Renovated Ord Theater Becomes New Hub for Performing Arts

The former Valley Cinema has been converted into a performance arts space. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
The Golden Husk sits on the west side of Ord's downtown square. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
The board room upstairs looks out upon the city hall buildings across the street. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
Omaha rock band Vegetable Deluxe warms up before their set on the Golden Husk stage. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
Hexagonal lights, original to the art deco interior design, can change color. (Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)
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December 28, 2016 - 8:45am

When a local performing arts group took over a theater in the small, central Nebraska town of Ord, they had big goals. In the last year, they’ve created a space for local and traveling acts to shine.

The town of Ord sits between corn fields and ranches on the North Loup River, smack-dab in the middle of Nebraska. With a population around 2,000, it’s a small, but vibrant, rural community. When you walk through the doors of Ord’s theater, your eyes may be drawn to the lobby’s high ceilings or multicolor arches.

Or maybe to a bouquet of corn husks, painted gold. Director Dahn Hagge said the decorating idea was suggested to her in honor of the building’s new name: the Golden Husk.

“I was like, well, we have plenty of that,” she laughed. Dark-haired and energetic, she led the way into the theater’s main auditorium. The original art deco style remains—inlaid wooden decorations, walls tiled in red and navy, and hexagonal lights.

The floor slopes down to an elevated wooden stage, the back of which opens to the alley for easy movement of sets and instruments. The building on Ord’s central square served as a movie theater for decades. In 2011, the previous owners reinstalled the stage as part of extensive renovations to convert the cinema into a live performance space.

Dahn Hagge, director of the Golden Husk.

(Photo by Ariana Brocious, NET News)

“We also had a polka fest here last year and as you can see the beautiful wood floor down in the center, that's our dance floor,” Hagge said. Her local nonprofit group, the Valley Performing Arts Theater, bought the building in July 2015.

“Throughout the past year we have had everything in here from a musical to an opera, to a dinner theater, to a talent show, and just so many different things,” Hagge said.

Between the main floor and balcony, the theater can hold around 260 people—locals as well as people from surrounding towns. On this night, it will host four rock and soul bands from Omaha as part of Hear Nebraska’s Good Living Tour, a concert series touring the state.

“We love the idea that we are able to provide that,” Hagge said, “to connect with people, and have people come to Ord Nebraska and Valley County and experience our quality of life and bring their artistic talents to us so we can experience that right here in our home instead of having to travel to a city.”

Hagge said her group has been inspired by community conversations around what they could add to quality of life in their area.

“We've just heard that people really have a desire for this space to be that arts and cultural hub, and also a gathering space for community,” she said.

“It's also a really important place for us to showcase our own assets and attributes out here,” said Caleb Pollard, Ord’s former economic development director. “There's a tremendous number of really talented people in the Sandhills.”

The building's art deco interior was refurbished during the renovation. These decorations frame the stage.

(Photos by Ariana Brocious, NET News)

Three years ago Pollard founded Scratchtown Brewery, the first in the Sandhills since prohibition.

“We did what people did 100 years ago and that's repioneer the Great Plains. There's a lot of opportunity out here to do things differently and I think we should, if we want these places to matter and to continue to exist and thrive,” Pollard said.

Scratchtown Brewery led local fundraising efforts to bring the Hear Nebraska show to Ord. Pollard, who’s passionate about arts and culture, said support from private businesses like his is critical to the success of nonprofit entities like the Golden Husk.

“We chose to live out here, to start a business out here, to raise our family out here. And we're also choosing to make this a community that we want to live in. Unless we put our time and our talent and our money forward to do that, it won’t happen,” he said.

Local donors helped get the Golden Husk started, and soon the group will invite community members buy in, with memberships. Local businesses are sponsoring an upcoming monthly movie series, said Golden Husk Treasurer Jennifer Plate. She moved to Valley County in 2013 and said fostering youth performances and workshops is a key part of their mission.

“We want to give kids that aren’t the athlete stereotype somewhere to succeed in town. And it's very important to keep those kids active, involved and loving their community so that they want to come back and raise their families here,” Plate said.

After a local band kicked things off on the square, people moved inside the theater. The lights dimmed as a local high schooler performed a Sam Smith song. The theater walls reverberated as the main acts began to play.

When it was constructed, builders put corn husks in the walls for acoustic support.

Hagge said that inspired the theater’s new name. But there’s also another reason:

“If you look up the definition of a husk, it is a protective covering of something that's growing and beautiful and alive. And that's how we view this building is that it's for all community, it's for all people to come and share their talents, their passions, and connect with each other,” Hagge said.

This story is part of the Artland Series, a regional arts and culture reporting initiative led by KCUR in Kansas City.

Editor's note: This story is part of our "Best of 2016" Signature Story report.  The story originally aired and was published August 5th, 2016.



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