It's no secret that her faithful followers love and adore her.
And she loves 'em right back, as one of her own ... "so prolific, so LOYAL," she beams on a recent September day.
They're part of an extended -- no, make that extensive -- clan comprised of Simon's immediate Conklin Players troupe and the legions of satisfied customers who've trekked to the barn a minute's drive out of
That is: a Conklin dinner-and-a-show.
But a year ago this month,
On the brink of the
The former cattle auction barn went dark, the laughter stopped and for Simon the tears flowed.
"That old round-top barn and our audience had been my passion for 40 years. I became completely housebound," she confesses of her sudden disappearance from the landscape.
"I was afraid to go out in public. So I didn't."
She says her years of being in front of the public hereabouts had made her recognizable most everywhere she went.
The prospect of being reminded daily of her sudden lifestyle change was more than she could bear, largely out of concern for her extended family of employees, including 10 full-timers and 35 part-timers.
She found herself trapped in the one role that she'd never played before: that of a willing recluse, cut off from everything that had sustained her for her entire professional life.
"The barn had provided some of my kids (as she calls her actors) a home for more than 20 years, and it felt like suddenly they'd been thrown out on the street ... they were the ones suffering the most," she says, seated next to one of them,
"To go from four shows a week, 50 weeks a year to ... nothing ... well, it was a tremendous lifestyle change," she says. "I felt like my heart had been cut out, except that I didn't die."
After the shock came the recovery, slowly but surely, through the autumn months, past the aborted 40th anniversary party that had been planned for October (the barn debuted on
A prior commitment for Simon to teach a class at
Challacombe, who became a
In her decade with the Players, Bieschke says '"it just became the best thing ever, and it never felt like I was going to work ... we've gone beyond being friends; we're family."
With that kind of family support behind her, Simon rebounded.
All told, "it took four or five months before I felt comfortable in public again," she says.
Then came salvation in the form
A deal was worked out for the Conklin Players to stage short runs, keeping Simon's family employed and revenue coming in to keep the Barn intact until the insurance situation could be worked out.
So the troupe's annual holiday revue went on, outside its comfort zone, perhaps, but playing to an audience delighted to see Mary and the gang back up on a stage, even without the signature barnyard ambience.
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Four more shows followed, including next weekend's revival of Simon's "all-time favorite" Conklin show, "Forever Plaid," with its original cast from 19 years ago: Gaik,
And a full 2017 slate is in place, too: "I Do, I Do,"
But perhaps the biggest drama of Simon's professional life looms, away from the Five Points stage and back at the Barn: erected in 1941, and still standing, but severely disabled (rubbing salt in the wound: a burst water pipe that flooded part of the structure in January).
"We have a wonderful rebuttal report from an accredited forensic engineer for the proposed suit that is being sent to the insurance company," Simon says.
In effect, she continues, the engineer's report refutes the insurance company's report that it was a loss.
"We've waited almost a year to get all our ducks in a row ... and now we're ready to talk settlement," she adds. "Then we can work on the fund-raising to rebuild the barn."
If that goal is reached, Simon will find herself back almost in the place she was when she arrived at the Barn 41 autumns ago with her late mentor, life partner and troupe namesake,
"There was manure all the way up to the hayloft ... three peacocks ... and a cow," she laughs.
In 2016, the manure, the peacocks and the cow are gone, replaced by support jacks holding up walls, the aftermath of a burst water pipe, the resulting mold, a caved-in buffet station ceiling and the sets and flats from a thousand nights of laughs and good times.
The latter are in storage, but ready and able to let
"Our audience loves that Barn," Mary adds, the sparkle back at full-strength, lighting up the room. "And I love that Barn."
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