What does a professional actor do during the COVID-19 era of shutdowns and no acting work? If you are Bryan Farthing, of Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre, you build birdhouses, and cribbage boards.
Farthing was born and raised in Annapolis, MD, and received a degree in Theater with a minor in Philosophy from Alfred University in western New York.
“That’s where I started building things, like sets,” said Farthing. “My dad owned a construction company, so I was comfortable around wood and power tools.”
But following graduation in 2009, it was hard to find a paying job, as any theater major can tell you, so Farthing moved back home, and took work as a server and bartender in the Washington, D.C. area.
Then, a couple of years ago he auditioned at United Professional Theater Auditions in Memphis, TN, and got a job with Prairie Fire in Barrett, MN.
“I got some other offers but Prairie Fire had a good reputation, and I loved the small town location,” he said. “Alfred, NY is only a couple hundred people and I really liked that.”
He also liked the family business atmosphere of Prairie Fire, coming from a small family business himself.
Once he saw Barrett Lake, he knew he had made the right choice — Farthing loves fishing.
For the next couple of years, Farthing got to play roles like Captain Hook and the Sheriff of Nottingham, for productions in schools throughout the three state area. A year ago, Farthing married, and his wife Jordyn, who has a degree in arts administration, joined the troupe. All that ended in March with the pandemic shutdown. Now they both had to scramble for work.
Bryan resorted to his woodworking skills and started “Stump and Cross Boards,” making handcrafted pollinator-friendly birdhouses and cribbage boards. His “Bee Kind Birdhouses” for wrens feature a bee hotel. The base is a planter designed for woolly thyme or dwarf white clover and the roof planters are designed for lady lavender, both highly attractive to bees.
“Wrens don’t seem to bother bees and the solitary bees use the hotel to mate and lay eggs.”
Solitary bees do not produce honey, do not have a queen, and do not live in hives, but they are great pollinators and good to have around gardens and orchards.
Farthing’s birdhouses are incredibly detailed with individual plank siding and shingles. They mimic a farmhouse or barn, are weather-proof, and will last for years. Farthing can also make custom bird houses. For instance, send him a photo of your house and he will duplicate it for the birds and bees.
Ten percent of the profits from Stump and Cross Boards goes to the ACLU.
Meanwhile, until the acting picks up again, Bryan and Jordyn work part time at ‘Rumor Has It,’ and Jordyn offers voice lessons.
“But we both miss working with kids,” said Bryan. “I always get to play the villain. What could be better than that?”