The Bath House Cultural Center sits along the shores (if you can call them that without a hint of irony) of White Rock Lake in an area that was, during its construction in the 1930s, a rural area outside Dallas. Now it's only a few minutes by car--though a world away--from the Deep Ellum clubs or the Greenville Avenue bars.
The name may sound funny, but the Art Deco originally served as a proper bath house, catering to the recreational needs of the lake's visitors at a time when people actually swam there through its closure in 1953. A campaign to reopen it began in 1978, and, three years later, it debuted as an arts space catering to other, drier forms of entertainment, including music, poetry, dance and theater.
Since then, many performers have utilized the 120-seat theater, the spacious white-walled galleries, darkroom and mixed-use spaces at the "new" Bath House Cultural Center. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of its return, the center has assembled a diverse group of performers who have graced the stage and helped form the identity of the center in the past two decades. "It's a good representation of what's been here in past years," says David Fisher, the cultural center's manager since 1998.
What began as a mostly neighborhood/community recreational center has become what Fisher calls an "anchor arts center," which caters to the city's entire cultural scene. Some of the community arts focus may have gone the way of swimming at White Rock, but, according to Fisher, that has allowed the breadth and quality of the performers to expand. "This venue is safe for both artists and performers because the Bath House has come to represent a certain level of quality," Fisher says.
The anniversary celebration (which began last weekend with a joint event with the Sammons Center for the Arts and the Dallas Visual Art Center, two other 20-year-olds) continues Friday with a performance by the avant-garde musical group BL Lacerta. The trio of musicians is known for its impromptu scoring of black-and-white silent films. This night, they will be providing a live soundtrack for the movie Metropolis, Fritz Lang's 1927 film set in the very bleak year 2000.
The entertainment continues Saturday night with the "Alumni Performance Jam" that includes 14 individual artists or arts groups executing 10- to 15-minute acts each. So far, the confirmed performers and shows include the Beardsley Living Theatre doing a "performance poetry" piece, storyteller Elizabeth Ellis, jazz harpist Cindy Horstman, The Writer's Garret, the Filipino Folk Arts Theatre, the Echo Theatre, performance artists and dancers Peggy Lamb and Martha Murphy Hall, jazz saxophonist Joseph Vincelli, playwright Valerie Brogan of Teatro Dallas, Ground Zero Theatre Company, Cont'e de Loyo Flamenco Theatre and the Peeler Rose Puppets doing an "adult" (in age, not risqué material) puppet number.
"It will be pretty representational stuff [of what the artists normally do at the Bath House]," says Fisher. Well, as much as a 10-minute time slot can represent an artist's life work, we guess. After all, the Bath House itself has had 20 years to develop, refine and define its life work. "It is part of our mission to support smaller and local artists," asserts Fisher. "We always have and will always continue to."
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