Scattered throughout the Old West Side is a surprising collection of antique barns, relics from horse-and-buggy days. Some are clearly derelict; some are updated, spiffy-looking garages or studios. But the most unconventional is the hundred-year-old tumbledown barn at 541 Third St. that’s been reinvented as Ann Arbor’s most original summer theater.

A year ago, Forrest Hejkal opened the door to his friend Jane Pollock’s backyard barn and was gripped by inspiration. This decrepit, filthy, junk-stuffed, two-story barn could be the summer theater of his dreams. Pollock rather dubiously gave him permission to try to fix it up.

Forrest, then nineteen, and his dad, Steve Hejkal, a professional carpenter, spent weeks installing a new roof, reinforcing the foundation, smoothing out the floor, banishing insects and critters, and stringing up a modicum of electrification. Then Forrest stayed up nearly all night placing iron-on letters onto an eight-foot over-the-door sign, each letter perfectly spaced on a curve, christening Pollock’s barn “Carriage House Theatre.”

For his opening production, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Hejkal recruited actors he’d worked with in the Ann Arbor Young Actors Guild. He became the producer, stage manager, publicist, and director. The season continued with plays by Tennessee Williams and Shel Silverstein, as well as Lawrence and Lee’s Inherit the Wind.

Inside the barn, chairs for the audience are ranged around the periphery of the room. One evening during a seriously poignant scene of Uncle Vanya there entered, stage right, via the side door, a cat that made its way around the room rubbing the shins of each audience member–all of them stifling grins–and solemnly exited as she came.

Zoning doesn’t permit selling tickets, but there’s a suggested $10 donation to help defray the theater’s minimal expenses: a bit of printing, lighting, a few props, thrift-store costumes, renting a Porta-Potty. If anything is left over, it’s divided among the actors.

Hejkal finds actors by word of mouth, Facebook, and Last year they were all under twenty-one; this year, he says, he’s “branching out, auditioning some older and non-college actors.”

Carriage House’s second season starts June 1 with Brilliant Traces about a runaway bride who shows up at the door of an Alaskan hermit, followed June 21 by The Joy Experiments, a play about loss, love, transformation, and Saturniidae moths (see Events). It continues in July with Sam Shepard’s Buried Child and Office Hours, by 2010 Community High grad Griffin Johnson, then wraps up in August with J.M. Barrie’s Mary Rose.