At a time when arts spaces seem to be shutting down shop all over town, news of a brand new theater in Northeast Portland seems nothing short of miraculous. The Fremont Theater opened its doors just last month, and has already packed its calendar with shows from Tesla City Stories, Portland Story Theater, and a slate of local musicians including Pat Kerns and the OO-Ray.
The theater, at 2393 NE Fremont St, is the brainchild of co-owners Johnny Keener and David Shur, who envisioned a space for smaller audiences, in contrast to mid-size venues like the Doug Fir or the Aladdin Theater.
“We just wanted a place where the common musician—who is actually amazing and talented—sounds great and gets treated well," says Shur. “[We wanted] to elevate artists that fill a room of this size, just to give them a place to really shine.”
The newly constructed storefront space—financed with a combination of bank and family loans—was designed by local artist and musician Jason Green, and can accommodate an audience of up to 120. In spite of the high ceilings and open floor plan, the space has an intimate feel, perfect for storytelling events and singer-songwriter gigs where close audience connection is key. A large steel staircase with varnished wooden treads leading up to a mezzanine dominates one wall. Tucked under its overhang is a full bar for the evening shows, curtained off for day time, family-oriented activities.
In fact, the Fremont has already become a hot spot for the local "kindie rock" scene. Keener, a longtime children's musician himself, is now hosting regular shows with Portland’s hot slate of kids entertainers, among them Talullah’s Daddy, Red Yarn, and Penny’s Puppets. Other more adult-focused acts like Australian indie-pop darlings the Middle Kids and klezmer punk rocker Geoff Berner have also booked shows in the new space.
Though the performers hail from all over, Shur was careful to emphasize the importance of the theater’s connection to its Alameda neighborhood.
“The neighborhood has been really highly engaged. I‘ve gotten to know a lot of people, and it’s been awesome,” says Shur. Turns out Alameda’s got strong arts roots already. “There is a guy who owns a home recording studio called Fremont Recording right down the street. The woman who is the voice coach for Portland Center Stage lives here.”
Keener and Shur have also leveraged their 35 years of combined music contacts in Portland to help get the space up and running. They've been getting advice from veteran sound experts, including Nalin Silva of Mississippi Studios and sound engineer Gary Stokes.
While the doors are open and the audiences have already started packing the house, Shur and Keener say they have more work to do. They are already planning future improvements like adding recording tools and a projector. Watch this space.
The Fremont Theater is at 2393 NE Fremont. Visit the website for more info and a show calendar.