On a Role
Acting can be a brutally difficult craft. Which is why Josh and Mindy Barker passed up on their own Hollywood dreams, opting instead to challenge, support, encourage and enlighten young Tulsa actors.
Though Josh and Mindy Barker may have on occasion been mistaken for the young people in their cast instead of community theatre owners and directors, don’t let their youthful appearance and energy fool you.
The Barkers, founders of Encore! Theatre Arts, a theater company that serves Tulsa through live entertainment, arts education, and professional actor training, have a combined experience of 35 years and are as seasoned as they come with credentials too long to list.
Josh was a natural born performer from a young age. “He started performing for our family when he was 4 or 5,” says John Barker, Josh’s dad and fellow actor-director.
“I loved to make people laugh and entertain them with my impersonation of characters from my favorite movies,” says Josh. “Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura were my favorites as a kid.”
At the age of 13, Josh decided to audition outside of school and was cast in The Drunkard as Frank Slade. He performed at the Tulsa Spotlight Theatre for a few years, then convinced his dad to get involved. When Josh was 16, Spotlight needed more directors so John got involved and Josh assisted him. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first show Josh directed; he was 17. “That show is special to me because of the story’s message, but also because it was a big part of my young actor-director career.”
Mindy didn’t discover her love of theater until high school. Though she had been performing piano since she was 4, it wasn’t until her junior year when she needed a fine arts credit. “I took basic acting on a whim,” says Mindy. “It was acting or art.”
In 2005, the summer before Mindy’s senior year, she went to see The Drunkard because she was thinking about auditioning. “Her piano teacher was the pianist in the play, and after the show she introduced me to Mindy,” says Josh. Mindy was cast as Little Mary.
“As actors, both Josh and Mindy have the uncanny ability to really become the character,” says John. “They bring out the best in the other actors who they share the scene with.”
Less than two years after Mindy and Josh met, they were married, just a few feet from the very spot they met at The Spotlight Theatre. “While we were dating and engaged, we spent a lot of time doing plays together — Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast,” says Josh. “We even played Cinderella and Prince Charming the summer I proposed to her.”
By 2008 they directed their first production together. “It was neat because it felt like I was still one of the kids, and yet they still respected me as a director in the leadership role,” says Mindy. “The kids keep us youthful longer. We’re goofy, funny people, but we understand the difference between being silly and one of the kids, and being their director and mentor.”
While some directors shy away from working with young actors, the Barkers actually seek them out. “Kids have such vibrant imagination, and they’re the ones who memorize their lines and are off book first even before the adults because they’re eager to please and do their best,” says Mindy.
The Barkers provide so many different ways for their young actors to express themselves. It’s an approach that includes independence for the actor in creating and shaping their character, but also adds necessary steering and polishing of the actor’s performance to make it the best it can possibly be.
“As directors and producers, they are the hardest working professionals I know,” says John. “Their creative abilities have no limits from set design and construction to sound and light design to costuming and special effects. I always go above and beyond the audience expectations.”
Josh and Mindy take that same mindset and instill it in their actors. “Whether these kids grow up to be teachers, engineers, doctors or mothers, we want them to pour their hearts and passion into whatever energizes them,” says Mindy. “We want to instill in them the values of hard work and appreciating working with a team.”
In the summer of 2009, the Barkers began teaching acting classes. Many parents and children wanted to do more shows with the couple, but at Spotlight, they were only able to direct one to two shows a year. That spring, they signed a lease for their own studio for summer camps and lessons and by September 2010, they launched Encore.
“We loved teaching the young actors skills and techniques they might have developed over a long time in theater,” says Mindy. “But our classes honed it, focused on specific abilities to build stronger actors and better shows.”
But by 2012, the couples’ own acting bugs had kicked into overdrive. Feeling Los Angeles offered the best opportunity to advance their acting careers, the pair broke the news that they were leaving. With no mortgage or children of their own, they thought it would be an easy decision to make.
“Everyone was shocked,” says Mindy. “Some people thought we were joking. A lot of the kids started crying right away. That was really hard.”
While in California, Josh performed at various comedy clubs and worked in entertainment at Universal Studios Hollywood. He also worked on feature films with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ewan McGregor. Mindy appeared in the feature film Jersey Boys, as well as many television shows, including Mad Men, Pretty Little Liars, Parks and Recreation, Criminal Minds, and Scandal.
Josh and Mindy had no idea how much they truly missed Tulsa until they came back in 2014 to launch a book they wrote — The Lost Pages of Cinderella — from a stage play they had written. The Lost Pages is their version of fractured fairy tales, full of action, modern humor, and magical adventures.
“When we were surrounded by Encore people again, we realized how much we missed everyone and how much we were loved and supported,” says Mindy on why the couple decided to stay in Tulsa following the production. “From the beginning, they’ve always given back to the community in many ways,” says John.
And their giving doesn’t stop with just those they teach in their classes and productions. Over the years, they have donated show tickets to organizations like Youth Services and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. In addition to giving away show tickets, the Barkers have awarded scholarships to young actors who would never be able to afford acting classes. Last year, Encore awarded $5,000 in scholarships that include three classes per week for a year.
“My son met Josh and Mindy when he was 7 years old, and they helped spark a passion for acting,” says Shelly Turner. “He graduated from high school this year and has been accepted into Cornish College of the Arts [Seattle, Wash.]. Blake learned so much from this team.”
Encore! Theatre Arts
1511 S. Delaware Ave. | Tulsa
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