Amish Acres

Amish Acres® Historic Farm and Heritage Resort is Listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is America's most complete Amish heritage experience featuring historic interpretation, culinary and performing arts, lodging, and shopping.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ready, Sets, Go!

Here I am in mid-February looking out over seven inches of snow. It seems early to begin the fun but exhausting task of designing the sets for the Round Barn Theatre’s coming season. This will be the 17th season that I have designed the sets for a total of over 150 musicals, dramas and comedies. Some shows call for simple unit sets, as we call those single location sets like last year’s The Mousetrap to what we call traveling sets that come and go from one place to another.

After reading each script, discussing them in depth with Artistic Director Amber Burgess, and researching, seemingly forever, reviews of other productions, set designs, a kernel of an idea eventually begins to form. Does the show, in my mind, call for a realistic set, stylized set or an abstraction of the show’s message and focus? We have done them all. To make that decision I try to put each show into historical perspective with its surroundings and rely on my own experiences whenever possible.

This year’s shows often cover specific years from the past decades beginning with the 1930’s Depression when Annie wins over Daddy Warbucks. It features a cameo of FDR (my grandfather and father started Pletcher Furniture Village a month before FDR closed the banks) and mentions Indiana’s own Ford Frick, former commissioner of baseball, who grew up east of Nappanee on US 6 in Wawaka. Lend Me a Tenor is a farce about an opera fiasco in 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio of all places. Plain and Fancy is firmly imbedded in 1955, the year Nappanee beat Elkhart in basketball twice in the year Elkhart opened the nation’s largest high school gym. Happy Days is set in 1959, the year I graduated from high school (We’ve already covered my junior year with Grease and The Marvelous Wonderettes), Susie and I were married in 1964, the year Barry Manilow wrote his first score for a Broadway show. We followed the Rat Pack from the Ed Sullivan Show (remember Forever Plaid) to LasVegas. ABBA hit the pop music scene in 1974, the year President Nixon resigned during Friday night of the Arts & Crafts Festival, bringing it to a halt as the remaining crowd crowded around the black and white TV we had at the gazebo.

So, armed with a Rat Pack… script, synopsis, reviews, videos, photos, Pinterest, YouTube and my memories, I am about to draw my first lines in AutoCAD, making sure to stay within the sight lines of the theatre. The elementary goals are that the set elements must fit through the theatre’s doors, have a place to “live” backstage, be easy to handle and advance the plot. The finished design will be converted into working drawings and handed off to Elliott Correll and his crew to construct. We will use as many of our former show’s resources as possible. Long before the show is opened, the designs for the next production are underway. The pace never stops until the Holiday show is open and put to bed. So this is an inspiring time that lets me know this snow is not for long and patrons on opening night of The Rat Pack Lounge will be met at the door with welcoming spring flowers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Donation check presented to Nappanee Family Christian Development Center

A check for over $500 was presented to Mark Mikel, Executive Director, Family Christian Development Center by Reverend Frank Ramirez, Lead Pastor, Union Center Church of the Brethren, Amber Burgess, Artistic Director, The Round Barn Theatre, and Richard Pletcher, CEO, Amish Acres. The money was raised by donations from audience members who attended the two staged readings of “Plain Paper…,” the new musical written by Mr. Ramirez and conceived by Mr. Pletcher with music and lyrics by Steve Engle. In addition to Ms. Burgess, the readings were directed by Katherine Barnes. Ten members of the theatre’s resident acting company donated their time to prepare for and present the new musical. “Plain Paper, Amish News That’s Print to Fit” is based on a fictional newspaper named the Vision. It is distributed nationally with newsworthy stories from Amish and Mennonite districts across the country. The news is supplied by scribes who keep track of the weather, births, deaths, weddings, illnesses and visitors over the previous week. Everything is running relatively smoothly until Winthrop Llewis shows up from Hollywood to film a reality show. Winthrop has his eyes opened in ways he never thought possible.

The musical was presented last year my members of the Union Center Church of the Brethren. Ramirez and Engle, who have collaborated on additional musicals, continue to revise the script and music with the hope of staging a full production in 2018 as the theatre’s Second Stage Production.

The Round Barn Theatre is Indiana’s only resident repertory theatre. It is the National Home of “Plain and Fancy,” the 1955 Broadway musical about Amish life and love. “Plain and Fancy” has been running for 32 years and is the second longest currently running musical in America. “Sister Act” is currently running in repertory with it. Tickets are available at the box office (800) 800-4942 or at

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sister Act Review

If you go to see “Sister Act,” now playing at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, because you want to see the movie “Sister Act,” upon which it is based, you’re going to be disappointed.

No, scratch that. You’re going to be delighted because you’ll get exactly what you came for, only a whole lot more.

The creators of this musical made the decision to keep the basic plot: a singer witnesses a murder and is sent to a convent for safekeeping until a mobster can be brought to trial. Both singer and sisters are changed for the better.

But those wonderful oldies sung in the movie have been replaced by original songs written by Alan Menken (yeah, that Alan Menken, the one who composed music for Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” “Alladin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and so much more), and a script by a couple of Emmy and Golden Globe winning geniuses who have written for, among other shows, “Cheers” and “Friends.”

What makes all these ingredients work for the Round Barn audience is Dee Selmore, who plays the aspiring singer Deloris Van Cartier. She is that rare performer who can both carry a show and challenge everyone in the cast to greater performances themselves. Selmore has some pretty big shoes to fill, considering the memorable actor who played her role in the movie, and she is up to the challenge.

The company doubles up on various roles, but the champion is Round Barn regular Don Hart. I lost track of the number of roles he played, as he carved out fresh characterizations with each quick costume change.

The writers have set the show in the 70s, an easy decade to lampoon because it had some of the worst fashions, worst music, and, thanks to the hilarious portrayal of the murderer’s henchmen, Martin Flowers, Travis Bird, and Justin Williams, the worst moves when it comes to dancing, dressing, and romancing. These three create characters who are legends in their own minds.

Ryan Schlisler is the brooding, yet convivial villain. He casts a long shadow over the plot, allowing Dee Selmore’s light to shine all the brigher.

Lauren Morgan transcends the versatility she’s brought to the several roles she’s played this season. As Sister Mary Martin-of-tours I simply did not recognize her, and wondered until intermission when I checked my program, what senior citizen they’d brought to play the wildly eccentric church choir pianist.

In fact the women’s ensemble playing the nuns is wonderfully strong, funny, and musical. My favorite number in the show, “Raise Your Voice,” is buoyed by the epiphany experienced by the sisters as Deloris teaches them to sing together. The lyrics, based on many songs I remember from my years in parochial school, are wickedly tongue twistery, if I can coin a phrase, leaving one amazed and amused.

Do not miss the musical “Sister Act” at the Round Barn Theatre. It is the highlight of the season so far.

Frank Ramirez, Lead Pastor, Union Center Church of the Brethren, is The Round Barn  Theatre's staff blogger.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Log Cabin Commemorative Quilt Completed

The commemorative Log Cabin Quilt that is given away each year by drawing on New Year’s Eve at Amish Acres has been completed by Elizabeth and Katie Borkholder and is on display in The Round Barn Theatre’s lobby. The quilters spent the spring, summer and into the fall stitching the king sized quilt, valued at $2,000, in the Gross Daddi House in Amish Acres historic area. Visitors to the farm have been registering to win the quilt all season long. The winner will be drawn from entries which will top 5,000.

Each year’s design is one of the farm’s most anticipated announcements. This is the eighth year that commemorative quilts have been made, all celebrating milestones at Amish Acres including anniversaries for The Round Barn Theatre and the Arts & Crafts Festival. Because there is no limit to the number of times one may enter, each visit to Amish Acres whether for a Theatre Performance, Threshers Dinner, Theme Dinner, House & Farm Tour, Arts & Crafts Festival or Special Event, increases one’s chances of winning. The quilt's pattern was designed by Amish Acres Founder Richard Pletcher and the top was created and sewn by Amber Burgess, The Round Barn Theatre's Artistic Director.

The Log Cabin pattern is in honor of the 1854 Smid Log Cabin which now serves as Amish Acres Soda Shop & Fudgery. The hand hewn log house was home to the only Mennonite congregation to migrate from the Netherlands to the United States. It was built by Reverend R.J. Smid (1814-1893) for his family and served as their church building until 1889 when the Salem Mennonite Church was built.

Sunshine Artist Top 200 Arts & Crafts Festivals

Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival has been named the 21st of 100 Best Classic and Contemporary Craft Shows in American by Sunshine Artist magazine. Each voting artist is given a ballot that allows them to list the top ten grossing shows they attended. The winners are chosen on the total sales of each event. The Nappanee festival has risen from number 56 last year and has never been out of the top 200 shows since the magazine began its rankings twenty five years ago. “Every show’s ranking is so weather dependent, particularly in August in Indiana” said the festivals originator Richard Pletcher, “The artists rank their shows based on their sales; our show has been ranked as high as number 3 in the country.” Pletcher continued, “The increase in ranking in a testament to Elkhart County and the area’s ongoing economic recovery and their enthusiasm and support for the vendors’ creativity and creations.”

Of the top 20 Classic and Contemporary shows only two others have been in existence longer than Amish Acres, which will be celebrating its 56th year in 2018. The Kutztown Folk Festival in Kutztown, Pennsylvania celebrated 69 years this summer and Allentown’s Art Festival in Buffalo New York has reached the 60 year mark. Only Amish Acres show has been run as a business enterprise and integrated into an attraction by a single family. Many of the ranked shows are organized by promoters who rent indoor venues, mostly around the holidays. Of the thirty three honored shows in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan only the Frankfort Illinois’ Chamber of Commerce’s Fall Festival that includes carnival rides ranks higher.

The 2018 festival, which will be celebrating its 56th anniversary, will be held August 2 – 5. Early vendor applications are now being accepted. Contact: Becky Cappert of Amish Acres, (574) 773-4188 ext. 213, or

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Nappanee Apple Festival Recognition Luncheon

Nappanee Apple Festival
Grand Marshalls
Recognition Luncheon

Amish Acres
Remarks by Richard Pletcher

There are so many former Grand Marshalls here we feel like the runts of the litter.

Susie and I played Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine which of us would speak. Susie won, so here I am.

Thank you for this honor and recognition and all of your vision and tireless work over the last forty two years. Susie and I have never known any other home than Nappanee. We come by our love for our home town naturally. Both of our fathers and mothers were lifelong boosters of Nappanee. Our mothers were involved in the family businesses and, we hope, successfully raised two kids each. We in turn are blessed to have both of our daughters, Angie and Jeff Stillson and Jenni and Andy Wysong chose to live and raise their families in Nappanee as well. Susie taught elementary and nursery school. She founded Nappanee’s Chapter of Tri Kappa Sorority that has celebrated 50 years of service to Nappanee. She has been a member and past president of not only Tri Kappa but Thursday Club and Current Club that have been of service to Nappanee for over a century.

Susie’s dad, Jack Templeton, was the face of Nappanee. When you stopped for gas at Templeton Shell on Market Street, more often than not it was Jack who filled your tank. He not only washed your windows, checked your oil and radiator fluid, he also found out who you were, where you were from, why you were here what were you going to do and, most importantly, how could he help you do what you were going to do. Although his life was cut short at the age of 59 as he, fittingly, was pumping gas, his influence is still with us through our family and his community. His Notre Dame diploma hangs in his great grandson Jack’s room.

Across Market Street my father, LaVern, returned to Pletcher Furniture from the Navy after WWII and found our business community and industry exhausted and demoralized from the war effort. So with 65 other merchants in 1947 they created the Nappanee Development Corporation and raised $11,500. With the money they set about pulling Nappanee up by the bootstraps. They built the first house for speculation following the war, they created Nappanee’s first industrial park, developed and financed off street parking surrounding the downtown. That corporation still exists and I remain president. We continue their tradition of giving back to the community. Together LaVern and we owned, built, replaced, moved or renovated over 60 buildings to help Nappanee have room to grow.

I remember a prominent city businessman and community leader telling me shortly after I returned from college that Nappanee had nothing special to attract anyone to visit. We were not on the ocean, had no lake or river or mountain or attractions. Having lived in Bloomington for four years I begged to differ. We had special people with a special background and singular heritage.

We started with nothing long after Elkhart County was fully settled by migrants; no one wanted to live in this swamp and forest. But in 1874 the B&O Railroad made a bee line to Chicago along the continental divide that is now U.S. 6. Fittingly, three farmers, one Amish, one Mennonite, and one German Baptist combined corners of their land and donated 5 acres to the railroad for a depot. From that point on Nappanee, likely named for Napanee, Ontario, took off as fast as building a town with tinker toys or Legos as hardscrabble optimistic opportunists flocked to the new town. Those around us looked on with envy as Nappanee soon outgrew Bremen, Locke, Foraker, Gravelton, Hepton, Syracuse, Garrett, Milford, Leesburg, Lakeville, LaPaz, Wakarusa, Bourbon, and Etna Green, in fact becoming the largest city in Northern Indiana that was not a county seat or a river town.

Our industry concentrated on woodworking with a work ethic, craftsmanship, entrepreneurship seldom seen in one place. We took and take for granted our current traits that were handed down to us. But special we are. In our lifetime we worked diligently to expand our public library, repurchase and restore the railroad depot, create the Nappanee Center, and envision what has become Coppes Commons.

Because I am left handed and was not a very good carpet layer with right handed tools, my frustrated father told me to go start an art show for sidewalk days. Now 55 years later we are still doing what he ordered me to do. He took me as a high schooler to Lancaster, Pennslyvania to see how Amish tourism was enriching the community and bringing new customers to town. We started Amish Acres as a hobby for those reasons and are still enticing visitors to come to Nappanee 50 years later. Millions of visitors have found their way to Nappanee and Amish Acres to be enlightened, educated and entertained, by three generations of hosts while being drawn in to our unique little corner of the world.

Today we have a new generation of entrepreneurs who are transforming the downtown, diversifying our industry, and doubling down on our unique traditions.

Doctors have thermometers to check our temperature, stethoscopes to listen to our heart, and machines to register our blood pressure, but our pulse is taken by holding another person’s hand and looking at a wrist watch while counting for fifteen seconds.

For 42 years this all encompassing Apple Festival has proven that Nappanee, without a checkup, is alive and well and in fact vibrant. Our pulse can be confusing to outsiders because some of us go slow, others of us go fast, but we all embrace the pace together. Now, because of this happy event and celebration, thousands of visitors come from many corners to embrace our pace as well. It is contagious and we like spreading it around.

One Jeff Potter, owner, Out Your Backdoor, discovered Nappanee to be the "Bike-Friendliest City in America” and blogged about us; "not for our path, not for anything special, but for the Amish community's integration of the bike in with daily life, "using the power of the wheel simply for transport." He said most eloquently of Nappanee, "I saw the leanest, sturdiest, tannest, most polite, clearest-eyed people I've seen in awhile. They seemed patently to be community members paying every inch of their way, from scratch-which does something to the steadiness of the gaze of anyone. These folks get respect from motorists because of who they are every minute of the day, not for the laws they pass, or city hall meetings they shout at, or courts they sue in." That makes us proud to be from Nappanee.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Roll the Dice and Roll with Life and Love in “Guys and Dolls”

Although I generally save the sermons for Sunday, let’s face it -- if a certain first century religious notable were to find himself transported to our times he would no doubt face criticism for seeking out -- and being seen with -- the denizens who partake in the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.

And if he can believe that there’s hope for Pharisees and other assorted sinners, we shouldn’t be surprised the larger than life guys and dolls that inhabit the world of Damon Runyon might end up on the sinner’s bench as well.

Traditionally the organizations that license performances of big time musicals don’t allow changes in the script, and so the Round Barn has labeled this summer’s production of “Guys and Dolls” PG-13, but since we see from the scriptures that it takes real life flesh and blood sinners to make full-bodied saints like the apostle Paul, we should expect against this backdrop of the Prohibition era Big Apple that Miss Sarah Brown of the “Save-A-Soul” Mission would set her eyes on some really big fish that might well turn into even bigger saints.

But “Guys and Dolls” is no simple morality play. With music and lyrics by the inimitable Frank Loesser this musical moves from one unforgettable standard to another, like “Fugue For Tinhorns,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “More I Cannot Wish You,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat,” and of course the title song, “Guys and Dolls.”

In the musical Sarah Brown is out to save souls through the “Save-A-Soul Mission,” while gamblers like Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson are hoping Luck will truly be the Lady she ought to be and change their fortunes.

Bringing the musical to life is Director David Craven, of Atlanta. Craven, who’s recently finished acting the role of Sam in a production of “Mama Mia,” emphasized that when it comes to “Guys and Dolls” it’s important to create living, breathing human beings out of the raw material of the caricatures taken from the original Damon Runyon story.

“I go always go back to analyzing the script. These characters are seemingly incompatible. I struggled at first to figure out what is the root of the play, and I came to the conclusion yesterday I think the root of this play is joy. All the characters are seeking joy in their lives and using whatever means to get them there.”

For each character joy comes from something different, Craven said. “For Sarah, she thinks being a member of the mission is going to bring her joy because she is saving souls. For Sky, gambling will bring him joy, Adelaide just wants to be married. Nathan thinks it can be found making money. But what they discover is that the thing that brings is joy is a relationship with someone else.”

For Craven it’s important that the characters are living in the same world. In this case that world is New York in 1932, right before prohibition ends.

“I’m loving this show,” he said. “I always love working for Dick (Pletcher). He's got such a good heart for theater. He loves designing sets. He has such a good heart for wanting to support artists because he is an artist.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kristen Brintnall IS Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

And she persisted….

Elle Woods failed to win the hand of the man she adored. She failed to measure up the standards of Harvard Law School. She failed to make a good impression the first day of classes. She failed to do the smart thing to insure future success as a lawyer. She believed she failed herself.

Still, she persisted!

“Legally Blonde,” playing at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, subtly suggests there are no “safe” prejudices, no populations you can get away with turning them into caricatures. Every individual ought to be judged not by the color of their skin -- or hair -- but by the quality of their character.

Kristen Brintnall navigates a tricky course through Elle’s own self-imposed preconceptions of what is important or even possible in life. Brintnall’s Elle may at first seem shallow but over the course of the show she draws out a character with far more depth that Elle gives herself credit for.

Ryan Schisler has a daunting task in this show as Warner Huntington III but he’s up to it. As the villain of the piece he avoids the easy path of caricature by embracing future career goals that preclude Elle. Schisler’s portrait is by turns likeable but never lovable.

It is an axiom of acting that you should never share the stage with animals, but Oxford, who plays the role of Bruiser, is charming and a team player. As to whether Oxford is a diva off-stage who can say? He is not alone, however, with regards to canine casting.

I like the look of this show, including Ashley Alverth’s costume design, and the clever way the Richard Pletcher’s set pieces act as transformers, becoming by turn a dorm room, a court room, and a beauty parlor. Most impressive is the brisk pace set by director Mike Fielder. This show never lags. It moves briskly from scene to scene and song to song, without losing sense. The efficient scene changes also contribute to the effect. That’s important, because this is a fun show.

It’s also a large cast production, which fills the Round Barn stage with cleverly choreographed numbers.

Character transformation is key to good theater. Vivenne Kensington believably grows the character of Lauren Morgan, the “serious” alternative for Warner’s upward climb, into a more self-aware proponent for Elle. Ian Connor’s driven Emmett Forrest, who has known want, is able to unlock his will to succeed to include the possibility of personal fulfillment and love.

I hadn’t heard this musical before I attended the Round Barn production, but I enjoyed the music and never felt puzzled about what each song was trying to accomplish as sometimes happens in a first viewing. Kudos to the cast for making each song from beginning to end come alive. My favorite numbers, I must admit, were “Ireland” and its reprise, wonderfully sung by Katherine Barnes in the marvelous pull-up-your-big-girl-panties role of Paulette Buonufonte.

Special shout out to Martin Flowers who plays God’s Gift To Women twice, portraying both sides of the coin as Dewey and Kyle, to great comic effect.

 “Legally Blonde” is a You Go Girl musical that demonstrates that life ought to be a meritocracy. You’ll cheer for Kirsten Brintnall as Elle Woods because despite her travails, she persists.

And she prevails.