From livery stable to hit theater, the Virginia City Opera House has been delighting crowds for 75 years

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Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-16 19:52:01-04

VIRGINIA CITY — Charlie and Sue Bovie loved old buildings, and they wanted to make sure that those buildings survived well into the future. That’s why they’re credited with what you see when you come to Virginia City. It turns out Charlie was also a fan of good theater, which led to the creation of the Virginia City Opera House 75 years ago.

“There was a miner’s convention that was going to happen that summer, so he gathered some of his friends together and they put on a little Vaudeville show for the miners and it was very popular,” said Christina Koch, co-director of the Virginia City Opera House.

She continued, “So Charlie decided to turn the old livery stable, which we are in now in, to the opera house. And originally they called it the Old Stone Barn Theatre, and then after a few years they changed the name to the Virginia City Opera House and that was the start of the Virginia City Players.”

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That was 1948, and the players and audiences have been gathering every year since. That’s 75 years of laughs and music—all performed by actors from literally around the world.

“When you're looking at the history of the opera house, there's even an actor who was from England that came here and we almost fulfilled that this year,” said Bill Koch, Opera House co-director. “We almost had a man from Norfolk, England that was going to come over here, a really talented artist. He ended up winning the second-highest award besides the Olivier in England and he was going to come for the summer, and Homeland Security screwed that up for us.”

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Christina and Bill Koch, co-directors of the Virginia City Opera House

Virginia City is a tourist destination. Thousands of visitors from across the globe will walk the boardwalks and spend time in the opera house each summer. The players love performing for them, but just like when Charlie Bovie started all this, it’s the people that make the Virginia City Opera House something special.

”The things that makes it the most fun is the locals that keep coming back, and I’m talking Idaho Falls, Rexburg, Salmon, Butte, Dillon—they keep coming and they come every year with the same sort of enjoyment that they've done—I've been around for 35 years, off and on 37 years, and I just see the same people walking through the door and I hear about their families and about things that have happened to them, but this place has always been kind of a little home,” Bill Koch said.

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Seventy-five years of fun, almost brought to an end during the pandemic, but again, local friends pitching in to keep the doors open today. Virginia City is here because of the love of the Bovies—and the opera house doing its thing for three-quarters of a century for the very same reason.

“It's what keeps the door open, is just our love for this place and what it does; it gives actors the opportunity to express themselves and work together and be creative and gives the audience the chance to come in and forget their troubles for a while and everybody leaves with a smile on their face, and it’s worth it every single time,” said Christina Koch.

From livery stable to lively performances: that kind of transition can only happen in a place like Virginia City.