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The Amargosa Opera House Struggles To Survive During Covid-19

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The Amargosa Opera House is not your typical performance venue. It’s small, it has a painted audience on the walls, and is located in Death Valley Junction -- population, 4. 

But the charming theater boasts a rich history, dating back to founder and performer Marta Becket, who turned an emergency stop into a lifelong passion. People come from all over the world to stay at its hotel.

2020 was to mark the opera house’s 52nd season, but then COVID-19 hit.

“With the announcement of COVID, we shutdown overnight and literally all of our tourism and our income halted,” Fred Conboy, the president of the Amargosa Opera House board of directors, told KNPR's State of Nevada. 

The nonprofit venue has sat dark most of the year, and the hotel is only allowed to have eight guests each night because of California's virus restrictions.

Those hotel guests and donations have kept the facility alive, but with the hotel shuttering for the winter, the gem of Amargosa Valley faces an uncertain future.

Support comes from

Conboy said before the pandemic the opera house had put together about $90,000 in reserve funds. When payroll protection funds became available from the federal government at the beginning of the pandemic, the nonprofit applied for them, and it launched the Amargosa Opera House Go Fund Me page.

While it sounds like a healthy amount, the opera house's expenses run about $10,000 a month, Conboy said, which drained their PPP money, crowdfunded donations and reserve fund quickly as the pandemic wore on.  

The nonprofit has raised about $35,000 through the GoFundMe page, but its goal is $68,000.

For right now, the hotel, cafe and opera house are surviving on the resources they have coming in, some money from film projects being done there and some private funding.

“If all goes well, we’ll be able to stretch this out for maybe six months or longer at the current pace of expense,” Conboy said.

Like everyone else on the planet, Conboy is hopeful a vaccine will make a big difference. Most of the opera house's summertime tourists come from Europe. 

“As soon as there is optimism and people are feeling safe, we think that that will return, but 'when' is all very uncertain,” he said.

Conboy noted that Death Valley Junction has been thought dead several times - when the Pacific Coast Borax company left; when the railroad tracks were removed; when the hotel started losing customers - but each time it has survived.

The town's latest survival story was created by Becket and her dedication to the spot.

“Marta weathered many storms and many of the vicissitudes of drought and flood and lean times, but she never experienced anything quite like this,” he said. 

Even though the opera house is navigating unchartered waters, Conboy believes Becket's desert dream will live on.

“I feel fully confident that we will not see the ultimate or final end of either the town or the legacies of the Borax company or Marta Becket,” he said.

Conboy also believes the historical nature and magic of the location, and the legacy of Marta Becket, draws people to the Amargosa Opera House and Death Valley Junction, and that they will be drawn back again.

"It’s the magic of walking into the opera house and seeing these magnificent Renaissance-inspired murals," he said. "It’s the fact that on most nights, you have one of the darkest skies in the whole world and you can see billions of stars. It’s very quiet. You can hear your own heartbeat.” 

Guests

Fred Conboy, president of the board of directors, Amargosa Opera House 

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