Kentucky has lost a guiding spirit in its theater community with the passing of Holly Henson, the Executive Artistic Director of Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky. She passed away Sunday evening at her home adjacent to the theater, after a courageous battle with breast cancer.
Holly Henson started her career in show business by performing fairy tale songs and dances on a rickety plywood stage that she and her brothers had built beside the family garage. Performing was second nature to Holly as her father was Colonel Eben Henson, the founder of Pioneer Playhouse, a renowned summerstock theater. Before Holly was a teenager she had graduated to performing alongside seasoned New York professionals on her father’s stage.
Holly continued her theater education at Stephens College in Missouri and the Drama Studio of London. She lived in Los Angeles for a number of years, where she appeared in several films. She truly hit her stride when she signed up for a comedy class advertised in the LA Weekly. That class led to a comedy career that took Holly into comedy clubs across America and Canada performing stand-up.
In fact it was Holly’s comedy career that lead to a marriage proposal. When she showed up two hours late for a meeting with comedy talent agent Tom Hansen, he declined to meet with her. But some time later Tom caught Holly’s act and fell in love, and they performed together in a loving marriage of 20 years.
When Holly’s father, known locally as The Colonel, passed away in 2005, Holly returned to Kentucky and took over the vigorous leadership of Pioneer Playhouse with her often stated motto of “changing the world one outdoor theater at a time.”
She authored the historical play The Infamous Ephraim, about a legendary Kentucky doctor, that was the hit of the 2009 season. Under her visionary and demanding leadership, Pioneer Playhouse increased audience attendance and initiated several challenging outreach programs, including a student-in-the-arts program and an innovative prison program that brought an arts experience to the incarcerated.
Holly is survived by her husband Tom Hansen; her Mother Charlotte Henson; her brother Eben Henson, a graphic artist; her brother’s Robby Henson, a film director;.and her sister Heather Henson Ungs,a book author.
Memorial gifts may be sent to Pioneer Playhouse, 840 Stanford Rd, Danville, Kentucky, 40422.