around the town were watching the antics of two of their favorite comedians, "Toby" and Ora Slout.

In Quincy, Illinois, a city of 40,000 which saw its last legitimate theater converted into a movie house nearly two decades ago, seats for the Schaffner show were so hard come by this summer that queues started forming in the middle of the afternoon. Hundreds had to be turned away.

In these towns, repertory is an old and respected friend. Schaffner, Slout, the Roberson-Gifford Players in Wisconsin, Bisbee's Comedians in Tennessee and many others have played the same towns year after year for a quarter of a century. This year the Madge Kinsey Payers in Ohio are celebrating their 61st year of repertory; this in the 44th year for the Harry O. Brown Players in Wisconsin, the 40th year for Harry Hugo in Nebraska and the 38th year for Jack and Maud Brooks in Wisconsin.

Madge Kinsey Graf, the lighthearted, shrewd, reigning queen of the Kinsey clan, was billed as "Baby Madge, Phenomenal Child Artist" in her father's Kinsey Komedy Kompany in 1901. She hasn't missed a season since and she fully expects the Kinsey name to go trouping up and down the Ohio for at least two more generations. She expects her daughters and sons-in-law--Betty and Jack Murdock and Jean and Pep Graves--to step into the management before too many years. And just before the season opened this year Betty presented her with a grandson who unquestionably soon will become another "phenomenal child artist."

Most of the tent shows travel over a relatively small "established territory," moving 30 to 40 miles every Sunday night. With a few exceptions, none of them travels more than about 1,200 mile a season.

All of the managers and many of the married performers live in house trailers on the show lots, and in the smaller towns the others usually find lodging in private residences. During a weeks stand they get to know the "towners" well and more than a few lasting friendships are made.

A Tent Showman's Farewell Tour

Many tent show performers are as revered in their territories as John Barrymore ever was on Broadway. When Harley Sadler, a famous Texas tent showman, made his farewell tour a couple of years ago--retiring after 30--banquets and luncheons were given in his honor almost everywhere he stopped.

In Littlefield, Texas, he was greeted by a group of dignitaries who had flown there in private planes from all over the state. At Lubbock, the merchants gave him a $500 gold watch.

"I can't do business with you any more," a candy salesman complained to Sadler one day. "You're always holding court."

The sale of prize candy is a standard procedure with all tent shows. Sadler's candy spiel was typical.

"You never can tell what you will get out of this candy," he would say. "Two years ago a boy and a girl found prize coupons in their candy. The boy's called for a pair of lady's hose and the girl's called for a safety razor. I suggested that they exchange, which they did-and that was how they met. They got married and last night they came to the show. With them was a bouncing baby boy. You never can tell what you will get out of this candy."

Literally hundreds of young married couples who first entered Sadler's "tent theater beautiful" in their parents' arms have brought their own children to see his plays. In Lewistown I heard three different people tell Neil Schaffner they had not missed a single performance of his show in the 26 years he had played their town.

In most of the towns "tent show week" is something like fair week or an especially long community picnic. The shows are a combination of circus, carnival, variety hall and legitimate theater. Except for the "dramatic end," which houses the stage, the tent resembles a circus tent. The seats are only as soft as the pine out of which they are made; candy, popcorn and peanuts are as much as part of the show as the actors.

Twenty years ago nearly all of the shows carried a band which played for a street parade and a concert in front of the tent. Most of them still have orchestras (the actors double in brass) and all still offer vaudeville between the acts. An extra-price "concert" after the main show is standard.

But with all of them the play always has been, and still is, the mainspring.

In the second decade of the century, as the movies began to take over opera houses, the resident companies merely transferred their standard repertories to a canvas theater. All of them played such familiar numbers as East Lynne, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Over the Hill to the Poorhouse, and Lena Rivers. But often they aspired to finer things. Ben Howe, an old-time rep actor who now manages an apartment house in Chicago, says he once played Damon and Pythias on a tent show stage.

In 1904, when Sarah Bernhardt got into a row with the owners of a string of theaters in Texas, she rented a big tent and completed her tour under it. She played Camille in French at a top of $2. The Sport North Company, a tent repertory company which toured Kansas and Texas every summer until 1920 (then Ted North, son of one of the brothers, took over for the next 19 years), followed Bernhardt with Camille in English at a 50-cent top--and did turnaway business.

When the old favorites were worn thin, many of the companies lifted successful New York plays outright. It is said that one Chicago "play bureau" cleaned up by sending stenographers to the theater to take down the dialogue of the new plays, doing a slight rewrite and selling the scripts to tent show managers. But, as audiences became more exacting and the dangers of copyright infringement became greater, most of the companies turned exclusively to royalty plays.

Because many of the traveling troupes were small, gave cheap plays on tiny stages, under bare white lights and before single, "diamond dye" sets (scenery which could be folded for easy transport), Broadway considered tent repertory an uncouth and insignificant part of the American theater. But in their heyday--from about 1917 to 1930--many of the better tent shows went to great expense to give their audiences settings, stage effects and acting which would have been a credit to any theater anywhere in the country.

Managers of the large tent troupes, which had companies ranging from 40 to 75 people, made annual pilgrimages to New York and Chicago to keep up to date on settings, lighting and other technical aspects of the theater. Many of the new techniques they saw were promptly put to use under canvas. A few years ago, Pearle Wilson, who acted in tent repertory for more than 30 years (with Murphy's Comedians, Sadler and other first-rate companies), went to New York for the first time in several seasons. Naturally she "caught" most of the hit plays. What she saw amazed her.

"I went to Harvey and Oklahoma!, among others," she said. "The way some of the minor roles were played was a disgrace to the profession, and a good tent show never would have permitted lighting like they had in Oklahoma!--where the actors threw shadows on the backdrop, which was a field of grain. I felt so let down!"

Road Life Wasn't Too Bad

Because a good number of the shows were on the road 40 to 50 weeks a year and because working conditions were good, pay regular and living costs in the small towns low, managers found little difficulty in obtaining competent performers in the early years of repertory. Many of them, particularly married couples, preferred a long season oat $40 to $50 a week to the gamble of frequent separations and long periods of unemployment in New York. And as the movies replaced vaudeville, the better tent shows attracted many a headline act.

During the twenties, several of the tent shows gave creditable performances of such New York successes as "Rain, The Old Soak, Lightnin', The Goose Hangs High, The Cat and The Canary, Applesauce. The Gorilla, and Up in Mabel's Room. But the standard fare, then and now, was a light, popular comedy built around the antics of a redheaded, freckle-faced country bumpkin invariably known as Toby.

The Toby character is quite as old as the English-speaking stage. William in Shakespeare's As You Like It and Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson's The Alchemist were Tobies. But tent showmen generally agree that it was Frederick R. Wilson of Oklahoma who made Toby a hero.

As the story goes, one night in Louisiana Wilson appeared as Toby Haxton in Clouds and Sunshine. The next night he was Toby Green In Out of the Fold--and boys on the street began calling him Toby. When the time came for Won by Waiting, in which Wilson played Bud, he renamed the character Toby. Before long he was known far and wide as "Toby" Wilson, and most other repertory comedians followed his example of making the character a standard feature in every comedy. "Rep" playwrights could not turn out "Toby plays" fast enough to meet the demand.

Because of their tremendous popularity with rural and small-town audiences, "Toby comedians" became indispensable members of every tent repertory company, so much so that more than one company was thrown on the rocks when its comedian quit in a huff. Many of the Tobies, including Sadler, Schaffner and Wilson, started their own shows and many a manager became a Toby in self-defense.

Although almost all Tobies still wear a red wig, affect freckles, peaked eyebrows and a raspberry mouth, and indulge in the most grotesque costumes, Toby necessarily is a different kind of bumpkin in every part of the country. L. Verne "Toby" Slout goes in for slapstick. "Boob" Brasfield, Bisbee's veteran comedian, and Neil Schaffner rely on comic situations, pantomime and surprise for their laughs. Both ad-lib freely and like nothing better than to "break up" another member of the cast, getting everybody on stage and off laughing together.

Other Tobies rely heavily on gag lines and still others--like Otto Imig, the quiet, unassuming comic who has been a mainstay of the Madge Kinsey Players for 15 years--play what might be described as a "sympathetic Toby." Situations and bits of business which Schaffner and "Denny" Dennis wow them with in Iowa would fall flat if Brasfield used them in Tennessee, and vice versa. Words and actions have to be suited to the locale.

Over the years this has necessitated a great deal of rewriting of the standard Toby plays, and many others as well to make them more suitable vehicles for cast and territory. Corn belt colloquialisms are not at all funny in Tennessee and the dry cow-country witticisms which send the customers rolling in Texas are almost incomprehensible to Ohio farmers or factory workers.

Time has Matured Toby

Moreover, because the Toby comedians have grown older every year--most of them are now past fifty--the Toby character has had to grow up from the impertinent, precocious boy of two decades ago to the bumbling, homely hired hand of today.

Many repertory managers have written, produced, directed and acted in a high percentage of their plays. Often it is difficult to recognize a play after a half dozen managers have reworked it to get in local color and comedy situations, and to make the characters fit the cast at hand.

Because of this, the tent show probably is the nearest thing we have to a genuine American folk theater.

Some actor-manager-writers have sought to do serious work. But light entertainment always has been, and still is, the main objective of the tent show.

"Our mission," says Neil Schaffner, "is to bring laughter and forgetfulness to thousands of people whose lives are drab and unexciting, made up mostly of tragedy and care."

The tent shows dish out corn by the stageful. The wrongdoer always must be foiled and virtue must triumph. J. B. Rotnour, veteran Illinois tent showman says, "The more hokum we give them, the better."

But a great concentration of corn, the tent showmen argue, does not necessarily mean an absence of good theater. Some of the most beloved figures of the entertainment world have been successful purveyors of corn--Ed Wynn and the late W. C. Fields, to mention a couple.

"People don't come to tent shows for an uplift or to hear a penetrating commentary on some of the foibles of our society," says Schaffner. "They come to have a good time."

A former president of the University of Texas, who was an inveterate Sadler fan, once put it in more homely terms, "I don't come here to think--I come here for a belly laugh."

"You must remember," says Schaffner, "that a tent show audience is made up of children and adults, farmers and factory workers, doctors and professors. You have to please them all--and in doing it you must work against all kinds of distraction, from crying babies to the rustling of popcorn sacks. Consequently, tent show plays have got to have a lot of plot. Speeches have to be short, and their points obvious. Action has to be fast and it must never hesitate."

The truth of this observation was proved painfully a couple of years ago by a group which started out from Tennessee for a tour of the South and Southwest with an "all-Broadway" repertoire: Arsenic and Old Lace, Kiss and Tell and Over 21. It was one of the most sensational flops in recent theatrical history.

"Not one day have we come anywhere near cracking the nut (making expenses)." Joe McKinnon wrote to the trade paper Billboard. "In eight weeks we have showed to less than 4,000 paid admissions and our (nightly) seating capacity is more than 1,600."

The fact that these plays, successes on Broadway and in the large cities of the Middle West and East, failed in the South and Southwest when presented under canvas was undoubtedly due to the basically different tastes of the respective audiences, but one of the major problems facing the tent show managers is maintaining the quality of their productions.

The Troupe That Failed

I know of one rather ill-assorted troupe with an indifferent kind of repertoire, which failed miserably when it tried recently to take over the "established territory" vacated by a first-rate tent repertory company whose manager had retired. The show drew big crowds on opening nights but attendance fell steadily thereafter. There could have been only one answer--the poor quality of its offering.

The play is the big rub. By the end of the war most of the writers who had produced "standard rep" plays had turned to writing for other mediums, or to selling shoes.

Broadway plays on the whole have become less and less suited for tent repertory's family audience. But even those which are suitable cannot be had anymore for anything like the royalties tent showman can afford.

Tent repertory always has been a "popular price" field, with a top of not more than 60 cents for reserved seats. While some of the larger shows may gross more than $125,000 a season, the box-office take for the average show's season is probably something less than $60,000.

Last year Schaffner offered Brock Pemberton $1,000 for the right to play Harvey one night a week for 20 weeks--a figure probably double anything any tent show ever paid for a Broadway hit--and Pemberton did not even reply.

This summer all of the tent shows are featuring old "standard rep" bills rewritten to "make them fit present-day audiences," or new plays "put together from old, sure-fire ingredients" by members of their companies.

Slout has redone a play, Whittlin' which he wrote 25 years ago when he was doing Lyceum and Chautauqau work. He now calls it A Doctor Falls in Love. Bisbee has revived a popular tent repertory play of the 1929 season, Tildy Ann.

Next to getting a play, the biggest problem confronting the shows is a steady shrinkage of willing and available talent. Many shows dropped by the wayside in the dreary 1930s and during the war. Consequently, a lot of people who had looked on repertory as a career had to find other means of livelihood.

Stars Began in Tent Shows

In earlier days it was not unusual for a performer to move from tent repertory to more cosmopolitan glory. The late Jeanne Eagles, who originated the role of Sadie Thompson in Rain, was a graduate of the Dubinsky tents in Missouri and Oklahoma; Warner Baxter got his start in the North brothers; Jennifer Jones and Jimmy Wakely, the horse-opera hero, got their first professional jobs in Sadler's show and Michael North, who has been giving the bobbysoxers heart throbs, grew up in father Ted's tent show.

But today, though the tent shows each year do attract a few talented amateurs and an occasional dramatic school graduate, few of the youngsters who might profit from a few summers under canvas are interested. Today only two shows--Bisbee's and Brunks's Comedians--are out as long as 35 weeks and although pay is good (up to $175 a week for a team) the short season is unattractive to many who otherwise might be willing to troupe.

Tent repertory still exists, it seems, because a few hardy professionals are willing to skimp through the winter clerking in stores, picking up occasional "school dates" or night-club turns and because vaudeville performers, who sing on for between-the-acts specialties, are willing to take a whirl at parts.

Back in the twenties, a tent show could be put on the road for three to four thousand dollars. Now a truck to haul the tent costs nearly that much (Bisbee values his equipment at $48,000) and few young men are willing to take the financial risk, much less endure the great amount of hard, physical work involved in running a tent show. Only three or four new shows have entered the field since the end of the war.

Nevertheless, "tent repsters," as Billboard calls them, are far from pessimistic. They laugh at talk that the movies put them on the skids and that television will finish the job.

Pictures gave me an awful run for the first few years and gradually shut me out of some good time," says Rotnour, "but in the last two years they have taken an awful flop over my territory while I have gone right on, playing in towns of 700 to 10,000 population with audiences of 300 to 800 per evening."

Some tent show managers report that, while they have "packed 'em in" this summer, movie houses running in competition to them have had only "fair" business. Last summer in Missouri, when at least 1,200 people were watching Schaffner's peripatetic Toby, I checked the movie house across the square which was playing a first-run picture featuring a well-known star. All but three seats were empty.

It has been estimated that upwards of five million people, perhaps more, will witness tent show plays during the 1949 season. As long as that many paying customers are in sight it is hard to convince tent show people that repertory is making its last stand. The End


Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:54 +0000
Kinsey Tent Show - News4 Kinsey newspaper articles

Kathryn Kinsey Ko. Coming To Defiance

Coming to Defiance after a five week's run in Marion and the past two weeks in Findlay the Kathryn Kinsey Ko. will open a week's engagement in their Tent Theatre at Kingsburg Park, Defiance, Monday evening, August 8th.

Everybody in these parts are aware that when the name Kinsey is mentioned with entertainment it is the guaranteed stamp of the greatest value in amusement offered today. Admission prices have been reduced for the Defiance engagement only when they will play for 10c to all. Think of it, two hours of fun and entertainment for 10c. You can't even tie it.

Heading the Kinsey cast this year is Kathryn Kinsey, her husband, Jimmie Travis and their little daughter, Patsy Kinsey Travis who is featured in new dancing and singing numbers. Ruby Rolland and Vayne Hart, the outstanding team direct from Hollywood, California, who were with the Kinseys two year ago are again featured this year. Other favorites you will see next Monday night are Paul Brady, Van V. Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Val Balfour, Earle LaRoe, Peggy Lennox and the two veterans who have piloted the Kinsey show for the past 40 years, Beth Kinsey Miller and Frank F. Miller.

Opening play Monday night will be "Spite Bride". Laughs galore in this hit of hits. Other plays of the week: "Life Begins at 80", "The Wrong Bed", "Patsy Goes Places", "Strange Roommates", "Angel of Hell's Valley", "Ten Night In A Bar Room", "The Sap's Family" and others. One of the big features of the week is Eddie Mason's Big Country Store. Full details will be announced from the stage Monday evening for this added feature.

Remember it all comes to Defiance next Monday night and continues for 7 nights and the admission price is 10c for all. Don't miss the Kinseys in Defiance all next week.


Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:54 +0000
Kinsey Tent Show - News3 Kinsey newspaper articles

The Republican-Courier, Findlay, OH Monday, September 20, 1971

Veteran Kinsey Komedy Trouper Still Believes World Needs 'Make Believe' By Margaret Dennis

STILL IN MAKE-BELIEVE WORLD -- Kathryn Kinsey Travis, who trouped with the Kinsey Komedy Kompany nearly a half century still lives in a world of "Let's Pretend" as she designs and fashions costumes in her little Theatre Shoppe, 826 1/2 N. Main St.

"Take an actor out of show business and what do you have? Nothing!"

Those are the words of a real trouper, Kathryn Kinsey Travis, who spent nearly half a century in the make-believe world of show business and now lives in a happy clutter of "let's pretend." For Kathryn, who made people laugh at her stage antics as the comedienne of the Kinsey Komedy Kompany, is now helping people laugh by providing them with costumes for gala events from her Little Theatre Shoppe, 826 1/2 N. Main St.

The Kinsey Komedy Kompany was a high type tent show which, from 1888 to 1948 toured through the United States with concentration in Ohio, presenting popular plays under a big tent.

It was a family show in the true sense of the word. Founded by M.L. Kinsey, three generations of the Kinsey family "trod the boards" to present plays.

It was also a family show from the standpoint of the productions. "There was no sex, no nudity, nor were any four letter words ever spoken on our shows," Mrs. Travis said. 'Mom and Dad could bring the family to any of our shows without fear of embarrassment. If, in those years, plays would have been given the alphabetical rating movies are given now our entire repertoire would have been given a 'G' (General Audience) rating," she said.

Longtime residents of Findlay may recall the two weeks or more in the summer when the Kinsey Komedy Kompany would pitch its huge tents on the Pogue lots in south Findlay in its early years and later on the Turley lots east of Main St., and not far from the south bank of the Blanchard River.

"There was a period when there were 350 tent shows performing in Ohio but Kinsey was the best," Kathryn said, not boastfully, but with conviction, for she has numerous comments from newspapers to back up her statement.

Often the troupe would have bookings in theaters during the winter season. Kathryn remembers playing the old Marvin Opera House. "We played to overflow audiences at the Grand Theater in Canton, too," she recalled.

Few will remember the founder of the company, Morris L. Kinsey, who was the youngest son of Lewis Kinsey, a judge of the Supreme Court in Iowa but who, unlike his three brothers did not enter the legal profession. Instead he was lured to the footlights.

Morris L. Kinsey was Kathryn's father. He entered the theatrical profession at an early age and in 1888 founded his own company. He died in 1907 and his wife, Beth, whom he tutored to become a leading lady, took over the managerial duties of the show. She later married Frank D. Miller who had joined the company in 1900 as a comedian and specialty actor.

Findlay audiences will remember Madge Kinsey who made her stage debut in her father's arms and grew up to be dubbed "Ohio's Crossroads Queen" by a drama critic on the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

They will remember, too, that 10 years after Madge made her debut, Kathryn, only a few weeks old, launched her dramatic career.

"I had no lines. Nor did I have a walk-on part, but occasionally, and usually unexpectedly, I was heard!" said Kathryn, her eyes twinkling.

Many still recall with nostalgia the little girl roles Kathryn played even after she had grown to womanhood. Black bloomers showing beneath a too short dress, she clunked around the stage in highbutton shoes several sizes too big for her and on the wrong feet. "I loved those shoes so much I had them half soled until the soles would no longer hold onto the tops!" she said.

Kathryn played many roles over the years but she can remember only a fraction of them. "I played Tess in 'Tess of the Storm country' and Topsy in 'Uncle Toms Cabin.' Oh yes, I played the the [sic] title role in 'Pollyanna' and I detested it! No one can be sweet and glad all the time like she was."

Those who know Kathryn would realize it must have taken considerable acting for her to play that role. For the diminutive Kathryn has mind of her own, plenty of spunk, bubbling enthusiasm and, unlike the Glad Girl, Kathryn has always known that life has its "ups and downs."

Friends and fellow actors would say that Kathryn is very much like her mother was. She describes her mother as "a ball of fire. Her word was law."

It was her mother who impressed her with the need to prepare herself for something more than acting. "She plunked me down at the piano one day and told me I had to learn to play," Mrs. Travis recalled. "I did and so, when my acting days were over, I spent a number of years as a piano accompanist for musical revues and as a pianist for the Kathleen Concannon Dance Studio."

The former actress does not regret her years on the stage. "I had more enjoyment in any 10-year period of my stage career than most woman have in a life time." she commented.

"I knew it wouldn't last. After the Kinsey Komedy Kompany disbanded in 1948 I went with Madge. She had left the show and formed the Madge Kinsey Players. In 1953, we were playing Mansfield. It was our banner town. Findlay was one of our best, too. We always drew big audiences here. We expected to stay six weeks in Mansfield that summer. We always had. But we found out the first week that we were finished. We were playing to almost empty houses. Our former fans were staying home and watching television or sitting parked at outdoor theaters which had become very poplar.

"Harry, Madge's husband said those fatal words, 'We are finished. We might as well give up.'

"Yes, we thought the fantasy would go on forever," Kathryn added a bit sadly. "We found out the hard way that it wouldn't."

So, in 1953 the summers of trouping, starting out about the first of May and folding for the season when the chill of autumn set in, were finished for the Kinseys and for the other actors and actresses who had worked with them.

Madge and her husband of 50 years now live in Del Ray, Fla. where they operate a costume shop similar to her sister's here.

Kathryn's first returned to Fostoria which she had called her home town through the years, and where her daughter, Pat, has lived since she quit the Kinsey Komedy Kompany to marry Jim Beeson. Pat, like her mother, made her stage debut as a babe in arms but unlike her mother, she left it willingly when she was married. Kathryn, in a real life drama, married her leading man and was content to continue living out of a trunk with him instead of settling for a rose covered cottage. Her husband died after they had been married 11 years.

In 1960 Kathryn purchased the Little Theatre Shop and there she designs, cuts out and sews (a vocation she taught herself) fashioning all types of costumes for a make-believe world.

If you are tiny enough you can be a bee girl, with antennae coming from your head.

If you are six-feet tall you can be a sunflower. Or would you prefer the role of the Cowardly Lion -- or prance around as the Calico Horse?

Her newest creation from the animal world is a zebra which reminds her that perhaps the Kinsey Komedy Company's biggest extravaganza was "The Gorilla." "We paid $400 for the stage rights and the suit cost us $500. Then we had quite a hard time finding a man large enough to fit the suit and play the part of the gorilla," she laughed.

Looking down the row of racks from which hang all types of fun costumes and up at the walls where she sees the headdress and veil for a harem girl or the crown of an Egyptian princess it is not difficult for her thoughts to travel back through the years to a small dressing room with its make up box and is [sic] costumes ready for her to be transformed into Topsy, or one of the other roles she loved to play.

Most of the time those days seem long ago and far away but, when she is fitting a costume on a pretty young girl posing before a mirror, those times seem like yesterday for that girl in the mirror surely is Kathryn Kinsey, comedienne of the biggest and best tent show in the country.


Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:54 +0000
Kinsey Tent Show - News2 Kinsey newspaper articles

Sentinel - Tribune , Tuesday, July 7, 1959

Summer Nights Stalked By Melodrama In Dear Dead Days of Old Time Tent Shows By Minniebelle Conley

Warm summer nights in the 20's and 30's, and even in the 40's, the big tent stood waiting.

In the gentle twilight, from all directions came burned farmers, soaped and slicked, their tired wives and eager children; girls and their beaus; and the town folk. They paid their 10-,20- or 30-cents admission and crowded inside. To the breezeless top of the hard circus seats they climbed. The privileged sat on equally hard reserved chairs in the center. They talked and fanned.

The footlights came on. The bare bulbs over the audience went out, and the magic began. Outside hovered the humdrum. Inside melodrama stalked the stage.

The Kinsey Komedy Company had come to town for a weeklong stand. The tent stood on a vacant lot in any one of a score of Ohio towns, large and small.

O'Man River had his show boats. But Ohio had her tent shows.

For 66 years Ohio's "biggest dramatic show under canvas," as it was billed, was the now long defunct Kinsy [sic] Komedy Kompany. Kathryn Kinsey Travis, whose father, Morris L. Kinsey, originated the company, is for the present living in Bowling Green. Kathryn played child parts in the shows and later comedy roles as well as being pianist. Her theatrical career began when she was so tiny her father gave her cues by squeezing her hand when it was time for her to say her lines.

The summertime visit of the Kinsey Komedy Kompany to Bowling Green, and many other Ohio towns, was an annual event. In Bowling Green the company leased the lot at the corner of Pearl St., and Buttonwood Ave. Every night for a week, no matter how hot the weather, the audience packed the tent to the top.

Mrs. Kinsey, who played leads in the beginning, left the show twice, just long enough for Madge and Kathryn to be born. In a couple of weeks she was back. During the show that babies slept in the traditional theatrical trunk trays, even to the third generation. For trunks also cradled both Madge's and Kathryn's daughters. Madge had two and Kathryn one. Kathryn married Jimmy Travis, the company's leading man. Madge's husband, Harry Graf, was an electrician with the company for a time.

When the original company "folded its tents... and silently stole away." Madge formed her own company. She starred in it until 1952, when it also took its last bow. Outdoor movies, radio and television played the finale for the tent show. The day of the thriller and tearjerker was over.

"They were terrible things, utter corn now," Kathryn laughs in recollection. "But" she adds seriously, "we never did anything risque that the whole family couldn't see." Parents and children flocked to the shows together. And who wouldn't have? In the first years admission was 10-cents a head. Later it was 10, 20 or 30 cents. Ten, twent' and thirt' shows they were called. During World War I the price climbed to 47 cents for adults.


For this expenditure the audience was treated to such dramatic offerings as "Lena Rivers," "East Lynn," "Why Girls Leave Home," "Tempest and Sunshine," "Dora Thorne," "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Graustark," "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Ten Nights in a Barroom." to mention a few. "Ten Nights" was usually given Friday night. Saturday nights came the "Toby" shows, or rural comedies. Kathryn was the angelic Little Eva in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," until she grew too big. Then she made up in blackface and played Topsy. This was her start in comedy roles.

Between acts small Madge and Kathryn did singing and dancing specialties. As they grew up they and other members of the cast alternated in specialties while the scenery was changed.

In April the show went into rehearsal for two or three weeks before taking to the road. At first week stands were played. Later the schedule was two weeks. Six shows a week were offered. New shows were added every year. At one time the company had a repertoire of 65 to 70 shows. Winters the show went into theatres as a stock company. In Toledo they played the old Arcade, Palace and Coliseum.

Mr. Kinsey died when Kathryn was three. But Mrs. Kinsey continued to operate the company. "Mother was a fireball!" smiles Kathryn. Her second husband, Frank Miller became the show's manager. As the years went by Mrs. Kinsey went from leads to character parts. In later years she was "out in front" selling tickets and managing the finances, while her daughters succeeded her on the stage.

The show first traveled by train. Buying 25 tickets entitled the troupe to a baggage car for the scenery and trucks. They carried a loader who packed the car expertly. One time when he was ill he had literally to be snatched from his bed to load the overflow piled on the baggage platform. The car was then unpacked and repacked with professional know how. The company later traveled by truck and automobile.

The show carried 8 to 10 people. "Everyone helped to put up the tent and drive stakes," Kathryn recalls. Eventually they carried helpers.

True to theatrical tradition that "the show must go on," go on it did, hot weather, cold weather, "come rain or come shine." Except in the hill towns of southern Ohio when the tent stood on low ground and the show was rained out. "Then we'd tell them, 'No more show tonight! Come back tomorrow!' " Kathryn remembers.

Wind storms were the worst. "Sometimes we'd have to stop the show and have the audience sing to stop panic." Kathryn shakes her head at the recollection. "I've seen the center poles jump two or three feet! We had several blowdowns after the audience had left but by an act of God we never had a tent come down on them," she says thankfully.

When wind ripped the tent apart, women of the neighborhood would come to the lot and help patch it. "They'd sit in the sun and sew and talk." Kathryn smiles a little tenderly at the recollection. A glimpse behind the scenes into the glamorous world of make - believe, it was fun, and a little exciting, for the housewives to know the "show folks" personally.

Kathryn received a musical education that included study at the Eastman School of Music. She also played by ear and at 14 she unpremeditatedly became the the [sic] show's pianist. The regular man piano player was so indisposed one night he did not recover in time for the performance. "Kathryn," ordered her mother, "get out there and play!" Kathryn did. And from then on the Kinsey Komedy Kompany never hired a pianist. They had Kathryn! Everybody in the show "doubled" in something anyway.

The two girls were educated in boarding schools part of the time. Fostoria was the family headquarters and Kathryn, who was staying with friends went through the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades there while the show was playing winter stock in Toledo. Since she retired in 1949 she and her daughter have been living in Fostoria. Now Kathryn expects soon to open as pianist in a Toledo night club. In the meantime she is staying with an old friend. Miss Dell Bigelow, 124 N. Enterprise St.

The tent show gave audiences their ten, twent', and thirt' money's worth -- after the show came the concert for an extra 10 cents or so! At first the concert closed the Saturday night farewell performance -- the postscript to the love affair between audience and "the show." As the show grew in success and popularity the songs, dances and comedy skits were a nightly parting gesture.

The show was not only a family affair, but the company's other actors and actresses became almost a part of the family. The cast rarely changed. Paul Brady, who stayed with the company 28 years, began as a leading man and ended his acting career in character parts.

Ohio had other tent shows. Every state had them. Some of the best known Ohio ones were the Harry Shannon company, which also played both under canvas and in the old Chidester Theater here, and the Jack Walker Show. The Minelli Brothers played on the lot back of the Ridge St. School. Vincent Minelli, Hollywood director and husband of Judy Garland, took his first theatrical steps on the tent show stage. A native of Delaware, O., Mr. Minelli as a boy played Bowling Green in his father's and uncle's tent show.

Then show devotees were the romance, adventure and emotion - hungry folk of a simpler day. They suffered with the heroine, thrilled when the leading man took her in his arms and called her "little girl," hissed the villain, wept when Little Eva died and went to Heaven, and felt every lash on Uncle Tom's back -- all with uninhibited applause.

With garish scenery and flamboyant acting, the tent show spelled enchantment to a less sophisticated and more tranquil world. Gone the way of the show boat, the Chautauqua and the circus, it too, is another piece of picturesque Americana.



Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:53 +0000
Kinsey Tent Show - NEWS8 NEWS8

Bette Is Third Of Her Family To Play Leads

Given First Role When Five, Theater Is Nothing New To Miss Graf

By Don H. Totten

Beacon Journal Canton Bureau

330 Cleveland Av. N.W.

Canton, Nov. 11

Like mother, like daughter is an age-old adage followed by many people in the show business but in Canton, currently playing at the Grand Opera house, there is a new angle on the old saying. It is like grandmother, like granddaughter.

The granddaughter is the beautiful and charming Miss Bette Kinsey Graf, who is playing the third generation of leads in her family. Her grandmother played leads back in 1894, and then Madge Kinsey, Bette]]> Kinsy Tent Show Fri, 22 Jun 2012 09:20:53 +0000 Kinsey Tent Show - NEWS7 NEWS7

Akron Beacon Journal - June 30, 1940

Camera Caravan Sees A Tent Show


For 43 years the Kinsey Players--now in the third generation--have been an Ohio institution. If it were not for the Kinsey's scores of Ohio cities would never see a dramatic play. Playing under canvas in the summer and in opera houses some winters, thee Kinseys have left Ohio only once--to play a stock engagement in Indiana. Here is a dressing room scene, with left to right, Katie Fortener, Bette Graf, Jean Graf and Lucile Blackburn.

The show plays under canvas, gives one performance each night. The show is transported by truck and the players live in trailers. Here Floyd Anspach and Bob Merrick are at work on the ropes.

The Madge Kinsey Players winter in Loudonville. The Original Kinsey Komedy Kompany was operated by Madge Kinsey' mother and father. Miss Kinsey's father is dead, her mother retired. Another sister, Kthryn Kinsey, formerly was with the company. There is the present family, Madge Kinsey's daughters, Bette, 18, Jean, 16, Miss Kinsey, and her husband, H.E. Graf, manager of the company.


The programs staged by the Kinseys-this troupe is known as the Madge Kinsey Players--include a dramatic play, vaudeville and a musical concert. In three visits to Canton they presented 56 bills. Ordinarily they are "uup" in seven plays, giving one each evening. "Tamed and How," "Toby in Politics," Toby Goes A'Courtin'," "Her Unborn Child" are among this season's offerings.


No caption was available, but those pictured are from left to right - Katie Fortener, Lucile Blackburn, Jean Graf and Bette Graf.


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