The Power of Art, Community, and Why We Tell Our Own Story.

milligan 7_13**Note from KOHC staff: Project support for oral history documentation in the state of Kentucky is still at the heart of what the Kentucky Oral History Commission does, even after 37 years. Bluegrass Theatre Guild members share about their recently completed oral history project. The interviews will become a part (check back in the coming weeks!) of the Kentucky Historical Society oral history collections and these records (along with the records of 650 other OH collections in the state) through a new discovery tool Pass the Word **


Bluegrass Theatre Guild: 30 Years of Community Involvement

Celebrating its 30 year anniversary in 2012, the Bluegrass Theatre Guild (BTG) realized the importance of its history to the Frankfort community and applied for and received a Kentucky Oral History Commission Technical Assistance Grant.  The Guild Board felt it important to recognize that the Guild had managed to thrive and survive for thirty years and especially in today’s economic climate when many arts groups are folding because of the poor economy and funding cuts to the arts.

The history of the BTG started in 1982 with the vision and energy of one person, Sally Jump. Sally had recently moved to Frankfort from Mayfield, Kentucky and wanted to start a theater company which performed musicals.  Sally had been a theater major in college and organized a theater group in Mayfield, Kentucky, which is still in existence today.  Frankfort had an active theater group – Pegasus Players —  but musicals were not part of its repertoire.  In subsequent conversations, Sally was referred to Hollis Rosenstein, a well known area musician and accompanist, whom she contacted. With Hollis’ enthusiastic support, several others were invited to Sally’s house where, according to Sally, the Guild was born “in her den”.  A board was organized and the first musical, “Oliver”, was performed on the Bradford Hall Stage at Kentucky State University (KSU) with the assistance of Dr. Carl Smith (KSU).  According to Rosenstein, “the house was packed”.


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Now, thirty years later, the Bluegrass Theatre Guild (BTG) is established as a 501-3C non-profit organization, which has produced over seventy- two plays.  Its mission is to offer theatrical productions for the entertainment and cultural enhancement of the community, provide opportunities for volunteers to learn and participate in all aspects of theatre, participate in other programs and projects to promote and enhance the performing arts in our community and maintain a sound business structure which is fiscally responsible.  The Guild has no paid staff or permanent theater space and operates the organization and productions with volunteers.

The first interview for this project began with Russ Hatter, Assistant Curator of Historic Sites, Capital City Museum, Frankfort, who laid the foundation for theater history in the city. According to Hatter, early shows around the country were performed by traveling troupes.  He surmised, but has been unable to substantiate, that one of the actors to visit Frankfort in the 1800’s might have been John Wilkes Booth, the same actor that killed President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 in Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.


Sally Jusara garner sue ellen 1_13mp, the founder of the Guild, who now serves as the Franklin County Circuit Court Clerk, was an eager young mom with kids which she founded the Guild in 1982.  Her family, including husband Ronnie and children, Sarah and Patrick, all have been a part of the BTG productions in some capacity.  Sarah, who began as a child actor and is now in her 30’s, says, “I felt like I had to work twice as hard (in productions),” she said, “because my mom was the director”.  Sally’s son, Patrick, now works with Actors Theatre of Louisville (Kentucky), as part of their set design team.


For its 30th anniversary slogan the Guild has adopted the catch-phrase, “Play It Forward”, as it envisions its future, continuing to provide the community with wonderful productions and looking toward securing its own theater “home”.


**Photo Credits, Bluegrass Theatre Guild, 2012/2013
top image: (LtR) Sarah Milligan (KOHC) , Carol Oerther (BTG) and  Nancy Atcher (BTG)
middle image:  Russ Hatter , Capital City Museum with Nancy Atcher
bottom image: Sara Garner, daughter of Sally Jump, Founder of Guild, with Sue Ellen Noel of the BTG   

For more about KOHC supported projects and ways of partnering with the KOHC, visit us on the web, or come in and see us at the Thomas D. Clark Center for KY History.

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