Mayor, county judge working with state to resolve Foster amphitheater safety issues

Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 — The state’s decision to close the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre due to safety concerns took the staff and management of the Stephen Foster Drama when it happened surprise earlier this week.

The closure was a surprise, but the safety issues were not.


During an interview on WBRT’s “Bradford & Brooks” radio show, Johnny Warren, the drama’s managing artistic director, told WBRT the drama association had been making the state aware of ongoing safety concerns for quite some time. The drama had been developing a plan in discussion with state officials to address safety concerns that included electrical and structural concerns in the stage area.

It was to everyone’s surprise when state officials ordered the amphitheater closed based on an inspection that pointed out previously acknowledged problems.

Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton and Judge Executive Dean Watts drove together to Frankfort Thursday to talk to state officials about the closure and to push for a path forward that will address the safety issues quickly and allow the drama to open on time this summer. Watts and Heaton individually said the discussions were productive.

On their drive back to Bardstown, Heaton said he and Watts felt like their discussions were productive and they were on a path¬† insure the amphitheater would be ready for the drama’s 60th season next summer.

But what both men did not realize was that state officials had already issued a second order regarding the drama administrative offices. The second order required the evacuation of the drama’s offices as a safety precaution. The offices include the drama’s box office, administrative offices and gift shop.

Stephen Foster Story cast member Gary Vidito said the drama is an important part of the Bardstown experience.

During an on-the-air telephone interview, Watts said if the state would lease the amphitheater to the county at a minimal cost, it would allow the county to oversee the necessary repairs and to allow public and private partners in the community to come together to help fund the necessary improvements. The short-term goal is to insure the safety of performers and visitors to the facility, Watts explained. A lease agreement would give local entities the flexibility to move quickly and efficiently to address the safety issues.

Longtime cast member Gary Vidito said that the drama has been an important part of the community for nearly 60 years. The performers, talent and vision that came together in 1958 required a lot of hard work — but the community leaders followed their vision and made the drama a reality. Now is the time for the community show its support of that vision, Vidito said. Its time to let our leaders in Frankfort know just how important the drama is to not just our city or county, but to the state of Kentucky.

The Stephen Foster Story belongs to more than its fans and supporters, Warren explained. The drama is uniquely a part of Kentucky that belongs to everyone in the Commonwealth, he said.

HOW YOU CAN HELP. Warren said those who wish to help the Stephen Foster Story have several avenues by which they can do so. Contact your local leaders — mayor, city council members, judge executive and magistrates to express support for local government working together and creatively to insure the drama’s 60th season this coming summer.

Contact your state legislators — Sen. Jimmy Higdon and State Rep. Chad McCoy if you live in Nelson County — and ask their support to get the state’s participation in a long-term solution to the issues at the state-owned amphitheater.

A Bardstown resident has also launched a GoFundMe page to solicit donations to “Save the Amphitheater” as one way to help the drama. The effort has raised more than $3,000 in the past 23 hours.

Sharing updates via social media is another way to keep your friends and neighbors aware of the issues, and of course, watch the Stephen Foster Story’s Facebook page for the latest updates.


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