Philanthropic gift to become summer stock theater and fine arts academy
by Trish Yerges
Friends of the Opera House have become the new owners of the former Timbers restaurant in Elgin, which they plan to develop into a Summer stock theater during the summer theater season and a fine arts academy and dinner theater during the fall and winter months.
Located at 831 Alder Street in downtown Elgin, the nearly 7,000 square foot building was gifted to the nonprofit organization by owners Jack and Judy Johnson in December.
“Jack Johnson called me,” said Ed Botz, one of the city elders and his friend, “and told me he wanted to give the building to an organization in town that had a worthy cause or would in some way benefit the community through its use.”
Botz organized a meeting with a few other city elders to discuss a recommendation, when he happened to mention it to Terry Hale, artistic director for the Elgin Opera House.
Hale asked Botz, “Do you mind if I came to this meeting and made a pitch for the Friends of the Opera House?” Botz readily agreed.
An hour later, Hale was presenting his vision for the building to the city elders. They all agreed that it sounded like a good fit for the building and the Johnson’s wishes. The Johnsons were likewise in favor of the idea.
“We had to cover the cost of the property tax, and that was our only expense in receiving the building,” said Hale. “I have been eyeing this place for the past three years. Every time I passed by that building, I thought of all the things I could use it for—now we have it.”
Though it seems like an unbelievable coincidence, Hale is no stranger to the “dreams do come true” philosophy of life.
“The Friends board of directors are all excited and a little white-eyed about this,” said Hale. “There’s been a lot of deep breaths taken. I’ve had to remind them what the state of the opera house was like when I first arrived. It wasn’t like it is today, when I first got here. It was overwhelming. There was too much to be done. It was daunting, and we did it one step at a time. We were able to get where we are today, but things don’t happen overnight. We’ll approach this the same way that I approached stepping into the un-remodeled opera house, one step at a time. There is no hurry. Things will come together as they should.”
Hale has been artistically directing the Elgin Opera House productions, marking ten years next November, and the Timbers building will become an extension of what the opera house does now, promote the theatrical arts in Northeast Oregon.
Hale has always dreamed of doing a Summer stock theater program in this area, and he envisions calling it “Shooting Star”. A theater that does Summer Stock in rep is one that could be doing three different productions over one weekend. The shows are designed so the sets work together. If someone is in town for the weekend, they can see one to three different productions done by the same 16 actors with perhaps some locals to accentuate a show.
Summer stock theaters typically draw college theater students from across the country to perform three shorter productions during the season. Shows like Forever Plaid, that wouldn’t draw a full house at the opera house will be played at the Summer stock theater instead.
The students will live on site as they stay busy performing. Hale said the south side of the Timbers building facing Alder Street will be perfect for that use since it is already finished as a restaurant.
“It would make the perfect bunkhouse for Summer stock,” he said. “They have their own entrance, access to the kitchen, bathrooms, everything.”
On the south side of the building, Hale envisions removing some walls to create a large dinner theater space. During the fall and winter months, this space will be used for pre-show productions offered with a catered meal, a prelude of sorts to the full production at the opera house. Then after the opera house production concludes, people will be invited back to the “Shooting Star” dinner theater room for a post-show performance and desserts. It will be a family friendly atmosphere where all can meet and greet the actors.
“So in the fall and winter, we’re training up the actors and performers of the future,” said Hale, “and in the summer, we’ll transform the building into a destination entertainment center for our area.”
Hale is confident that both the Summer stock theater and the fine arts academy will be supported here.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there is extraordinary untapped potential,” said Hale. “One reason it is untapped, is generally because of family economics. We want to make a place where people from all four counties have access to fine arts training, and those that need help can tap into a robust scholarship program. That will be a big part of what we’re doing here.”
To accomplish this vision, Friends will be reaching out to the community for in-kind donations of skills, labor and craftsmanship.
“When people understand that our mission is to bless and enrich lives, I think they will be willing to step in and help out,” said Hale. “I’ve had the luxury of seeing how introducing the arts to someone who had this talent can be a life-changing event, and that’s what this building is about. It’s about really allowing people the opportunity to explore the talents and gifts they have.”
The Friends wish to thank the Elgin city elders for their recommendation and the Johnsons for this most generous gift.
“The Johnsons’ gift is incredible,” said Hale. “More than anything else, we want to build upon what we’ve done at the opera house. We’ve worked really hard there to create a good image, not just for Elgin but for our whole area, and to provide a service that just wasn’t there anymore, and we want to build on it.”