Two actors from the first season of “Horn in the West” have returned this summer to see the performance, 69 years after they first took the stage. Roberta Austin and Don Stevenson, who took the stage first in 1952, pleasantly surprised the cast and crew with their reservations.
“It’s always a treat for our alumni to return for the show,” said board member Steve Canipe. “They always comment on how the stage, costumes, and script have evolved since their time, but the feeling remains the same.”
The presence of these original cast members this summer also reminded the organization about the importance of its foundation.
“‘Horn’ was founded because of a strong sense of community and has continued to be successful because of the love that so many share for the drama, whether they’re alumni, volunteers, or guests that have made summer visits part of their family tradition,” said Canipe.
“Horn in the West” is the nation’s longest-running Revolutionary War outdoor drama and the third oldest outdoor drama in the nation, behind “Lost Colony” and “Unto These Hills,” all located in North Carolina. ‘Horn’ is celebrating its 69th season this summer after being closed last summer for the first time due to COVID-19.
Each year, cast and crew travel from across the nation to take the stage at the Daniel Boone Amphitheatre in Boone. This year, the cast is made up of 45 actors. Daniel Boone is played by Scott Loveless of Rock Mount, North Carolina who is enjoying his fourth year with the production and second year playing “Dan’l.” Jenny Cole, Watauga County native, has reprised her role as Widow Howard and has been involved in ‘Horn’ for 40 years. Another local resident, Robin Austin, plays Reverend Sims, the Baptist preacher.
Other principal actors include Richard Moore of Charlotte, NC as Dr. Geoffrey Stuart, Lillian North of Yadkinville, NC as Martha Stuart, Shannon Burke of Boca Raton, Florida as Jack Stuart, Chris Morrow of Angier, NC as Captain MacKenzie, Natalie Davis of Jackson, MS as Mary Green, Logan Riley of Newton, NC as Judge Richard Henderson, and Xeleighta Bernardo from the Bronx in New York City, NY as Nancy Ward.
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With only a few performances remaining, the organization is hopeful to finish the season strong. The outdoor drama closes its 69th season on Saturday, August 7.
“It was very difficult for us to close last year due to the pandemic,” said Canipe, “but we worked hard to open safely this year. Now, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel three performances due to rain, so it’s important that we see an increase in ticket sales to be able to keep telling this story for years to come.”
‘Horn’ was written by Kermit Hunter for Southern Appalachian Historical Association, a nonprofit organization with the mission to explore, preserve, and share the region’s rich cultural heritage through theatrical, educational, and museum programming. The outdoor drama premiered in the summer of 1952 and tells the story of Daniel Boone, the Revolutionary War, and the pioneer settlement of the High Country. Hunter wrote several variations of the script, so while the basic story has continued every year, the director each season is able to choose from the available scripts while adding their own flair.
Actor Robin Austin shares that there are varying nuances to each performance and “the show has already been fresh and new every night.” The understudies that are able to take lead roles and the onslaught of volunteer ‘villagers’ makes each night exciting for him.
Robin is the son of Roberta and the late Ned Austin. His father played Daniel Boone in the first three seasons of ‘Horn’ and Robin grew up performing in theater and hearing about how ‘Horn’ brought his parents together.
Robin recalls having a vivid imagination as a child but being incredibly shy. He was able to channel his confidence through acting, transforming into his character who was not plagued by timidness. He reminisces that his earliest childhood memories were his father standing in the back of an auditorium while he was performing and hollering “Enunciate! Project! I can’t hear you.”
With a father as a professional actor and his mother trained as an opera singer, Robin says, “It was quite the education to grow up in my family.”
Roberta, who celebrated her 91st birthday in July, visited the Daniel Boone Amphitheatre to see her son perform in the production that brought her and her husband together.
“It was really fulfilling to perform for my mother. She said to me ‘I’m so proud of you for the work that you’re doing’ and it meant great deal because I knew that she was evaluating it from a high sense of professionalism and not just being proud of her child, but the actor I have become over years of practicing the craft,” said Robin.
Though Robin admits that it made him nervous to play for her, he was also confident because he was raised on stage.
Roberta commented to her son that “the dynamic between the preacher and Widow [Howard] was a joy to behold.”
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Jenny Cole plays opposite Robin in the performance as Widow Howard, a role that she has made her own over the years. According to many guests, their chemistry is noteworthy. Robin explains that he and Cole have been friends for many years and worked together in a restaurant in the past.
“We’ve been dear friends for a long time,” he continued.
Robin, who also played a dancer in the late 1970s, is especially proud to take on the role of Reverend Sims this season. As a child, he recalls banding together with classmates to end bullying at his school. That experience taught him the power of social activism and standing up to injustices in society.
“In the show, people were fighting against tyranny and against the governmental system in place that was robbing them. This role is very dear to my heart. It deals with matters that I consider very important,” said Robin.
Robin explained his love for his character and Reverend Sims’ compassion for people in trouble. “He just can’t not help, which puts him in a difficult situation. His heart is moved in a way that commanded service of him, realizing that the rebel mountain community is his ministry, so he put himself right in the line of fire amidst trouble,” he said as he wiped away tears.
After years of acting professionally and dedicating himself to the role of Sims, little meant more to Robin than a compliment from his mom after the show.
“I’m so glad you enunciate so well,” she said.
‘Horn’ runs nightly, except Mondays, late June through mid August and begins at 8 p.m. Reserved tickets start at $33 for adults, $23 for children. The final performance of this season is on Saturday, August 7. Local residents can receive discounted tickets at only $12 each on Wednesday, August 4 only.
“Horn in the West” is an outdoor drama that tells the story of Daniel Boone, the Revolutionary War, and the pioneer settlement of the High Country. ‘Horn’ is produced by Southern Appalachian Historical Association (SAHA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving history for the future. The mission of the SAHA is to explore, preserve, and share the region’s rich cultural heritage, which the organization accomplishes through theatrical, educational, and museum programming. As a complement to the performance, SAHA also operates the Hickory Ridge History Museum, a series of historic log cabins from the 18th and 19th centuries brought to life by costumed interpreters demonstrating pioneer life skills including blacksmithing, weaving, weaponry, and cooking over a hearth. Additional information is available at horninthewest.com, by calling 828-264-2120, or by visiting the Ticket Office at 591 Horn in the West Drive in Boone, NC.