The curtain is coming down on the show from the book that essentially created Ozarks tourism. Management at The Shepherd of the Hills met with cast members Tuesday to tell them that this, their 54th season, would be their final one. They cite increasing costs and decreasing attendance.
The story is more than 100 years old, thanks to Harold Bell Wright's 1907 novel, "The Shepherd of the Hills," and the outdoor drama has entertained audiences for more than half a century.
Cast member Carroll Costlow said, "This is the only real thing in Branson. This is what got everything started down here."
Costlow has been in the production for the last 12 years, helping reenact Wright's story of coming to the Ozarks.
"I play Jim Lane, the gunfighter a couple nights a week, and Preaching Bill one or two nights a week, and then Baldknobber whenever they need me," said Costlow.
Costlow says he was also part of the play for a few years in the '70s.
"We would have people volunteering just to stand," Costlow said.
The outdoor theatre used to have 3,000 seats, but now the upper seating area has been turned into planters.
Attendance has drastically changed with the times.
"We tried new sound systems and some new special effects but, through the '90s, we really watched the crowds decline. And so it really did become a labor of love," said Sharena Naugher.
Naugher's parents, Gary and Pat Snadon, bought the homestead in 1985 and have been spending money out of their own pockets on rising costs for more than ten years.
Naugher said, "With insurance and workman's comp and the liability and now with the new insurance mandate looming over us, that was a scary thing in our future. You know, for a healthy company maybe, but we were already struggling."
In addition, Naugher's father, co-owner Gary Snadon, is now battling cancer.
"So kind of everything played a role in that, and we didn't want the homestead to go into bankruptcy," Naugher said.
Now a cast of 90 characters will soon reach a sad finale.
"Oh, very sad, very sad. There were lots of tears yesterday," Naugher said.
"Gary and Pat was holding on, because this really hurt them just as much as it does us. But yeah, it hurts. It hurts," said Costlow. "This is home. How can you not miss home?"
The historic Shepherd of the Hills homestead will still be preserved, and tours of Old Matt's cabin will still go on during the summer months. Inspiration Tower and the Ziprider will be open year-round, and they'll continue the Trail of Lights and Christmas on the Trail.
The outdoor play, which runs six nights a week, will have it's final performance on October 19.