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Past meets present at this trio of historic entertainment venues in Reno-Tahoe Territory.
Photo: Matthew B. Brown
At some shows, the stage itself is part of the entertainment.
That’s the case at three northwestern Nevada venues—Brewery Arts Center in Carson City, Pioneer Center in Reno, and Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City—where history and community share the spotlight with actors and musicians.
On a quiet corner in Carson City, an effort is underway to strengthen the area’s arts community.
The old Carson Brewing Company building, constructed in 1865 at King and Division Streets, is now home to the Brewery Arts Center, a nonprofit group committed to promoting arts and cultural events. Although the Brewery Arts Center has existed since 1975, the group has recently reached out to area artists and arts groups, says Tami Castillo Shelton, director of programs.
A strategic plan, with input from community and civic leaders, has been developed over the past year to help the Brewery Arts Center become a focal point for Carson City arts and culture, according to Shelton.
It seems a logical choice, as the building houses three performance venues—the 1864 Grand Ballroom, the 306-seat BAC Performance Hall, and the 120-seat Maizie Harris Jesse Theatre. The center also holds classes, is home to the BAC Stage Kids children’s theater company, and operates Access Carson City, the local public-access television station. An on-site art gallery displays local work, and an artisans’ store sells it.
All of that is contained in a historic two-story Classical Revival-style building that Shelton admits needs constant renovation and repair. Currently, the nonprofit Brewery Arts Center—which leases the building from the city—is working to raise funds to restore a section of the structure’s brick exterior.
Preserving the building, Shelton says, is worth it. “It’s a wonderful blend of history, as well as the present, and a vision for the future,” she says.
On tap at the Brewery Arts Center this winter: BAC Stage Kids performs “Music Man Jr.” November 11-20, and Proscenium Players, Inc. presents “A Tuna Christmas” December 2-4 and 8-11.
The mid-20th century was a boom period for Reno—the city was growing, and gaming provided a strong economic base. Into this milieu, the distinctively shaped Pioneer Center opened its doors in 1968.
The gold-colored dome structure in downtown Reno houses a 1,500-seat theater that serves as the primary stage for the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, Nevada Opera Association, and A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, as well as a stop for touring Broadway productions. Besides the main theater space, the Pioneer Center has the 167-seat Pioneer Underground black box theater, leased by Reno Tahoe Comedy, and a 4,000-square-foot exhibit hall. “It’s basically a cultural icon in Reno,” says Willis Allen, executive director of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, the nonprofit that operates the facility.
Part of that iconic status can be credited to the Pioneer Center’s modified geodesic dome—a design developed by American engineer Richard Buckminster Fuller. The dome is one of the reasons the Pioneer Center is listed as a Nevada State Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places.
But the building’s fame can also be attributed to its history as a performance venue. Resident arts groups have long used the facility to stage shows, and, for the past 17 years, the nonprofit has been bringing in touring Broadway shows as part of its “Broadway Comes to Reno” series. “It’s huge,” Allen says. “It accounts for a very large percentage of our operating income.”
Currently planning the 2012-2013 season, Allen says his choices are based on what shows are touring in the region and the preferences of the local audience. “The audience in Reno [leans toward] the old Broadway standards,” he says.
He admits the 2011-2012 season varied a bit from that—remaining shows in the current lineup include “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” November 25-27; “Young Frankenstein,” January 27-29, 2012; “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles,” March 16-18, 2012; and “The Color Purple,” April 13-15, 2012. For those who prefer the classics, “Damn Yankees” comes to town February 17-19, 2012.
“It looks virtually like it did [originally],” Robert Slaby, Storey County School District superintendent, says about Piper’s Opera House.
When visitors enter the yellow building on Virginia City’s B Street, they are walking in the footsteps of John Mackay, who amassed a fortune from the Comstock mines in the 1870s. When performers take to the Piper’s stage, they are working in a venue once inhabited by turn-of the-century actors Lily Langtry and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. “It’s one of the oldest opera houses still standing in the western United States,” Slaby says. “It’s part of our heritage—one of the reasons our town is [a National Historic Landmark].”
Today’s Piper’s is actually the third incarnation of the opera house. The original structure, on D Street, was destroyed by fire in 1875. Owner John Piper constructed a new Piper’s at B and Union streets, only to see the second building burn down in 1883. He rebuilt on the same site, opening the third—and current—Piper’s in 1885.
Throughout the 20th century, Piper’s was alternately opened and closed as various members of John Piper’s family took control of the facility. In 1997, it was sold to the nonprofit group Piper’s Opera House Programs, Inc., which works to fund projects to keep the building in good repair. Earlier this year, Piper’s financial operations and scheduling were taken over by the Storey County School District, which uses the facility for classes, graduations, and proms. There are even plans to train students to be docents at Piper’s, according to Slaby.
Upcoming programming includes Christmas on the Comstock, December 3, featuring a performance by the Comstock Cowboys and a Civil War-themed Christmas ball.
Brewery Arts Center
449 W. King St., Carson City
Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts
100 S. Virginia St., Reno
Piper’s Opera House
B & Union Streets, Virginia City
99 N. Virginia St., Reno
Good Luck Macbeth
119 N. Virginia St., Reno
Nevada Repertory Company
University of Nevada, Reno
Nevada Shakespeare Company
127 Creekside Dr., Dayton
Reno Little Theater
Currently: Hug High School, Reno
Starting Jan. 2012: 147 E. Pueblo St., Reno
Theatre of Arts Discipline (TOAD)
701 Long Valley Rd., Gardnerville
Valhalla Boathouse Theater & Grand Hall
South Lake Tahoe
Wild Horse Children’s Theater
813 N. Carson St., Carson City