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Executive Staff

“Eben’s contributions to theatre in Kentucky are extraordinary, not only with his own productions, but with his work bringing greater recognition to theatre and drama across the state. In the world of outdoor drama, he is legendary.”
— Ann Latta,  former Secretary of Tourism and Development

For over five decades, the husband-and-wife team of Eben and Charlotte Henson have devoted themselves to keeping Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre afloat as a labor of love for actors and the community.

Now, with the passing of Eben Henson, Charlotte, Robby and Heather Henson are keeping up the high standards set by the man everyone knew “the Colonel.”

Charlotte Henson, Producer

When a young Charlotte Hutchison agreed to marry Eben Henson in 1952, she was also agreeing to marry the Pioneer Playhouse.  For over five decades, Charlotte has been the backbone of Kentucky’s Oldest Outdoor Theater.  From choosing plays, to cooking meals, to painting sets, to making the grounds beautiful, to making tough decisions about how to keep a 64-year-old landmark theater going in today’s tough economy, Charlotte does it all.  She even plays guitar and sings folk songs with a voice the legendary folksinger, John Jacob Niles, described as “one of the purest voices in Kentucky.”



Robby Henson, Artistic Director

Robby Henson received his M.F.A. from New York University’s graduate film school, his thesis film won the Student Academy Award.  His films have been seen on PBS, the BBC, at Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris and at film festivals in Canada, Ireland, France, Yugoslavia,  Australia and Poland.  He has directed over 30 theater productions and has made 5 award winning documentaries shown on PBS including SPALDING GRAY: A LIFE IN PROGRESS and TROUBLE BEHIND a film about a Southern race riot that was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.  Robby’s dramatic first feature PHARAOH’S ARMY with Academy Award winner Chris Cooper, Academy Nominee Patricia Clarkson and music legend Kris Kristofferson was released theatrically by Lions Gate Filmsand was shown on PBS.  He collaborated with Academy Award winner Norman Jewison on a screenplay for Sony Pictures and Michael Medavoy.  In 2002 he wrote and directed THE BADGE, a southern crime drama starring Billy Bob ThorntonPatricia ArquetteThomas Hayden Church and Sela Ward for Starz Pictures and Lions Gate Films that was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award (Gay and Lesbian Alliance) and won Best Drama at the Breckinridge Film Festival and Best Feature Film at the Texas Film Festival.  In 2005 he directed THE VISITATION, a supernatural thriller released by 20th Century Fox that starred Edward FurlongKelly LynchMartin Donovan and Randy Travis.   His 5th dramatic feature film HOUSE was filmed in Poland and was released in 2008 by Lions Gate Films.  He recently contributed footage to Steven Soderbergh’s documentary AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE and most recently was commissioned to write and direct a science fiction web movie ASPARAGUS for the Independent Television Service and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival and on the innovative PBS web portal FutureStates.

This fall Henson taught media production at Transylvania University and screenwriting at The University of Kentucky.   In addition, he is currently Program Director for VOICES INSIDE, an innovative arts-behind-bars prison program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Nathan Cummings Foundation.

 

Heather Henson,  Managing Director

Heather Henson grew up at Pioneer Playhouse, performing on stage from the time she could walk, and working behind the scenes at the theater her father, Eben C. Henson, founded in 1950. Although she dreamed as a girl of starring on Broadway one day, she gradually became more interested in fiction writing. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and Film Studies from The New School University in New York City, and an MA in Creative Writing and Literature from City College/City University of New York. For many years, she was an Editor of books for young readers at HarperCollins Publishers in New York. She is the author of many award-winning picture books, including That Book Woman, as well as novels for teens and middle grade readers. Her novel, Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is was a Bank Street Best Book of 2010 and was inspired by growing up at the Playhouse.

 

Holly Henson, Executive Artistic Director 1960-2012
Holly Henson began performing at an early age at Pioneer Playhouse, the theater her father, Eben C. Henson, founded in 1950.  She went on to study drama at Stephens College in Columbia, MO, and at the Drama Studio of London, and later lived in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, pursuing a career in film and stand-up comedy. Each year, Holly returned to Danville and the Pioneer Playhouse, during the summer months to help run Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater, eventually taking the helm after the passing of her father, “the Colonel,” in 2004.  Under Holly’s dynamic direction, attendance at the historic theater grew steadily to nearly 10,000 patrons per summer.  Holly’s many accomplishments included forming stronger bonds with the Danville community by initiating an annual local history play and by extending arts outreach to include more programs for young people, as well as the groundbreaking prison writing program, VOICES INSIDE.  Holly was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, but never let the disease define her.  She continued to run the theater and to travel extensively to stand-up clubs throughout the Midwest in between chemo treatments.  She had recently returned to Danville to live full time with her husband, Tom Hansen.  On May 27, 2013, just two weeks before the start of the 63rdseason, Holly Henson died where she had lived:  at her home, not a stone’s throw from the legendary stage she had worked so hard to preserve.


Col. Eben C. Henson, 1923 – 2004

The founder of Pioneer Playhouse served as location representative for six major movie companies and was author of the book How to Play the Voice as an Instrument. This former mayor of Danville has been a leading force in bringing film productions to the Bluegrass area and served in that capacity under six governors. For his work in helping establish the outdoor drama movement in the state, he received the Governor’s ‘Pioneering Award.’ Along with Rosemary Clooney and Loretta Lynn, he was one of six recipients to receive a Sidewalk Star in downtown Lexington.

As president and founding member of the Kentucky Arts Commission, he once visited the White House to consult on the formation of the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition to establishing the first State Theatre in the nation, he was also instrumental in helping form Kentucky’s first Film Commission — bringing an additional 14 movies to the region.