Built in 1921 as the Orpheum Theatre, it was a legitimate theater stage complete with fly loft, curtains, dressing rooms and a seating capacity for 200. The main focus was on vaudeville and other live theater performances. As silent movies came on the horizon, the theater began to change. Soon "talkies" became the rage and movies were in full swing. The Orpheum Theatre was a popular show place that comfortably accommodated both stage productions and film.
In 1952, the theater was gutted. The stage and dressing rooms were removed and the fly loft was abandoned for air conditioning equipment. A new marquee, with traveling lights and neon signs, advertised the newest movie releases. The theater could now seat 800 people, and new projection equipment was capable of showing cinemascope formatted movies. The Fergus Theatre continued to operate as a movie theater until the 1970s when it fell victim to the popularity of television.
"The Old Tyme Variety Players" arranged with owner Gordon Bakken to rehearse in the front of the Fergus Theatre in the early 1980s. With no stage at the Fergus Theatre, performances were held at the Middle School. The group, which would later form what is now A Center for the Arts, leased the theater for the summer months. In 1982, they accepted the theater building as a gift from Gordy and Joan Bakken. Three hundred seats from the front of house were removed and a thrust stage was built to accommodate musical shows and drama. The theater no longer showed movies.
The early 1990s brought plans of change to the Fergus Theatre. Renovation began and more than $1 million was raised to make the theater a year-round facility. The fall of 1995 marked the reopening of the Fergus Theatre with a building that was up to code and handicapped accessible. Heating and electrical systems were updated and the lobby was completely remodeled, as were the stage and dressing room areas.
The remodeled auditorium had seating for 446 along with accessible seating for several persons. The renovated Fergus Theatre was now open year-round and became the home of A Center for the Arts.
In 2013, the Fergus Theatre auditorium was given an update. More comfortable seats, acquired from McKnight's Ordway Theater, were installed in the center section. These seats were higher and installed with an extra few inches of knee room in each row. The existing seats on the side were removed, raised, and reinstalled at a slight angle for better visibility, along with an extra couple of inches between rows. The auditorium also received a fresh coat of paint, and the dressing rooms have been updated. There is now fixed seating for 412, along with accessible seating for six patrons.
Year round programming includes local and touring performers and showcases music, theatre, dance and more. The auditorium is also available for rent. It has been used for everything from business meetings to birthday parties, memorial services to private movie screenings. Please go to our the "Rental" tab (under "Contact") for more information.
The Mission of A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls is to connect artists and audiences by providing the best possible arts experiences that inspire imagination, curiosity, creativity and learning.
Chris Werkau, Acting President
Kathy Wagnild, Secretary
Wally Warhol, Treasurer
Kendra E. Olson