During my first year of being a Dollywood Season Passholder, I made some incorrect assumptions. One thing that I automatically assumed is that I wouldn’t be able to take my two very young children to see any of the amazing shows that Dollywood has to offer. Kids struggle to sit still and stay quiet for long, and there are so many other attractions around the park to keep us busy. I wrote it off as something that wouldn’t be part of our family’s Dollywood experience until later.
That is, until I discovered the Imagination Playhouse (also known as Little Engine Playhouse) shows that come to Dollywood every summer.
I was stoked when I discovered that these productions specialize in shows that cater to a younger audience. Lasting a brief 15 to 20 minutes, each show is a stage adaptation of books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. All shows include singing, bright colors and large props and set pieces. You can catch three shows in one day! The stories get swapped out every few seasons, but you can count on seeing “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper on the summer show schedule and “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton herself on the summer show schedule. Both of these special shows feature original music written by Dolly and performed by the actors onstage.
If you’re not familiar with it, Imagination Library is a philanthropic program started by Dolly Parton in 1995. Inspired by her father who never had the opportunity to learn to read, Dolly made it her mission to provide children in Sevier County with free, high-quality picture books. Over the next several years, the program grew to become a state-wide initiative, then a nation-wide program, and eventually it was replicated across the globe. At this point, Dolly is credited with shipping millions of books to children all over the world, providing them ownership of high-quality reading materials to help foster a love of learning. She has even worked to give the public access to Imagination Library productions by having them tour local libraries to put on free performances for library patrons. She considers Imagination Library to be one of the most important endeavors she has ever undertaken.
Little Engine Playhouse only runs during Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Summer Celebration. Joining the two previously mentioned stories this year is the new stage production of “Violet the Pilot” by Steve Breen. Violet is a young girl with a knack for building elaborate flying machines from scratch, but she is not necessarily accepted by her peers. The conflict occurs when Violet is faced with a dilemma: should she earn the respect of her classmates by winning a blue ribbon in the upcoming air show? Or is it more important to use her flying machine to help someone in need? With shows starting at 11:30 a.m. and running hourly until the last showtime at 4:30 p.m., there are plenty of chances to see your favorite book characters come alive on the stage. With three unique shows playing daily in the Little Engine Playhouse, there is no reason why you can’t return to the Heartsong Theater to beat the heat and watch multiple shows in a single day. You’ll be so glad you did!