Day 126 • July 5, 2012 • Bardstown to Danville, KY • 51 miles
Today Zoe and I decided we wanted to catch a movie and wound up getting more theater than we bargained for. We veered off the TransAmerica route to pick up Danville, the only nearby town big enough to have a movie theater. Along the way we stopped in Springfield to wait out a storm that was blocking our path. While having lunch at a Subway, Stephen walked up and offered us routing advice, weather information, showers at his real estate office next door, even a car ride if we needed it. He’s an avid cyclist as well as, it turns out, an amateur actor, having played Daddy Warbucks in a local theater production of Annie. With the help of Stephen and his computer, we determined the storm was tracking south of us and headed out even as severe storm warnings were blaring over the radio. My theory that our route would keep us safely north of the extreme weather proved to be true.
Skirting the storm gave us the benefit of heavy cloud cover which kept the temperature down and made for a pleasant ride the rest of the way to Danville. The Adventure Cycling map listed camping at the Pioneer Playhouse. I was a little skeptical about our prospects here, the name evoked an image of a long-abandoned roadside attraction, but we checked it out. In fact it was a charming re-creation of a pioneer town with a good campground next to a professional dinner theater. I only wish we’d arrived soon enough to see tonight’s show, ‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’. As it was, we’d passed the movie theater on the other side of town and now it was getting dark so the prospects of even catching a movie were fading. Until we met the Henson family. Robby checked us in to the campground, $10 for the night, and then his sister Heather offered to drive us to the theater in time to catch the 9:00 showing of Brave!
On the ride to the movie with Heather and her young daughter, I began to piece together the scene we’d stumbled upon. The Hensons are a creative and industrious lot. Heather’s father had built the theater in the ‘50s and he and his wife Charlotte had turned it into a premier outdoor theater. We had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte, who is still involved in running the theater. Robby is a screenwriter and film director, currently directing for the Pioneer Playhouse. Heather is an author of children’s books, including ‘That Book Woman’. Both kids had returned to Danville to help their mom with the theater after their sister Holly, who was running the theater, became afflicted with breast cancer. She died a little more than a month prior to our arrival. This wasn’t the first time on the trip we’d seen the impact of breast cancer on people’s lives and it wouldn’t be the last.
Robby picked us up from the movie theater. Armed with a little background information from Heather, I blundered into an uncomfortable conversation. I regarded myself a bit of a movie buff and had to ask: “so, what movies have you directed?” “Have you heard of ‘Pharaoh’s Army’? It stars Kris Kristofferson.” ‘”Uh, no.” “’’The Badge’ with Billy Bob Thornton?” “Uh, no.” “I directed a documentary about a race riot called ‘Trouble Behind’.” “Uh, no.” This went on for a while. I no longer consider myself a movie buff but I do have some new items in my Netflix queue.
Robby must not have been too bothered by my ignorance because the next day he invited Zoe and I to view a reading of the play they were working on next, ‘Bottoms Up!’. The cast had only just seen the screenplay earlier in the week and were still performing the current play nightly. Summer theater is a pretty brutal scene, I don’t know how they keep their lines straight. It was fascinating watching a professional theater crew in rehearsal. Robby would casually mention something he observed or provide a slightly different perspective, and the next time through the scene had an entirely different feel. We watched the play improve before our eyes as this process repeated throughout the morning, and it was already pretty hilarious from the start. Based on this reading I’m sure the play was a huge success.
I want to thank the Henson family for their hospitality, even inviting us for lunch with cast and crew. Zoe and I had a blast hanging out with everyone. Between the Stephen Foster Story in Bardstown, Daddy Warbucks in Springfield, and the Henson family and crew at Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, we’d witnessed a surprisingly rich theater scene. Even on the back roads of Kentucky, art is everywhere.