Worm Creek Opera House in Preston, Idaho is one of the gems of the small town. Retail stores and businesses along State Street are being picked off like apples on a tree. Hardware stores, grocery stores and other retail storefronts have disappeared, but the movie house remodeled as a community theater has become a source of pride to the city.
The Grand Theater was built in the 1930’s as a movie show house. It closed in 1980 and lay vacant for five years before a group of residents bought it and remodeled it, creating a stage for live productions.
The red brick structure was named Worm Creek Opera House as tribute to the town’s history.
Before the town was named “Preston” in honor of William B. Preston, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Cache Stake, it was called Worm Creek, after a winding creek that runs just south of the city.
Paul Swainston, a cabinet maker by trade, was there from the beginning of the restoration. He is a longtime advocate, board member and caretaker of the building, and has developed a deep affection for the Opera House.
He said the old building is a blessing to the community.
“Preston needs the opera house,” he said. “It’s a place where people can go enjoy theater. It’s as important for the people on stage, as it is for people who come and take part of the same thing.”
Theater is a place for people to grow and spread their wings.
“I’ve seen the difference it makes in people lives,” the father of six said. “They come in here and can’t string 10 words together to make a sentence.
“Then the magic happens. When you get them on the stage it changes their life.
“They become outgoing and do better in school and believe in themselves,” Swainston said. “Kids start to have the confidence and are able to talk to other people.”
He admitted he was one of those people. He sang on stage with a choir his senior year of high school and got hooked.
The Opera House shows movies Friday, Saturday and Monday, but whenever there’s a live production, it takes precedent.
“We just did the stage production of Elf,” Swainston said. “It still brings people from off the farm, school and offices to see the productions.”
The production was sold out every night.
Most of the actors live in the county, but they have a few people outside the county try out for parts occasionally, and they have the same chance as anyone else.
“If someone from another place tries out for a part we treat them like anyone else,” Swainston said. “It’s just most people who try out for parts are from Franklin County. We certainly accept anyone who comes.”
There is a lot of talent in Franklin County, he said, and they are all volunteers, no one gets paid.
Glenda, Paul’s wife of 58 years, has also been involved from the beginning. She is the costume queen of the theater. She has sewn, collected or invented over seven thousand costumes over the years. Of course she’s had some help.
It started with her putting out a call for old clothes.
“What I got was mice-eaten or stuff worn so much we couldn’t use them.”
But eventually the 7000 piece wardrobe was created.
“We have people from the high school and other places borrow our costumes,” she said. “We’ve also borrowed them to people in California.”
Income from the movies helps pay for the live productions, and over the years they have made several upgrades on the theater. They added new seats, sound system, a digital projector, ADA restrooms, new electrical service and wiring upgrades.
“We don’t receive any tax funding like the Eccles Theater in Logan or other theaters,” he said. “We have to make the money we need to survive.”
Part time resident and national radio personality Glen Beck has conducted a few fundraisers at the theater, for the theater, and helped the theater get a grant so they were able to get the upgrades.
“We try to get grants when it comes to make improvements,” Swainston said. “And we try to make enough for regular maintenance from the shows.”
The schedule for the year is already set, with a variety show using music from past productions on “Night to Remember,” January 30-31. Find all the details on their website, wormcreek.org.