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Tom Chaney: Theatre on Hard Times in Horse Cave

Of Writers And Their Books: Theatre on Hard Times in Horse Cave. Tom writes about Kentucky Repertory Theatre's struggles five years. Rich Burk who was there in 1977 comments. This column first appeared 8 February 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: The Flickering Twilight of Gods and Empire

By Tom Chaney

Theatre on Hard Times in Horse Cave

Kentucky Repertory Theatre is in serious financial difficulty. The trouble is not of the theatre's own making.

The current economic climate which forced the price of gasoline to outrageously high levels during last season cut sharply into box office revenue.

Some corporate and foundation contributors whose help the theatre could, in the past, rely upon have felt it necessary to rein in and refocus their giving.

Individual giving is down. Many folks have much less to give to the causes which we deem worthy.

One answer is for KRT to pull in its horns. That the theatre is doing. Painful but necessary staff reductions have been made. Every economy from the selection of smaller cast plays to double duty for staff members is in the works.

Of course, the staff are searching for every possible avenue for government and corporate funding.

But the big answer is us.

You and I have the opportunity to see fine theatre in rural, south-central Kentucky. Those of us of a certain age remember the time when a ticket to a professional theatre production was as scarce as a bottle of legal whiskey in Horse Cave.

A dream was born in the 1960's to change that.

In 1977 Horse Cave Theatre was born. The birthing room of the theatre was not a glitzy boardroom with corporate money flowing into the theatre's bank account. The record of its birth is on the wall of the theatre lobby. The record is a little bronze plaque with 112 names on it. Those are the names of the original folks who wanted a theatre in these parts.

A few of the names are of grade school children who pledged five or ten dollars. Some of those were Girl Scouts who gave their spare time to chipping plaster off the old dime store brick wall soon to absorb the words of Shaw, Williams, and Shakespeare. Citizens old and young scraped chewing gum off the seats.

Two of the names represented gifts of over $5,000. They were the biggest contributors. One of those died before the theatre opened its doors. Others gave more. Their gifts were more substantial and private. Their names are not so well publicized.

But on that list, in between the $5 and $5000, were more than a hundred others. Some were business men who knew the theatre would be good for business. Others were theatre fans tired of the long drive to Louisville for quality plays. Many were parents who were determined to provide a place where their children could explore the world and begin to know themselves.

Many of those Girl Scouts came back to see plays. Some of them worked backstage. Others attended classes. Some even acted. All were enriched for life.

The life of KRT has been a 33-year touch-and-go struggle.

The quality has remained high. That has brought national recognition. Actors tell me that when they tell their peers in such places as New York that they have worked in Horse Cave, eyes light up with recognition and respect.

But that is only a small part of the tale. Last year Kentucky Repertory Theatre enfolded some 15,500 students in their educational arms. Those students came from more than 30 counties around us -- a quarter of the state -- as well as from some counties in Tennessee. In an area where the arts have always taken a tenuous back seat in the public schools, KRT has filled that gap.

If we do not rally in this time of crisis to save the theatre we will be letting down those 15,500 students. I cannot live with that on my conscience. Can you?

Call the theatre at 270-xxx-xxxx. Ask what you may do. Yes, there is an 800 number, but why should you not pay for your own call?
Editorial Note by Robert Stone: The campaign to save the theatre was successful enough to continue its life a few more years but sadly many different factors combined to bring this miracle of a major theatre in a very small town to only being a memory.

Comments by Rich Burk who in 1977 at Horse Cave Theatre was the Master Electrician, Scene Shop Foreman, and also Equity Understudy for the roles played by Nick Daley. He is currently Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming. In 2011 he directed off Broadway for Emerald Green Productions, "THE MAGDALENE," which played the Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street.

...of course memories do haunt us time and again, otherwise, much of literature would go a-wanting. Horse Cave Theatre was founded on an idea, an artistic idea, but more importantly, an idea of hope. Hope that we can share a few hours together in the theatre now and again, becoming a community... a community called the 'audience.' Perhaps this community is the greatest miracle in the theatre. It often consists of a brash cross-section of society, populated by the bank president, the politician, the school-child, and yes, as Tom Chaney said prior to the opening of HCT in 1977, the farmer who "...only needs to kick the cow-sh*t off his boots before he comes into the theatre."

I hope that community is being reconstituted somewhere, but I am afraid I don't see it. Instead I see the eruption of megaplex cinemas with 18 screens, each viewed by a couple of dozen seats... I see children on benches texting children on adjoining benches... and I see bumper stickers like the popular one in Wyoming that states "Welcome to Wyoming, consider everyone armed."

Yes, it was a miracle. And it is missed. And the memories, far from haunting, are in fact reassuring in a nostalgic sort of way. I hope that the joy that Tom Chaney and Joe Graber shared in coming up with the audacious idea that led to HCT is still alive in all who shared the vision of Warren Hammack and all who followed in the maintaining of the dream... and I hope that a child who saw a show at some time has the temerity to think that she can do likewise -- create a place where a community can form for just a few hours, and share ideas, and share emotions, and share the space with one another.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-02-09 04:07:51
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