Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wally World

Since 1993, Wally Cuchine has been bringing culture to the historic mining town of Eureka.

Cuchine, executive director of the Eureka Opera House, has made it his goal to present a diverse menu of entertainers ranging from Celtic pipers to cowboy poets. “It has been my opinion that you should have an eclectic mix of performers,” he says.

Sarah Sweetwater, who teaches at Elko’s Great Basin College, sometimes drives two hours to attend events at the Eureka Opera House. She says she is impressed by what Cuchine has accomplished. “If it weren’t for people like Wally, we in rural Nevada would be starved culturally,” she says.

Originally from East Helena, Montana, Cuchine has been a Nevada resident for more than three decades. He discovered Eureka, the historic mining town located 242 miles east of Reno, in the early 1980s when he was hired to measure air quality in the region.

“While I was here, I fell in love with Eureka,” he recalls. “I always knew I could come back here someday.” His chance to return came in 1993, when he was tapped to run the opera house after two successful years as executive director of the Bristlecone Convention Center in Ely.

Built in 1880, the Eureka Opera House originally served as a miner’s union hall and later as a movie house. By the late 1980s, however, it was in need of restoration. The opera house was acquired by Eureka County, which spent $2.5 million, mostly from taxes generated from the county’s gold mines, to renovate the two-story, red-brick building into a convention center and performing arts theater.

When he was hired, Cuchine says the Eureka County commissioners provided him with a generous budget and told him to bring in performers he thought the community would like to see.

“The opera house has been my vision,” he says. “We’ve been able to partner with local schools so that when we bring in a performer, he or she must do a special performance for the schools.”

During the last few years, the opera house has hosted country-rock performers like Eddie Rabbitt (who was the first performer to appear in the revamped opera house), Western singers such as Don Edwards, Celtic bands, jazz groups, contemporary poetry readings, mystery theater, local school plays, and visiting children’s theater workshops.

Cuchine requests that anyone who performs in the Opera House, including members of children’s groups, sign his or her name on one of the backstage walls. “My dream is someday these kids who do sign the wall will bring their kids to see where they signed,” he says.

One of Cuchine’s passions is Nevada art. His home is jammed with paintings, posters, statues, and prints depicting Western themes and Nevada landscapes. In 2005, a portion of his massive art collection was displayed at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. His plan is to one day develop a permanent gallery for his artwork in Eureka.

Naturally, Cuchine is proud of the opera house that he’s helped to nurture for nearly a decade. “This is a wonderful, intimate place to see a performance. I like to tell people that we’re the center of everywhere [in Nevada] and everyone should come here to enjoy a performance,” he says.

For information about the Eureka Opera House, including the schedule of upcoming events, call 775-237-6006.

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