Kinsey Tent Show - NEWS1
Ohio's "Crossroad's Queen" Still Barnstorming
Madge Kinsey Players have brought the stage to the Buckeye State's smaller towns for 44 years. By William G. McKee
Crowded inside the tent on a warm August night were a thousand souls, a thousand minds with the tightest of grips on their entertainment. One could almost see the tenacity with which the audience clung to its amusement.
It was an offering by the Madge Kinsey Players, one of a doughty band of tragedians and comedians who year after year have gone up and down the highroads and the byroads of Ohio in the summers with their tent show. It was the kind of stage presentation, if you please, that a Kinsey has been giving in the hitherland of Ohio these 57 years.
Madge Kinsey, a frank and happy 40, has been trouping practically all of her 40 years. She made her first stage appearance in swaddling clothes, in her father's arms. In the season of long gone 1901 she was "The Phenomenal Child Artist." Today she is head of her own company and the troupe's character actress--carrying on the tradition that had it's inception in 1879 when her father, M. L. Kinsey, started a barnstorming career.
With another tent show is Madge's mother, Mrs. Beth Kinsey Miller, carrying on with the Kinsey Komedy Kompany, the original company started by Kinsey here.
Three generations of these remarkable Kinseys are trouping along the macadam roads of Ohio. In the Madge Kinsey Players are Madge and her two daughters, not only destined to carry on the family tradition, but thrilled with the prospect and working very hard at becoming leading women. With the Kinsey Komedy Kompany--and what a clever name that must have been forty and four years ago, with its phonetic spelling and euphany-are Madge's younger sister, Kathryn, and her children.
Already a veteran trouper, M. L. Kinsey started the Kinsey Komedy Kompany 44 years ago, with Beth Kinsey as leading lady. Since then, not a year has passed but that a Kinsey troupe has been on the road, under canvas or in the old opera houses, without which life would been dreary indeed in Ohio's hamlets and towns.
Other shows were forced off the road in the lean years. Most of them gasped and gave up in this most recent of depressions, but not the Kinsey's. Through the depths of what would have been a "panic" back when Kinsey troupes were youthful and new, some Kinsey company has been entertaining in summer nights in fields on the outskirts of Ohio's small cities and villages. Other companies are coming back again to their rounds of the small towns, and some of them were started earlier than the Kinsey Komedy Kompany, but none, it is a proud Kinsey statement, can point to no interruption in the annual tours.
As distinctive as the showboats of the Ohio and the Mississippi are these tent shows. Their visits are as looked for as are the visits of the showboats to the river towns. They draw much the same class of patron and it is a matter of record that they draw them in numbers.
In its way it is something of a miracle how these tents shows attract patronage. They must compete with the glittering movies, with radio, with a changing world and ideas. That the tent shows can compete with these modern attractions seems to be evidence that down country the people want substance and not shadows. Or again it may be that they cling to those things of the past which appealed to their fathers and grandfathers.
These people who have had their fill perhaps of Garbo and Gable, of Crawford
and Tone, go into gales of laughter by the antics of a red-headed, freckle-faced
"Toby." They sit in hushed and awed silence as the old, tear jerking hokum
oozes over the stage.
Madge Kinsey, who was brought on the stage in her father's arms and has been on it ever since. In private life she is Mrs. Harry Graf, whose husband, a former druggist of Loudonville, is now an actor in the company.
(This photo of Madge is similar to the one actually used in the article. The photo in the copies of the article available were not reproducible. Photo courtesy of Pat Travis Beeson.)
There's nothing subtle about these performances. There are no nuances. When it is tragedy, it is stark, bitter tragedy. When it is comedy, it is plain, unmistakable comedy. It's as understandable as a punch on the nose, and as real.
There is a pride of profession in the company. It is no stilted pride. It is a simple, human, glowing sort of pride. Not once in hours with the players did I hear the word "art." Not once did I hear any reference to a great star of the boards. Only once did I hear of any of the tent show actors who had gone to New York, Mecca, I had thought, of anyone who ever grimaced across the footlights. They seem quite satisfied, these actors and actresses, to keep trouping along the dust laden fields, satisfied to give the same plays to the same type of audience, generation after generation.
They are friends, these actors and these audiences. Year after year, the same towns are played, the same plays are renewed ever so often through the years, the same homes "board" the players and the same persons make up the audiences. In Mount Vernon, O., recently, a man with a child in his arms came to Madge Kinsey and told her that his father had brought him, as a babe in arms, to see the Kinsey Komedy Kompany. He, too, was carrying on the tradition of the audiences. As there have been three generations of Kinseys on the one side of the footllights, so have there been the same number of generations on the other side of the footlights.
Along this same line, in Mansfield, O., recently Madge found a note in her automobile. It said:
" I notice your car parked here and as I noticed the name of Kinsey I
recall what a thrill I used to get out of seeing your father and mother
in their offerings on the stage years ago."
(This is the original photo used in the newspaper article - Jean sent it to her Aunt Kathyrn Kinsey Travis for her birthday - Photo courtesy of Pat Travis Beeson)
"As a kid back home in Johnstown, O., I remember your father appearing as the Kinsey Komedy Ko. and at that time I remember you as a little girl appearing in his plays advertised as 'the child actress.' I even remember some of the old songs that your company used to inject into their different plays.
"I could not refrain from dropping this note in your car to let your know that , after years, and many of them have rolled by, a person oftentimes in their younger days are impressed with some little incident of this kind that will always leave a favorable and impressive recollection which even years of time do not erase.
"C.D. Huff, Huff Realty Co., Mansfield."
Beth Kinsey was leading lady for the Kinsey Komedy Kompany when Baby Madge April Kinsey was "The Phenomenal Child Artist." It was not long, however, until Madge was leading lady. The Fremont Messenger of Aug. 2, 1905, told of the ambition of the then nine-year-old actress to be a leading lady. When she was 13, she was playing leads. At 15, the tall, gangling Madge played mature roles while her mother played ingenucs. It was a matter of size.
Madge had her first speaking part at the advanced age of two. She had been taught to say "mama" at one squeeze on her arm and "papa" at two squeezes.
Among her earliest was that of Mary Morgan in "Ten Nights in a Bar Room." Her daughter, Betty, now takes the same part-and "Ten Nights in a Bar Room" is an important item in the repertory.
Madge doesn't know, but estimates she has played in between 500 and 600 different plays. She has been Nancy Barlow in "The Little Girl God Forgot"; Mary Turner in "Within the Law"; Lady Isabel and Madam Vine in "East Lynne"; Nance Ransom in "Our New Minister"; Topsy in "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; Fanny Middleton in "Tempest and Sunshine"; Lena Rivers in the play of that name; Kate Hogan in "The Millionaire's Son and the Shop Girl"; Edna Earle in "St. Elmo"; Little Mary Morgan in "Ten Nights in a Bar Room"-but why go on?
Betty Graf, 15, like her sister, may be considered a seasoned trouper, one of her big roles being that of Mary Morgan in "Ten Nights in a Bar Room"
(This photo is also the original sent to Betty's Aunt Kathryn Kinsey Travis for her birthday - Photo courtesy of Pat Travis Beeson.)
everybody feel at home. Between performances, she makes all the wardrobes for her two daughters.
The whole troupe is like that. Before the show and between acts, actors and actresses go out in front with their baskets of candy, popcorn and what not, the sale of which is a material factor in the receipts of the company. Even if they were "arty"-and there're not-they'd have to eat and selling what the customers want in the way of goods more physical than drama helps out in the eating business.
One suspects they enlist for the duration of the war in these Kinsey troupes. As an instance, there's the case of Mrs. Esther Fortener. She has been selling tickets out in front of a Kinsey tent for 22 years. Without any previous experience and with practically no idea she was getting what seems to be what is known as a "steady job," she was put into the ticket booth in something like an emergency a score and two years ago-and there she has been. She has a daughter, Katherine Ann, now 14 years old, who is one of the juvenile dancing stars of the company.
They come back after a long time, too, as witness Fred C. Hackett, veteran actor. He was with the Kinsey Komedy Kompany 34 years ago. Since then he has had his own show in New York, but he's out on the open road this season with the Madge Kinsey Players.
A rather important member of the company is Harry Graf, if for no other reason than that Madge Kinsey is Mrs. Harry Graf. Harry operated a drug store in Loudonville, O., years ago, but he succumbed to the charm of the young leading lady and the tradition of her family. Harry' s an actor now, and has been for years, as well as manager of the company.
Bette, eldest of Harry and Madge's two daughters, will be 15 in October. Jean is 13.
The tented theaters are complete. There are changes of scenery for the presentations. With power lines always close by, lighting effects are no problems. Dressing rooms are to the back and side of the stage. With the Madge Kinsey Players, Dave Hemminger, character actor, extoller of the virtues of business places which advertise,and chief spieler in the prize package sales, is also the scenic artist. He paints the scenes, sees they are properly in place and finds it a matter of concern when such a detail as lack of keyhole in a door prop is discovered. He's a capable actor, too. This is his tenth season with a Kinsey troupe.
There is one modern device, incidentally, in the Kinsey equipment that has ruined another institution. Small boys no longer can get "canvas tickets"-that is sneak in under the side walls of the tent. They've cured that by focusing a floodlight along the sides of the tent. Boys of today aren't hardy enough to wade through the glare to duck under the canvas and once more modernity takes its toll.
It takes 28 plays a summer to keep these Kinsey companies (or should it be "kompanies"?) going. Madge's company and her mother's troupe follow each other through the season, about ten weeks apart. That means there must be no duplications of the fourteen plays each presents.
The season starts with stands a week in length. Before that, the company goes into rehearsal for ten days and in that time seven plays are made ready for production. In three weeks of one-week stands, the company adds seven more plays to the season's repertory and it is set for the summer. Rehearsals are held regularly through the season.
They do find some changes, of course, in repeated tours of the farm areas. For instance, says Harry Graf, Saturday nights in the small towns are bad for show business. So Harry has taken a tip from the movies and has installed something like "Bank Night." On Saturday night, the proverbial little child is called to the stage to draw a name out of the box. That person gets $5 in cash and that much cash is a big slice out of 10-cent admissions.
Some of the explanation of the popularity of the ten shows may be in economics. Admission to one and all is 10 cents. That's payment for two hours of entertainment.
Lest the impression that these tent show companies deal strictly with the agricultural populace, one should mention that matter of 28 consecutive weeks by the Kinsey Komedy Kompany in Canton, O., not so long ago. The Kinseys have also made long stands in Toledo, O. If you care to call those "hick towns," go right into either and do it-but don't say I sent you.
There's none of the grand dame about the "Queen of the
Cross Roads." She'll spiel for the jim-cracks that sell for 10 cents before
the show starts. She'll take tickets at the entrance, find seats for the
patrons and make