Kinsey Tent Show - News6
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."