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Foster’s 61st season opens Saturday on new stage

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By Kacie Goode

Johnny Warren took notes as the cast rehearsed scenes Tuesday night, entering the final week of preparation for the upcoming season of “The Stephen Foster Story,” which kicks off this weekend.

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“It’s all coming together,” Warren said, but it wasn’t just the work of the cast to which he was referring.

Last fall, the drama’s managing artistic director watched as the stage of the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre and its side structures were demolished, allowing for reconstruction to address structural issues. While the demolition was a bittersweet moment in the effort to preserve what has been the drama’s home for its entire run, Stephen Foster’s 61st season returns Saturday on a new stage officials hope will complement its legacy.

“It’s such a joy to have a facility that is finally at the same level of quality as our talented cast, staff, and technicians,” Warren said, noting the amount of work and dedication it took from several parties to complete the rebuild in time.

It wasn’t long ago the future of the drama and the amphitheater was uncertain. In December 2017, the state forced the theater to close because of safety concerns. After some repairs were made and the facility was leased to the county, the drama was permitted to perform its 60th season on the old stage. In September, however, the stage came down.

Since then, crews have worked hard to reconstruct the stage, which closely resembles the old structure with a few upgrades.

In a guided tour with PLG TV-13, the drama’s marketing director, Billy Bass, highlighted the theater’s new sound system as a vast improvement over the old one.

“The sound system was one of those issues where we were just dealing with equipment that was 20, 30 years old,” Bass said, which could take away from the performance quality. With the new system, which includes upgraded microphones, monitors, a sound board, speakers and other items, Bass is confident audience members will have a more consistent and better experience.

Aside from audio improvements, the stage has received some visual upgrades as well. Both the prop houses on either side of the stage have been rebuilt, and in doing so have been fitted more to the 1800s period of the drama, Bass said.

Backstage, upgrades include a much safer and more open area for cast and crew to move about and prepare for scene changes.

Bass said safety was the priority of the reconstruction project, but officials also wanted to ensure the facility would last while keeping the scenery consistent with prior shows.

“There is the nostalgia of ‘The Stephen Foster Story,’” he said. “So what we put back up we wanted to make sure it looked familiar but would last another 100 years or so.”

Warren commended the community for its ongoing support of the drama and helping to fund the reconstruction. He said the stage and sound system are fully funded and complete at this time, but drama officials still look to update the lighting system, scene shop, sets and dressing rooms, as well as anticipate maintenance to keep the facility up and running.

“We do have a continued need for support and hope to address those remaining projects over the next few years,” Warren said. “For now, we are so grateful for the support that brought us to this exciting time of re-opening in such an awesome facility.”

Want to see the show?

The 61st season of “The Stephen Foster Story” officially opens Saturday evening at 8. Tickets can be purchased online at stephenfoster.com or by calling (800) 626-1563. Tickets range from $12-$14 for children and $21-$26 for adults. Check the website for additional pricing and show information.

There will be a pre-show celebration at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, featuring music, cast meet-and-greets and food for purchase.

Prior to the official kickoff, the Stephen Foster Drama Association and LG&E and KU Foundation will host a Lights Up! event Friday evening at the amphitheater. This event is reserved for audience members with special needs and offered at no cost. Lights Up! will begin with pre-show activities at 6:30 p.m. Friday followed by a performance at 8 p.m.

The entrance to the amphitheater is located at the intersection of East Stephen Foster Avenue and Bloomfield Road.