Oregon Art Beat

The future looks A-OK for the Old OK, a century-old theater in Enterprise, Oregon

By Kate McMahon
Enterprise, Oregon is located in Wallowa County Jan. 6, 2024 2 p.m.

It takes a community of talented, dedicated individuals to restore a rural performing arts theater to a work of art.

If Darrell and Christi Brann’s dreams come true, Enterprise, Oregon, could be the coolest live music venue and recording destination west of the Colorado Rockies.

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In 2024, the Branns will celebrate their 10th year of presenting musical performances at the century-old OK Theatre on West Main Street in Enterprise. Since taking ownership of the OK, the Branns — with a little help from some friends — have restored the theater and made it into a work of art in its own right that local woodcarver Steve Arment calls “Wallowa County Baroque.”

Grammy award winner Jon Cleary on the piano at the OK Theatre, Enterprise, Oregon, February 2023.

Grammy award winner Jon Cleary on the piano at the OK Theatre, Enterprise, Oregon, February 2023.

Stephani Gordon / OPB

Located about 30 miles (as the crow flies) west of the Idaho state line, the OK Theatre has hosted shows by Grammy winners Victor Wooten, Jon Cleary and two-time Grammy nominee Sierra Hull. It’s also where Portland artist John Craigie and at least 20 other musicians have come to make records.

The OK has seen a lot of change since 1918 when it first opened for performing arts, then briefly shut down during what was known as the Spanish flu pandemic and eventually served as a movie house for several decades. Then in 2013, the Branns took ownership of it. Their vision for the OK’s future is that it will one day become a thriving arts and entertainment venue that musicians seek out for its spectacular setting at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains and where community members and visitors alike gather for the joy of music.

‘Fun and beautiful and whimsical’

After a busy fall concert and events series last year, the OK Theatre will go dark this month and possibly into February so Arment can do more woodwork and trim detail in the OK’s concessions and entry areas. Arment says instead of a Renaissance look, they’re going for French Art Nouveau. Local painter Joan Gilbert will do the paintings.

“Joan is doing beautiful paintings of local landscapes,” Arment said. “There is wainscoting that goes around quite low and one of the main paintings is 6 feet long in the Nouveau frames.”

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He said he will install Nouveau trim in the corners and a parabolic archway between the snack bar and the lobby as well as adding “fantasy style” door trims and handles. “I need to get hold of a blacksmith to have the fantasy handles made, I think they’ll be cool,” Arment said. “We’ll also do the face of the counter of the snack bar.” The kitchen area needs some drywall and electrical work as well.

“Steve has as much passion as we do to make the theater fun and beautiful and whimsical,” Darrell Brann said. “He also wants to start dreaming about the bar next door too — but we’d have to fundraise to do that.”

The Branns own the space next to the OK Theatre and hope to someday turn it into a bar. That outcome is TBD, Darrell says. Meanwhile, Arment is currently helping restore a Baker City Elks Lodge ballroom into a saloon. For that project, he’s crafting large wood pieces in his home workshop that will eventually be hauled and installed in the revamped space. He hopes it will inspire ideas for the Branns’ future bar.

The Branns say their vision is to expand beyond the OK Theatre’s main structure into a complex of residential spaces, event spaces and recording studio services. They have renovated an apartment in the building they own next door for musicians to stay in during their tours and recording sessions. They also hope to convert a second space in that building into an apartment. Still more apartments are planned in other spaces in and around the theater. The spaces would be for visiting performers and artist residencies, Darrell Brann said. “And anything in between — we’d love to make it available during shows for guests to stay upstairs at the theater. Like a VIP package.”

“It’s never gonna be the Sydney Opera House, but it’s the best small town venue that you can produce. So we’re working on it,” Arment said.

“All of it is to benefit our community and create revenue so that our theater can last and work and keep going,” Darrell Brann said. “The resident spaces would provide consistent monthly revenue. We could also rent them out for renters as a baseline revenue or vacation rentals, in between.”

The Branns want to purchase a screen and projection system to use for showing movies, presentations and set backdrops. They hope to make that investment this year and estimate it will cost about $50,000 to buy the projection system and finish the concession/foyer spaces — and another $200,000 to finish the apartment spaces.

As for the bar? “The bar is its own kind of beast,” says Darrell Brann. It may be a while before they get to that, he said.

The Branns are looking into financing, donations, support and fundraising to achieve their dreams. If the first decade of the OK Theatre’s revival is any indication of what is yet to come, it will be a community endeavor drawing on the vast talent of the people who live in this beautiful, isolated landscape.

In the meantime, the OK is lining up more shows for 2024 including Margo Cilker, and the band Joseph, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary. Watch for announcements on the theater’s website.

The stage of the newly renovated OK Theatre in Enterprise, Ore., has a hand-carved proscenium by wood carver and Enterprise resident Steve Arment.

The stage of the newly renovated OK Theatre in Enterprise, Ore., has a hand-carved proscenium by wood carver and Enterprise resident Steve Arment.

Stephani Gordon / OPB

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