Stage & Dance

Pioneer Playhouse: boosting acting careers for 67 years

Pioneer Playhouse's crazy-busy summer

Each summer, Danville's Pioneer Playhouse brings in a crew of actors to put on five plays in 12 weeks.
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Each summer, Danville's Pioneer Playhouse brings in a crew of actors to put on five plays in 12 weeks.

In the attic of a rustic barn — among stage props and furniture — is the rehearsal stage for Pioneer Playhouse. Stage manager Danielle Walsh sets the stage for the night’s rehearsals as she directs cast and crew members moving doors, chairs, and other props littering the stage. The hustle and bustle of the cast makes for a hectic set, but it’s all designed so that comic chaos will flow smoothly..

Overseeing all the activity is a life-size cardboard cutout of Playhouse co-founder Eben C. Henson, standing toward the back of the stage as the theater prepares for its 67th season.

All the chaos is to stage One Man, Two Guvnors, which follows Francis Henshall, a servant of two “gangster bosses” who don’t know each other. Francis struggles with his tasks while trying to keep his appetite in check and his bosses pleased. As the drama unfolds, secrets will be discovered.

The play, modified by Richard Bean from the Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters, is set in Brighton, England, during the “swinging ’60s.”

Actors John Travolta and Lee Majors played on the outdoor theater stage in Danville before they went on to fame. This year, Pioneer Playhouse has a few new performers, many hoping to someday go on to similarly successful careers.

Getting to this stage already signifies success.

Pioneer Playhouse artistic director Robby Henson and actor Eben French Mastin went to the Institute of Outdoor Theater Auditions earlier this year to choose the actors, who had just a few minutes to perform for a room full of directors. If Playhouse directors called an actor back, they were usually given a script from a play at Pioneer Playhouse, and some sort of direction. That determined whether they would be chosen.

Joshua Randal Price, portraying Francis Henshall in One Man, Two Guvnors, is one of this season’s newcomers. Price, who has lived in all 50 states, is a University of Kentucky theater major and says Kentucky “feels the most like home.”

Price says he is thrilled to play Henshall, who was played on Broadway in a Tony Award-winning performance by James Corden, now host of The Late Late Show on CBS. Price called Corden “one of my favorite actors and performers.”

Performing at Pioneer Playhouse is a tall order, as the theater presents five plays in 10 weeks, usually involving rehearsal of the next play during the day while performing the current show at night.

It seems challenging, but Price and other actors take it in strides.

Liam McDermott, an actor and fight choreographer for the show, is back for his second year. He said he came back for the varied experiences.

“You get the opportunity to do up to five shows. You are playing completely vastly different characters, doing vastly different types of work,” McDermott says, while referring to why he came back. “You kind of don’t realize how much work you are getting done.”

He’ll start off depicting Stanley Stubbers in One Man, Two Guvnors. McDermott said he’s excited about the variety of shows this year.

“I am really intrigued by the idea of being able to not just do one show all summer, but the opportunity to do mutliple shows,” McDermott says.

Mastin, in his 23rd year at Pioneer Playhouse, is relishing his role as Charlie Clench in One Man, Two Guvnors.

He said he enjoys performing in an outdoor theater, but there are some challenges, including rain and bugs. But he prefers to focus on his interactive scenes with the audience, the “freedom to talk to the audience.” He said he likes to pick on people in the crowd.

Just about everyone who works at Pioneer Playhouse refers to Mastin as the audience favorite, but he doesn’t let it get to his head.

“I hope I can make it a few more years,” he says.

Pioneer Playhouse is all about catering to the audience.

Stage manager Walsh, wears many hats. She is responsible for conducting rehearsals and and managing the stage, actors, props, and all of the technical aspects associated with putting on a great show.

Walsh understands what it takes to please the audience — especially with One Man, Two Guvnors.

“It is a very humorous show. We are just trying to find all the bits and jokes that will make the audience enjoy themselves as much as possible.”

If you go

Pioneer Playhouse

When: June 10-Aug. 20


June 10-25: One Man, Two Guvnors

June 28-July 9: Mom’s Gift

July 12-23: Good Blues Tonight

July 26-Aug. 6: The Tell-Tale Farce

Aug. 9-20: The Murder Room

Aug. 26, 27: Comedy show with Etta May

Where: 840 Standford Rd., Danville

Tickets: $32 for dinner and show; $18 for show only. Ages 12 and younger: $17 for dinner and show; $10 for show only

Call: 859-236-2747


Note: Shows are rain or shine. An indoor theater will be used in inclement weather.