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Warren Hammack Horse Cave Theatre stagehand at work Pamela White
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Horse Cave History

Why Horse Cave? What’s so special about this theater that it has gotten the attention of the New York Times, has consistently celebrated big-city playwrights, and has drawn crowds to a tiny town in southcentral Kentucky for 25 years? It’s probably a combination of factors, but let’s start with a little history ...

Hart County's location in Kentucky The Horse, the Cave, and the Dynamo

Horse Cave is the name of the town where the theater is located and a large cavern located just a stone’s throw away from both. The cavern—also known as Hidden River Cave—had the name first, but just how it came to be called that is debated by the locals. There are various tales about a horse or horses getting into the cave, either accidentally (by falling into a hole) or on purpose (because horse thieves secreted them there). Or it may be that the word horse, which means “big” in the vernacular, was given to the cave because of its size.

In any event, the geography of Horse Cave, located as it is in southcentral Kentucky’s cave country, has contributed to the theater’s success. Traveling Vaudeville companies once made Horse Cave a regular stop, entertaining the tourists who’d come to see Mammoth Cave and its smaller brethren. In 1911, one of Horse Cave’s early citizens reconstructed a fire-damaged theater and resumed local production. It became one of the first buildings in rural Kentucky to have electricity, thanks to a dynamo built on a stream in the depths of the cave. And because of the availability of electricity, the first silent movies in Hart County were presented in the Horse Cave opera house in the late 1920s. The old Thomas Opera House is still located on the second floor of the Kentucky Repertory Theatre, directly above the current auditorium. So a tradition of local theater runs deep, so to speak, in the town of Horse Cave.

The company we know today as Kentucky Repertory Theatre opened in 1977 (as Horse Cave Theatre), powered by its own dynamo: founder and former Artistic/Producing Director Warren Hammack. His vision of a regional theater that challenges its audiences with a wide-ranging repertory and reaches out to the community with numerous educational programs has served both the theater and the town well.

Of course, many other factors have contributed to this 25-year success story. Award-winning guest directors like Ron Satlof bring their own spark to productions. Staff members and production crew members work tirelessly to make it happen smoothly. Actors return again and again from out-of-state tours to perform in Horse Cave. Audience members also return: The majority of the theater’s ticket buyers live within a 50-mile radius, which reaches into Bowling Green and Glasgow, although patrons come from Nashville and Louisville as well.

Above all, the citizens of Horse Cave—population 2,500—tirelessly celebrate, embrace, and support their theater.

Kentucky Repertory Theatre is located on East Main Street in Horse Cave, Kentucky, off I-65 Exit 58 in Hart County. For more information, write to P.O. Box 215, Horse Cave, KY 42749; call (270) 786-1200; or visit the web site at The toll-free ticket hotline is (800) 342-2177.

History  |  The Dynamic Duo  |  The Repertory  |  School Programs

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951