North Tahoe Mark Twain center, Toccata concert hall shutter | SierraSun.com

North Tahoe Mark Twain center, Toccata concert hall shutter

Tim Hauserman
Special to the Bonanza

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Mark Twain Cultural Center and Toccata-Guttman Concert Hall in Incline Village had been the venue for McAvoy Lane's presentations as Mark Twain and for Toccata's musical program, under the direction of maestro James Rawie.

The location closed Feb. 1, however, and its owners are making plans to revitalize the Village Center shopping center location where it resided since July 2, 2010.

"The property could be the gem of the area," said Greg Hoff, head of a partnership that owns the Village Center. "But there is deferred maintenance. My job is to fix it up and make some money for the investors."

Due to financial woes, the Mark Twain Cultural Center nearly closed at the end of 2011 before Toccata stepped in to assume the lease and continue holding cultural events.

The center was a homey, small place that didn't hold more then 80 people, but had a pleasant ambiance for a live-speaking performance.

While Layne is sorry to see the little theater go, he is not resting on his laurels. He is working on an audio book called "One Life is Not Enough," as well as making plans to perform at a number of other locations while keeping his ear to the ground for a new venue.

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TWAIN AT TAHOE

For the last 27 years, Layne has performed as Mark Twain more than 4,000 times, including for A&E's Mark Twain biography and in the Discovery Channel's Award winning documentary, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Layne's love of Twain began with a snowstorm. Many years ago he rented a cabin in Tahoma and came to Tahoe to ski, but instead, he said, "I was trapped like a rat behind five feet of snow. But it turned out to be the best stroke of luck. On the coffee table was the complete works of Mark Twain."

In short order, he began a new life living Twain. Although he already had the bushy mustache, he started with a wig instead of Twain's long curly white hair.

When the wig blew off his head and he was nearly killed trying to fetch it in Las Vegas (which he calls, "the place where brain cells go to die"), he grew his hair long and white instead.

Now he performs as Twain more than 200 times a year in a variety of locations, including with private groups, at schools across Nevada and aboard the Tahoe Queen.

Layne also performs frequently at regional Chautauqua events, where he can join in conversation with interesting characters from the past.

He remembers getting off the phone one time, and his son asked with whom he was talking.

"I said, 'Henry Ford', and my son said. "Dad, aren't any of your friends still alive?'" he recalled. "Twain's life was so much more interesting then mine, it's more fun to be him then me."

'IT'S BEEN A FUN THING'

Rawie, who's served for years as maestro of Toccata, said the symphony orchestra used the concert hall primarily as a place for people to practice, or for small group performances.

It was renamed the Toccata-Guttman Concert Hall in 2013 after the death that summer of Incline philanthropist Paul Guttman, who donated time, money and resources to the orchestra.

"It's been a fun thing, and I really thought it was something that the community needed. Low budget and low cost," Rawie said about the concert hall. "I would be willing to keep it going if the community stepped up to make operating expenses."

The problem, Hoff said, has been that rent for the space has been in the form of a percentage of receipts from performances, and there have not been a lot of performances.

"It doesn't appear that they really use the space that much," said Hoff, who took over the property for his late father, Art Hoff, who died recently.

Hoff said he is not aware of other cultural centers that exist without financing from some other public entity.

To find out about Layne's performances, visit ghostoftwain.com. To find out about Toccata performances, including several set for February, visit toccatatahoe.com.

People may also email Layne at mcavoylayne@gmail.com.

Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at writeonrex@yahoo.com. Bonanza Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.