It’s become a ritual to sign an “L” for the last night of the entire Playhouse season. Here I am in front of an audience of 500 (!!), introducing the final show, thanking our regular patrons, bidding adieu until next year….
Pioneer Playhouse was started by my dad in 1950, and my family has continued to run it since then. Hard to believe we’re 64 years old…. and still going, still talking about the future…future plays, future actors, future programs.
We do 5 plays a summer. One every two weeks. Plus a 3 day comedy show to end out the season. It’s a grueling schedule. Rehearsing one play during the day while performing another at night. Tearing down one set within a 36 hour period and putting up a completely new one.
About 15,000 people come through our doors over the summer. Many have been coming for years. We have patrons who first saw a play here 40 years ago. We have some who haven’t missed a show in 20 years.
The theatre was my dad’s dream. He wanted to be an actor, went to NYC, but had to return home to Kentucky, so he decided to bring “Broadway to the Bluegrass.” After he died, almost 10 years ago now, my mom and sister took up the reigns. Since I’d moved back to Kentucky to write, I’d help out when needed.
But when Holly died last year, I stepped in as Managing Director along with my brother Robby. Maybe we could’ve just let the dream die, but it seems impossible to even contemplate. So we work…we work really, really hard. We don’t just put on plays. We do an outreach program that teaches playwrighting to inmates at Northpoint prison here in Danville. We started a similar program to teach playwrighting to seniors this year. We were the force behind the hugely success first ever Danville Irish Festival, during which we mounted an original play set in Ireland, and organized Irish musicians, dancers, singers, and storytellers to come to Danville to give us a taste of Irish culture.
So much time! My husband jokes that I work over 100 hours a week in the summer! It’s certainly more than a “regular” job. It’s exhausting, overwhelming at times. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Night after night, I shake every hand that comes through the gates of the Playhouse. I give hugs to familiar patrons, just as Holly did. I ask them how they like the show after it’s over, and listen as they tell me “It’s the best we’ve seen yet!” Or sometimes they’re honest and say, “I liked the last one better.” But overall, they’re happy, happy to have escaped into another world for a couple of hours. And that makes me feel good, makes me feel it’s worth all the work that goes into keeping a 64 year old theatre alive.
“See you next year!” I call out to the crowd as they pass by, and for the last few nights there have been tears in my eyes. I’m running on fumes from the breakneck pace of the summer, am looking forward to staying home at night with my family, not having to deal with the million little things that pop up during the day. But when it comes down to it, I’m sad to say goodbye to everyone — actors and patrons alike — I’ve come to know all summer. This is the way my dad felt, I’m sure of it, and my sister too. It’s one of the reasons we Hensons can’t really ever think about saying “goodbye,” but always… “see you next year!”
My dad used to quote Shakespeare at the end of the season, as the actors drove away, waving good bye from their car windows. He’d say:
“Our revels now are ended,
These actors as I foretold you,
Were all spirits
And are melted
Into thin air, into thin air.”
In my book about a tween growing up at a theatre a lot like the Playhouse (Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is), I have Junebug, the main character quoting the words because her dad can’t just then. But it’s ritual for her, a tradition, and so it must be done. The show must go on.