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Heritage Hall is committed to bringing arts to county

By, Lacy Hilliard

Heritage Hall Theatre is a cultural pillar of Johnson County. Since opening its doors in 2005, the theater has played host to an astonishing variety of performances, all with one thing in common– exceptional quality.
The modern day Heritage Hall was formerly the Johnson County High School Auditorium. Located within the ‘old high school’ building, the theater had been collecting dust since its closure in 1966. Filled with old desks, lockers, and other miscellaneous discarded learning aids, it’s difficult to imagine that the formerly dank auditorium could possibly be the same room that hosts the sophisticated present day Heritage Hall. Thanks largely to the vision of former Johnson County High School drama and English teacher, Evelyn Cook, Heritage Hall underwent a dramatic transformation before it was reopened in 2005 and today it shines not like a diamond in the rough, but rather a perfectly polished gem gleaming by comparison. The plush velvet seating, ornate crown molding, sparkling chandeliers, and fully equipped stage and sound system make performance attendees feel as though they’ve stepped off North Church Street and onto Broadway. Complimenting the glamorous Heritage Hall décor are the awe-inspiring performances that the theater consistently hosts.
Heritage Hall has but one mission – to provide high-quality performances at an affordable price. Because Johnson County has one of the highest concentrations of economically challenged individuals in the state, Heritage Hall recognizes the importance of maintaining affordability. Recently, the theater proved that they are dedicated to the pursuit of providing quality entertainment at a fraction of the cost of other venues by hosting the Barter Players.
The Barter Players are a group of talented young actors that hail from all over the country. The group is led by Artistic Director Katy Brown and ‘the players’ travel far and wide bringing professional entertainment to every stage they grace. Recently, Heritage Hall hosted the Barter Players for two performances of “A Thousand Cranes” and one evening performance of “Miss Nelson is Missing” both of which took place on Tuesday, February 26.
“A Thousand Cranes” is the tragic but inspiring tale of a young girl named Sadako Sasaki. Young Sadako lost both of her parents in the bombing of Hiroshima and as misfortune would have it, Sadako’s health is also failing. As Sadako battles ‘radiation sickness’ or more commonly known as leukemia in the hospital, her friend Kenji reminds her of an old story. Kenji tells Sadako that if a sick person folds a thousand origami cranes, they may be made well again. Johnson County children grades three-six were bused in from all five elementary schools in the district to watch the Barter Players performance of “A Thousand Cranes.” The children (about 650 in total) saw “A Thousand Cranes” for free and the visually stunning performance left many of the young audience members both inspired and enlightened. Donors Dr. Donald and Carole Tarr and the dozens of other regular Heritage Hall supporters played a big role in making the free performance of “A Thousand Cranes” possible. Heritage Hall and its sponsors also provided about one hundred vouchers for the evening performance of “Miss Nelson is Missing.”
Whether or not you received a voucher, the evening performance of “Miss Nelson is Missing” was affordable with tickets costing only five dollars per person, a mere fraction of what the same production would have cost at other theaters. The high-energy production was attended by about 300 children and adults and there wasn’t a disappointed audience member in the house. “Miss Nelson is Missing” is the story of an extremely unruly fifth grade class that find they’re in for a surprise when their soft spoken teacher, Miss Nelson, is replaced with the staunch disciplinarian, Viola Swamp. The play follows Miss Nelson’s students as they desperately search for their previously disregarded teacher. The laugh-out-loud performance likely left many young theatergoers with a cautionary tale – don’t misbehave in class…or else.
One of the special qualities of Barter Player performances are their trademark ‘talk-backs’ which occur after each performance. During these question and answer sessions, the children are encouraged to ask the Barter Players anything and everything about the acting experience. The charismatic cast of Miss Nelson is Missing which included Kristy Bissell, Patrice Foster, Emily Grove, Barrett Guyton, Micah Hein, and Sam McCalla never missed a beat while answering questions that ranged from “Why did you get into acting?” to “Why is Viola Swamp mean?” With an exceptional sense of humor and an apparent passion for their craft, the ‘Players’ brought to the Heritage Hall stage both professionalism and artistry.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.