DIS Alumni Spotlight: Robby Henson of Pioneer Playhouse

Published 10:40 am Tuesday, June 27, 2023


Robby Henson, artistic director of the iconic Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, talked about his experience as a 1976 graduate of Danville Independent Schools, and about his background.

Pioneer Playhouse has begun its 2023 season, and Henson wrote the play now showing through July 1, “Blood Suede Shoes: A Sergeant Elvis Presley Murder Mystery.” View Pioneer Playhouse’s full schedule: Pioneer Playhouse schedule 2023

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Henson’s father founded Pioneer Playhouse about 74 years ago, and Henson has written three or four plays that have been shown there. Most notable were “The Wonder Team,” about Centre College’s football team, and “Good Blues Tonight” about Danville’s African-American business district. “Good Blues Tonight” was picked up by the Lyric Theatre in Lexington as well.

As a screenwriter, he’s written between 35-50 screenplays. He lived in New York for 16 years, where he went to film school at New York University, and he started his film career in Los Angeles, where he also lived for 16 years.

He started directing shows at Pioneer Playhouse when he was 23.

“Usually, even when I would go off and make a movie, I would come back and direct a play every summer for a number of years,” he said. “So I’ve always stayed connected to the Playhouse.”

He became artistic director there after his sister Holly, who was the previous artistic director, passed away about eight years ago.

About returning back to the Playhouse, he said, “I’ve always been dedicated to this family business. My father started it 74 years ago. My mother started working here 70 years ago. I was very much dedicated to the family business.”

Henson has his first novel coming out in August called “Loud Water,” published by Down and Out Books.

In addition to being a screenwriter, playwright and soon a novelist, Henson also works at the University of Kentucky as a part-time instructor and started the Voices Inside outreach program.

Read on about Henson’s Danville Schools experience.


Tell us about your Danville Schools journey. What school(s) did you attend, and what’s a highlight that stands out to you?

I remember being in a production of “Bus Stop.” I remember some terrific teachers. I went to Jennie Rogers. I was at Bate, and then Danville High School. I vaguely remember Danville High School being built. I must have been 5 or 6, and I remember them building Danville High School. As far as other schools, I went to the University of Kentucky, then I transferred to Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, then I went straight to NYU graduate school of film.


What aspects of your Danville Schools education helped mold you into the person you are today?

One of my most influential teachers was the science teacher Mr. Hoffman. He was so good at teaching science and physics that at UK, I was taking pre-med science courses and sort of doing OK. He was so good of a teacher he sort of pulled me into that, even though after I left UK, I never took another science course in my life. But Mr. Hoffman was so good at science, so it taught me that some teachers have a real passion for what they did. As far as the arts, I was a little bit more of a rebel outsider at Danville High School, but I did get into the theater program. I loved taking art classes. As a screenwriter, playwright and novelist, I use my typing skills from Mrs. Moss’s type class every day of my life.


When you think back on your Danville Schools experience, are there specific instances or relationships that stand out to you as having had a significant impact on your success since graduating?

I think my teachers almost always were incredibly encouraging and nourishing, and in all three of those Danville Schools, I have great memories of my teachers.


As a product of Danville Schools, what advice would you give to a parent who was choosing an education path for their child?

I’m a huge believer in public education, and I really feel that if you are a resident of Danville, it’s a great thing for your kids to go through the Danville Schools. I benefited from that, and I think a student would. Public education and the Danville city schools being the best they can be helps the whole community.


As a product of Danville Schools, what drives you to give back to your local school and/or district?

It’s about paving the way for the next generation. We’re only here for so long on this planet, and I strongly believe that we ought to do what we can to make the next generation have as many opportunities as they can. I’m just so proud to come from a wonderful town and be a product of a wonderful school system. Even though I’ve worked in New York and Los Angeles, I’m really proud to be from an amazing hometown and school system.