I’ve been unable to update this blog for months. Here’s why: my sister’s cancer came back with a vengeance. She was gone in a flash.
Holly was my only sister, my big sister. She was born in Danville, KY on July 19, 1960. She grew up on the stage at Pioneer Playhouse, the theatre our dad, Eben Henson, started in 1950. She was always involved in one way or another at the Playhouse — acting, directing, managing. She became artistic director when Dad passed 8 years ago.
Holly died where she lived — in her home not a stone’s throw from the Playhouse stage. She died on May 27, 2012, just as the Playhouse company was assembling — the new actors arriving for the 63rd season. After she was gone, the company meeting went on without her; auditions for the first show continued. Rehearsals began. That’s the way Holly wanted it. The show must always go on.
It’s been a hard few weeks without her. Robby and my mom, Charlotte, are the ones who run the Playhouse now. I pitch in where I can. The family has vowed to keep Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre alive another year in Holly’s memory, and then we’ll see what happens. It’s hard to imagine ever closing it though. The Playhouse has been a part of my family’s very fabric, our heart and soul.
Every night I stand to greet patrons arriving for the show (one of my duties), and I’m constantly told how much I look like Holly, how much her personal greeting meant to them, how much the Playhouse continues to mean to them, how much they miss Holly, but are glad to see us going on as a family. It’s heart-breaking and gratifying all at once. It makes me feel sad. But it also makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.
Holly felt the same way. A few years ago, she started an “Artistic Director Diaries” as part of a podcast the Playhouse was doing at the time. Holly’s diary entries aren’t long, some of them just talk about the mundane day to day running of the theatre. But one passage jumped out at me when I read through it after she died:
Is it worth it? To keep this place going, under immense stress and strain?
Last night a mosquito kept me awake….I thought about my mother, who is 79, playing guitar and singing every night for the supper guests, as she has done for over 50 years. I thought about all the changes she has seen. All the sets, all the actors, the loss of a husband — as she stands in the back, enjoying the sound of the dialogue and the audience laughing.
All summer my trailer has filled up with flowers and photos and press releases and memories. There have been five opening nights. I’ll never see these same people, gathered in the same place ever again.
I’m so busy, I seldom have time to think about Dad. Except in an odd pause or two, and the realization that he’s not here still has a tinge of surprise — like he’s just taking a nap and will be back shortly and take all my worries away. Like he’ll invite me to sit beside him, as we greet the audience together.
I still don’t know whose dream is more important — mine or my dad’s. I still don’t know why the “show must go on.” There are only 20 outdoor theatres left in the entire US. If one more closes, does it matter?
If I wanted, I could walk away from all of this…into my own story. But how lonely would my summers be, without laughter and tears. At least when I’m stepping into Dad’s shoes, I can see the path.
I guess it’s my turn now, Holly, to follow in your footsteps. And I’ll do my best. But already the summer — and the path — seem lonely without you here.
Holly Lee Henson
July 19, 1960 – May 27, 2012