Innovative Theater in Horse Cave
Kentucky Repertory Theatre, a small theater showcasing big-city productions, performs the classics and develops new plays while inspiring young actors in their extensive educational programs
Kentucky Repertory Theatre has been bringing classic plays to life in this tiny corner of south-central Kentucky in Horse Cave for more than 30 years. As one of a very few Equity theaters in the nation (professional theaters that run in rotating repertory), everything from Shakespeare to Shaw has been set in motion on the KRT stage.
This intimate 346-seat theater, originally called Horse Cave Theatre, was founded in 1976 by Warren Hammack with the hope of stimulating tourism in the area. But Hammack also wanted to stage productions that spoke to local people, so he took an informal poll of residents to find out what productions they wanted to see. It turned out they weren’t so interested in light-hearted musicals and comedies. They wanted to see the classics that perhaps they had studied in high school, but had never seen performed. They told Hammack to bring on Becket. They wanted to check out Chekhov.
In his 25 years as artistic director, Hammack never shied away from attempting to scale the heights of these and other legendary playwrights’ masterpieces. Although Hammack’s little theater was about as far off Broadway as one could get, he built a reputation for performances comparable to the caliber of theater found on a New York stage.
During Kentucky Repertory Theatre’s season, which runs from August to December, the theater draws an audience not only from the Horse Cave community, but surrounding counties. Even theater-goers who live in larger metropolitan areas, like Louisville, where quality theater is plentiful, regularly attend KRT performances.
After Hammack’s retirement in 2002, Robert Brock took over as artistic director, and he says he’s moved by the community support the theater receives.
“It just blows me away sometimes,” Brock says. “I’ll be at a gas station getting a fill-up and the attendant will say, ‘So what Shakespeare play are ya’ll doin’ this year?’”
Highlights of the 2007 Season
Brock is gearing up for the 2007 season, and says he can hardly wait to start rehearsing George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the satiric comedy that shows the playwright at his sardonically witty best, and the source of the musical My Fair Lady.
“I love Shaw,” Brock says. “Shaw was a feminist, and that really comes through in this play. Higgins thinks he can change Eliza, but it turns out she is her own person no matter what stratum of society she moves in.”
Is he concerned about lack of box office appeal in Horse Cave for this prize-winning classic? As Eliza Doolittle would say, “Not bloody likely.”
Brock is also taking on And Then They Came for Me, an intense, thought-provoking drama by James Still that the theater chose as a tool to educate children about the Holocaust. The play is a multi-media theater experience that alternates between taped interviews of two real Holocaust survivors—Eva Schloss and Ed Silverberg—and live actors onstage.
“It’s so much more powerful than The Diary of Anne Frank, which is what theaters normally do,” Brock says. “The Diary of Anne Frank ends with them getting caught, while this play continues on through the Holocaust and the liberation.”
Young Performers Productions
Kentucky Repertory Theatre only has a five-month season, concluding with a Christmas play in December, but that doesn’t mean the house is dark the rest of the year. An extensive educational outreach program that has touched the lives of approximately 12,000 Kentucky school children in 18 counties keeps things lively at the theater year-round. Brock served as the theater’s education director for several years, so it is no surprise that, as artistic director, he has taken those education programs to the next level.
Brock’s pet project is KRT’s Young Performers Productions, a program that gives middle and high school students the opportunity to perform classic plays they would ordinarily be considered too young for. Unlike KRT’s other educational programs, which expose kids to a small slice of theater, Young Performers Productions takes them through the entire theatrical process: they see a play develop from that awkward first read-through to an amazing fully staged production. The program is so popular that some teens travel up to 100 miles each way to get to rehearsals.
In rehearsal for Hamlet, Brent Morrison, an 18-year-old graduate of Glasgow High School and an old pro with the group, has the title role. He’s ranting at poor Ophelia, who looks terrified. When he comes to the line, “Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad,” Brock intervenes to give a little lesson on Shakespearean language. He says that Morrison shouldn’t play the part in such an angry way because Hamlet is not “mad” in the modern-day sense. He explains that in Elizabethan times the word meant insane.
“It’s totally different than working with professional actors who know Shakespeare,” Brock says. “We have to get past the language barrier and make sure the actors understand what they are saying.” But for Brock, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of working with these eager young kids, many of whom have no drama department in their high school due to lack of funding.
“I love their enthusiasm,” Brock says. “It’s not that they want to be stars; they want to learn.” Morrison wanted to learn so badly that when his high school football coach gave him an ultimatum, quit acting or quit football, he turned in his jersey.
Brock runs the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia again, and it is obvious Morrison has taken the correction to heart.
“It’s like the light bulb went on,” Brock says of Morrison’s new approach to Hamlet. “I almost get chills down my spine with that kind of dramatic moment when young actors make a discovery about their character and about themselves.”
Morrison plans to pursue acting as a career, and in the fall he will head to Point Park University, a small liberal arts school in Pittsburgh, on a theater scholarship. He says it never would have been possible without the opportunity Kentucky Repertory Theatre has given him to hone his craft.
“My experiences with KRT have been the greatest blessing, especially since my high school doesn’t have a drama class or a drama club,” Morrison says. “I owe everything to KRT and Robert Brock, who has taught me so much about life and what it means to be an actor.”
Maybe someday Morrison will join the ranks of award-winning Broadway producer Marc Routh and actor Andy Stahl, who got their start treading the boards at KRT years ago. But for now, he’s still trying to figure out what Hamlet means when he says he knows a hawk from a handsaw.
Brock feels he has the best of both worlds at Kentucky Repertory Theatre—working with professional actors during the regular season and the up-and-coming actors of tomorrow with Young Performers Productions.
Hammack’s vision of a first-rate Kentucky theater that performs the classics has been interwoven with Brock’s larger goal of educating the community about the classics. The result is a town that has pride in their small but thriving theater, and a deeper appreciation for great dramatic literature.
KENTUCKY REPERTORY THEATRE’S 2007 SEASON
Mark Twain—July 5-July 29
Dearly Departed—August 24-November 3
And Then They Came For Me—August 31-October 28
Pygmalion—September 21-November 4
The Hollow—October 19-November 11
A Christmas Carol—November 16-December 23
A Tuna Christmas—November 23-December 20
Kentucky Theatre for Youth
Jack and the Wonder Beans—July 3, 5-7
Cindersmella—July 25-28; August 1-4
For tickets call (800) 342-2177 or e-mail email@example.com
Kentucky Repertory Theatre is located at 107 East Main Street in Horse Cave.
Visit the KRT Web site at www.kentuckyrep.org.