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Historic opera house in Oakley needs help from the community to stay open

Howells Opera House needs about $50,000 to repair ceiling
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 10:41 AM MST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2021 at 2:54 PM MST
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OAKLEY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —The Oakley Valley Arts Council (OVAC) has owned and operated the 100-year-old Howells Opera House for about 40 years, but currently, no productions are being performed at the venue. The council is now asking for some help from the community to help pat for repairs, so the theater can be reopened.

In what looks like a one-horse town, Oakley is filled with culture. The town of fewer than 1,00 people attracts people from as far away as Boise to audition at the town’s historic Howells Opera House. That was the case when the theater did a performance of Annie a few years ago.

“They were even prepared to just put up in a hotel for the Summer to be here for the performances,” said OVAC board member Kristen Nelson. “So having the experience of live theater is worth putting their Summer on hold to travel to little Oakley.”

However, the theater has been shut down since July, as the ceiling is starting to sag due to age. OVAC board member Wendell Wells said it started to become a concern during their Summer performance of The Scarlet Pimpernel. He said board members, cast, and crew were “fearful” that a portion of it may come down when there are people in the auditorium. Wells said the cost to repair the ceiling is probably going to run around $50,000.

“We talked to a structural engineer in Idaho Falls and he said that this is 114-year-old lumber, and there are stresses on it,” Wells said.

A GoFundMe page has been started for repairs, and so far less than $2,500 has been raised. The council has an endowment, but most of that money goes back into fund productions.

“For some of these shows, some of the smaller ones can be $600 for the rights and the scripts. Some of the bigger ones can be over $10,000,” said Nelson.

OVAC board member Denny Davis said its difficult to find an alternative space due to the size and complexity of the productions. He also said council has no intentions of buying or building a new theater.

“There is history here. There is just a spirit in this building, and we can’t leave it,” Davis said.

The theater performs three major plays a year and they hope to have the venue back open by the Summer of 2022, so young amateur actors in Southern Idaho have someplace to act.

“The youth to me is my favorite part of this theater. From the youth on down to the little kids,” Davis said.

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