Jack Ragotzy, Michigan Barn Theatre Impresario Who Touched Many Careers, Dead at 81

Obituaries   Jack Ragotzy, Michigan Barn Theatre Impresario Who Touched Many Careers, Dead at 81 Jack Ragotzy, founder of the landmark summer stock company, The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan, died Dec. 15 of a heart attack in his home on the grounds of the theatre, one day shy of his 82nd birthday.

New York-area press agent Charlie Siedenburg, who spent formative years working at the Barn as one of the nicknamed "Barnies," sent out the sad news via press release. Siedenburg — one of countless showfolk whose careers were touched by Mr. Ragotzy and his wife, Betty — started at the Barn as an apprentice actor in the late 1980s and ended up being the troupe's press rep into the early 1990s. He would later rep Broadway shows and currently handles media relations for Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey.

Mr. Ragotzy served as its executive producer for 57 consecutive summer seasons, where he wrote, acted, produced and directed — and opened doors for hundreds of young artists, who would loyally return to his playhouse, a converted dairy barn in western Michigan.

Barnies, the affectionate nickname for those who got their professional start or have worked there while their careers were in full bloom, include Broadway, television and film actors Jennifer Garner, Tom Wopat, Marin Mazzie, Melissa Gilbert, Adrienne Barbeau, Dana Delany, Barbara Marineau, Patricia Wettig, Becky Ann Baker, Robert Newman, Kim Zimmer, James B. Sikking, John Newton, Jon Cypher, Eric Riley, Darius de Haas and Edwina Lewis.

The late Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Larson (Rent) got his Equity card there, and tried out early songs at the Rehearsal Shed Lounge.

Countless musical directors, technical people and designers also worked there over the years. Other New York theatre folk who were attached to the Barn over the years include actor-lyricist Scott Burkell (a Barn regular in recent years), composer-musical director Paul Loesel (a Broadway pit musician), Amy Francis of CAP21, actor Joe Aiello (a Barn regular in recent years) and actor Robin Haynes (another regular). Born Jack Peyton Ragotzy, on Dec. 16, 1921, he was raised in Kalamazoo.  A World War II Army Air Force veteran and a 1948 BA graduate of Kalamazoo College, he also worked at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, where he met his future wife Betty Ebert (1923-1995).  They were married in 1946 and that summer they founded the Village Players in nearby Richland.

The Ragotzys' theatre became so popular they began renting a former dairy barn in Augusta.  They were incorporated as The Barn Theatre in 1949 and began converting it into an esteemed Equity resident summer stock theatre and one of the only remaining structures of its kind in the United States. It is billed as Michigan's oldest summer stock theatre.

Mr. Ragotzy was the first Theatre Arts Master Degree recipient from UCLA.  He was also the recipient of honorary doctorates from Western Michigan University and Nazareth College.  He was an active member of Actors' Equity Association and other show business unions.

Mr. Ragotzy was a director who staged Broadway's Angela with Geraldine Page in 1969 and won a 1959 Obie Award for Direction for Arthur Laurents' A Clearing in the Woods and The Time of the Cuckoo. He was also a television actor, director and movie actor for over 20 years.

A book, "Man in the Spangled Pants," was written about Ragotzy, his career and the Barn.

Mr. Ragotzy is survived by his son Brendan, daughter-in law Penelope and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 49 years, Betty Ebert.

In lieu of flowers, the Ragotzy family has asked donations be made to The Barn Theatre School for Professional Training, Highway M-96, Augusta, MI, 49012.  Services will be held at the Gull Lake Community Church in Richland, MI on Dec. 19. Visit www.barntheatre.com.

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