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Heather Henson in front of Pioneer Playhouse
  • Danville Alumni Stories
Heather Henson in front of Pioneer Playhouse

Heather Henson is the managing and marketing director at Pioneer Playhouse in Danville and an award-winning children’s author. She is also a 1984 Danville High School graduate. Her three children are also DHS graduates. 

Pioneer Playhouse is currently showing its final play of the season, “Kosher Lutherans,” which will run through Aug. 12. 

After Henson graduated from DHS, she went to Northern Kentucky University for a year thinking she wanted to become an actress, but over time she became more interested in writing. She moved to New York City, where she lived for 17 years. She went to The New School, where she took film and writing classes and graduated with a degree in creative writing.

She started working through a temp agency for Polo Ralph Lauren and, later, the publishing company now known as HarperCollins Publishers. Then, she got a permanent job at the publishing company as an editorial assistant. 

It took her a while to realize she wanted to write children’s fiction, but once she did, her first book was a young adult novel called “Making the Run.” Since then, she has published picture books for ages 4-8, middle-grade fiction and young adult fiction, including her most recent published novel, “Wrecked.” Altogether, she’s published nine books under her name and has also ghostwritten and had her work published under a pseudonym. 

She moved back to Danville to raise her family and took on her current role at Pioneer Playhouse following the death of her sister Holly. Her brother Robby Henson and their mother, Charlotte, also stepped up to keep the Playhouse operating. 

She shared her Danville Schools journey, and said her graduating class was “terrific” and tight-knit.

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

I went to Jennie Rogers, Bate and DHS. I grew up with some best friends I’ve had since first grade. It’s great growing up with the same people that you like for all that time. I loved being in the band. I played the trombone, and we had a lot of fun. We won a lot of championships in ‘81 through ‘84. I did theater at the high school, too, and I was on the speech team. I had some teachers that stuck out to me. Gigi Biles — who back then was Gigi Graham — was one of them. Alice Shelburne was an amazing English teacher. I feel like we had really great teachers. Artie Atkins was one of my teachers in high school, and James Atkins was my seventh grade civics teacher at Bate. 

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

The strong English teachers, for one. I feel like we had great teachers. I think we’re very proud of being Danville kids, because we’re part of tradition, but we also felt like we were new and doing great things, the class of ‘84. 

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? 

Growing up here at the Playhouse, I had so much theater in my family, and I was growing up in a family of artists, so there was never any doubt it was something I would pursue, but my teachers would always point out I was a good writer, and I’d get feedback on the writing. So when I thought I wanted to be an actress, I kept going back to the idea that my teachers kept saying I was a good writer, so maybe I should focus on that and start thinking about it more. That definitely had an impact, the great writing and English teachers at the high school. 

I felt like they were really rigorous in their teaching of Shakespeare and poems and short stories, so I got a real foundation for how to look at literature before I went to college, and in writing, I was very much encouraged. Also, I was part of the high school newspaper because Gigi was the teacher who did the newspaper, and I was very much involved in that and realized I liked writing. 

I had a terrific French teacher, Truly Mount, who encouraged me to continue my French studies, so even though third and fourth-year French were not offered at DHS, she made it possible for me to do two years of independent study with her, and I actually became an exchange student to Paris during the summer between junior and senior year.

I didn't continue playing the trombone after high school, but my years in the DHS marching and concert band from sixth grade on were definitely formative. I feel lucky that I had William Gravely as a teacher and director. We learned to enjoy music but also to work hard. Whenever I'm sitting in Gravely Hall, I think of him and feel proud that I was part of the music program during his tenure. 

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

As a Danville Admiral, I would still encourage families to go into the Danville school system. I think it has a strong arts program, and I think it’s known as being safe and open to everyone. Getting involved, I think the theater program and arts director Jane Dewey are filled with such passion. It’s such a great group of kids learning about theater, and they have great leaders there. And the band — I think that’s a great program still. 

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

I had such a strong and positive experience of being in the Danville school system, that I feel it’s worth giving back and being a part of that. We work with Jane Dewey to make sure a group of kids from Bate and DHS get to come to the Playhouse for theater workshops and are happy to provide a prop or costume when the theater program needs one. Even though I won’t have any kids in the school system now since all of them have graduated, with the Playhouse I’d like us to still continue to have kids here in the summer. We’ve also hired Danville High School students and graduates to work here.

This piece is part of an ongoing series telling the stories of our Danville Alumni! We share a new alumni story once a month, and we want YOUR story. If you or someone you know is a Danville graduate and an excellent representative of the Danville community and the idea of #SuccessForALL, whether they live in Danville or not, please fill out the form linked below. You can also show your Danville Alumni pride on social media with the hashtag #DanvilleAlumniStories


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