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Playhouse History

View a slide show of Playhouse history by clicking here.

Founded in 1950 by Col. Eben C. Henson, Pioneer Playhouse is the oldest outdoor theatre in Kentucky and has been called the “Granddaddy” of Kentucky Outdoor Dramas. The Playhouse was also instrumental in pioneering the outdoor theatre movement in the state.

In the fifties and sixties it received national attention as the “King of Summer Stocks” in New York trade magazines and in 1962 was the first theatre in the nation to be accorded the legal status of State Theatre (by act of Legislation).

Col. Henson built the theatre by acquiring many of the construction materials in unorthodox ways. He once bartered a fifth of whiskey for hand-hewn two hundred-year-old rafter beams and hired prisoners from the local county jail to help him lay the first foundations.

Those looking closely at the structural design will find it includes everything, from World War Two army barracks to movie sets from the Golden Era of cinema!

For most of the fifty years that Col. Henson and his wife Charlotte have dedicated to running the theatre, it has also been a School of Drama and was the first Governor’s School of the Arts in the state.

aerial view of pioneer playhouse

More than 3,000 aspiring actors have strode across the stage since Henson turned an empty field into a theatre complex. Today the unconventional, hand-built theatre serves a pre-show dinner out of doors and a live performance Tuesday through Saturday, every summer, come rain or shine. (Indoors in case of rain.)

Visitors can stroll through a quaint replica of early Danville on a self-guided tour and enjoy a fine Off-Broadway or Broadway hit play in a rustic setting … beneath a spangle of stars!

A documentary about Pioneer Playhouse aired on Kentucky Educational Television and appeared nationwide on PBS stations in 2003, bringing floods of emails from theater buffs and former actors.