Breathing new life into the Historic Pearl Theater and bringing ‘the arts’ to our small town
By Christian Weaner
Photo by McCallum Morgan
McCallum Morgan first fell in love with the Historic Pearl Theater—and everything it represents for the smalltown community of Bonners Ferry—several years ago while attending Open Mic nights at the old-church-building-turned-theater.
“The Open Mic that we used to have was the first thing I started attending regularly—before that I think I had only been to a friend’s concert—and through Open Mic, I met some really special friends,” McCallum remembered. “Open Mic made me fall in love with the Pearl Theater. It gave me a space for my voice to be heard.”
Since its opening in 2011 as a renovated performing arts space, the Pearl has become a refuge for people like McCallum—now the theater’s program director—who are looking for a creative outlet and supportive community.
The 130-year-old building that is now home to the Pearl Theater began as Bonners Ferry’s first Catholic church and was built in 1894. The Catholic church worshiped there for nearly a century until the 1980s, when it became the gathering place for Community Fellowship Church. Having been renovated and expanded on numerous occasions over the years, the property was ultimately put up for sale in 2010. After being purchased and once again extensively renovated to suit a more theatrical-style venue, the Pearl Theater officially opened its doors on Saturday, October 21, 2011, with the performance of “No Tears for Love” by the late Paul Rawlings.
“Several years later, the Pearl Theater nonprofit formed and eventually bought the building,” McCallum recounted. “It is now completely run by the nonprofit and relies entirely upon donations and volunteers.”
In the 12-plus years since the Pearl opened, the theater has hosted hundreds of performances of all kinds, as well as classes and private events.
McCallum, who began as the program director in September, devotes much of his time to booking acts, planning out the monthly calendar and increasing the theater’s publicity. “My role is essentially being the public face of the organization,” McCallum notes. “It’s a lot of research and emailing. I look for new performers and programs to bring to our town.”
“It’s exciting to be part of bringing events to this community,” he added.
While McCallum works diligently in his position, he knows that the Pearl would not be able to operate without the volunteers who devote their time and resources.
“We’re almost completely volunteer run—my position is the only paid one—so we can only do as much as our volunteers give,” McCallum acknowledged. “If we don’t have volunteers to serve food in the café or run lights and sound or clean between events, we can’t host things.”
He continued, “There’s maintenance and yard work and more. And it only happens if someone donates their time.”
Ultimately, McCallum believes the best motivation—besides getting to spend time with him and the other board members—for people to volunteer is because they can contribute to the arts.
“[‘The arts’ is] not some hoity toity culture thing—no one cares about that,” McCallum explained. “Art is better than that: It’s play. It’s how we humans human.”
“We’re all creative beings on some level and we like to play,” he continued. “So having a community event center where we can come to celebrate that and play together is kind of essential to a healthy existence.”
For McCallum, this mission connects back to his initial experiences at the Pearl, which allowed him to share his talents with others.
“The arts can tend to get a little self-important, and that’s not really what we’re about,” McCallum joked. “I’m an artist myself, and I’m a goober.”
McCallum has a lot of plans and ideas for how to continue to expand the Pearl and bring in new and exciting shows, events and classes, yet he knows that he cannot make that happen alone.
“I want it to continue to grow community involvement and bring more people together,” McCallum described. “I want to bring more programs here that will teach people fun things. I just want to grow what we already have. The more people that come here, the bigger acts we can book.”
McCallum noted that a few exciting upcoming events include Libby’s Mango Joe—featuring an African drum show—on February 3, a basket weaving class on February 17, comedy and piano from Sean Bostrom on February 24, and the Pearl’s new dance class’ student performance on June 28 and 29.
To learn more about the Historic Pearl Theater, view the upcoming event calendar, inquire about performing or get involved, visit TheHistoricPearlTheater.org and like “The Pearl Theater Bonners Ferry” on Facebook. You can also subscribe to the Pearl’s newsletter to get a regular update on what is going on at the theater.