Part one: Acorn Theater makes changes

THREE OAKS, Mich. — As The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Michigan, adjusts to its new not-for-profit status, David Fink — one of the theater founders, current board members and the acting president — reflects on the venue’s evolution.

“Everything happened organically up until this point.”

Fink, along with partner Kim Clark, started the Acorn Theater and its mission 15 years ago. After owning a bed and breakfast in Union Pier, they’d become emotionally invested in the region. After hosting a variety show in Three Oaks, they saw a local desire for entertainment and art similar to that which they were accustomed to in Chicago.

“People loved it and we realized there was an audience for smart, interesting stuff.”

After selling the Union Pier business, they were exploring their next project when the Vickers Theater, which provided the variety show venue, encouraged them to set up in their neighborhood.

The Acorn Theater is now one of the cultural destinations located in the EK Warren Historic Featherbone Factory in Three Oaks.

When Fink and Clark first purchased the building, however, it was an empty, crumbling factory structure. The mostly abandoned building had been maintained by local citizens, including Jim Wisner, as much as was reasonable, but it still took two years of renovation to make it a usable space.

According to Fink, the roof had holes, the wood was rotting, and the brickwork was in poor shape. Portions of the building had simply collapsed. The area surrounding the factory was occupied by rusted cars and the street in front, now a paved thoroughfare connecting two sections of downtown, was simply a dirt road.

In Fink’s own words, “it was decaying.”

The duo saw potential in spite of the decay. Clark had been head of writing at Chicago’s Second City and hoped to make the building a second home for the improv group. The goal was to have a rehearsal space and a large area in which to record sketch comedy. At that point, any plans to use the building as an entertainment venue were minimal, with thoughts by Fink to “maybe have an occasional show.”

Renovating the building, however, took the pair over budget, so they decided to bring in entertainment and performance to recoup they money they had invested.

Thirteen years later, the theater has grown into a venue for artists, entertainers, musicians, and their fans, both local and national. The theater regularly features music of all genres, plays, comedy, dance, and spoken word performance.

They’ve been inundated with artists with a desire to perform on their stage. Artists with local ties, such as Anne Harris and Jenna Mammina, would find their way to the theater and spread the word to others in their creative community.

Fink and Clark would also bring in artists they knew from Chicago or seek performers they’d watched elsewhere. The roster would grow to include national touring acts, including Jefferson Starship, Cowboy Junkies, Sean Mullins, BoDeans, and Cracker. According to Fink, “most people found us” after hearing from other performers about how much they felt at home in the space.

He describes the special moments he has experienced with the growth of the theater, recounting the experience of watching Ides Of March live on his stage, performing songs from his high school days.

“It was one of those times when you kind of pinch yourself.”

According to David, the Acorn is “a theater with a bar, not a bar with live entertainment,” which is what makes the space desirable to artists of all levels and draws audiences from great distances. It’s value is in the mission to honor and showcase art and creativity, as opposed to leaving the performer acting as the background ambience. When fiddle-player Mark O’Connor played their stage, the attentive audience lent itself to symbiotic energy, with performer and audience building on the other’s enthusiasm for an “amazing, unbelievably skilled show.”

It’s a venue that focuses on the art and the performance and hopes to do so for many more years.

Regarding the new not-for-profit status, David is optimistic.

“I’m very excited. It’s a sustainable model. If the community continues to embrace us, we’ll have a long, solid future.”

Audiences can find a complete listing of upcoming and regular events at The Acorn Theater, as well as find opportunities to contribute and participate, by visiting acorntheater.com.

Justin Flagel is the founder of the web magazine and podcast Anywhere the Needle Drops, where he and others showcase their interest in music, pop culture, creativity and life. Follow their work at anywheretheneedledrops.com. Feedback can be directed to contact@anywheretheneedledrops.com.

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