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05-25-06 Annie Oakley outdoor theater

By Kelly Braun

  The life of Annie Oakley may come alive in a new outdoor theater planned to be built near Greenville.

  Plans for the $8 million facility include an 800-seat amphitheater, picnic area, concession stand, nature trail, historical street with gift shops, office building, animal housing, scenic and costume shop and housing for out-of-town actors and technicians, according to a press release from the Darke County The Outdoor Drama Board of Directors. he board also has hired a playwright to write a play around Annie Oakley's life as a sharp shooter.

  The facility also may include an educational center with an interactive museum, student art gallery, classrooms and black box theater. The center would be used for field trips and evening classes in music, theater, dance, art and photography.

  The board of directors currently has hired one staff member, Michael Bitner, who is working as the executive director of the outdoor drama. He says board members are "very confident" the $15.5 million total project will happen, based on the support they have heard from the community, local officials and state representatives.

  The group hopes to hire an architect and break ground this year, with construction starting early next year.  The group currently is planning a massive fundraising campaign. No money has been secured as of yet, Bitner says.

  "We know this is a very large amount of money to raise, but it will be well worth the costs," board Vice President Kay Seiler says. "This could be the biggest thing to happen to Darke County in a long time and will add so much to our community."

  Land for the facility already is being leased from the Darke County Commissioners and is located on Children's Home Bradford Road near Anthony Wayne School.

  The group is hoping to get state and federal money, along with large company or individual donations to then name the educational center and amphitheater after. Individual donations from the community also will be sought.

  The group estimates the entire facility will employ about 150 people and is expected to draw 200,000 visitors each year. The estimated economic impact to the county is $32,000,000 a year.

  Bitner says the original idea for an outdoor drama theater in Greenville came about from the convention and visitors bureau about six years ago. A feasibility study was conducted over a two-year period and plans began to form in 2004.

  Northern Kentucky University professor and award-winning playwright Ken Jones has been contracted to write the play for the amphitheater. The show will focus on Oakley's life and her early years and her romance with Frank Butler.

  Along with the drama production, the group plans to use the theater for a summer concert series, various festivals, rodeo, gun and craft shows, a Halloween trail of terror and Christmas light spectacular. They also hope to stage Broadway-style musicals and school programs to education students about Oakley, Native American history and theater productions in general.

  An opening date for the facility has not been officially declared, but is expected in the next couple of years based on fundraising.


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