Nestled on West Jefferson Street in Oak Cliff, illuminated by a neon exterior and designed with an art deco interior, sits a theater as iconic as the stories that surround it. The Texas Theatre is a Dallas landmark and hosts rare 35mm films on a regular basis, but the 86-year-old theater doubles as a rotating gallery space. Local performance artists, film festivals and even ballets have appeared at the theater. And since remodeling in 2010, Texas Theatre has quietly become a unique destination for live music.
Other venues incorporate visual elements into musical performances. Texas Theatre's specialized approach in syncing film with music, ballet or other performance art sets it apart. Performers can appear on the theater’s main stage in front of the 39-foot-wide screen or in a small, speakeasy-style area behind the screen.
Mind Spiders, a popular Fort Worth-based post-punk and electronic band, were the first to play a show behind the screen in 2012. Lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Ryan recalls the night fondly although he's a little fuzzy on details.
"I do remember that it was thrown together last minute,” he says, noting that there was no stage, only a small public address system for vocals and a couple of lights on the floor. “It was super fun. More like a house show than anything else.”
Ryan considers the theater his favorite venue in North Texas.
These days, there’s a small stage in the back, and Mind Spiders have continued to play shows there, including after a double feature Friday night of D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage and Sid & Nancy. The concert, which began as the last credits rolled, worked perfectly after a night of punk-rock cinema. Along with Mind Spiders, the set included Austin-based punk band Sailor Poon, local garage-punk trio Eggshells and local hardcore band Pissed Grave.
The decision to separate the main stage from the area behind was made during remodeling. It allows the theater to fit the room according to each show. The theater’s operator, Barak Epstein, says that when Aviation Cinemas acquired the theater seven years ago, there wasn’t a screen.
“We had to build one from scratch. And we were like, this stage is so big, how can we utilize this for more than just movies?” he says. “So we installed a custom screen on a movable truss. But what’s unique is, most the time if you see that in places, often it’s anchored on the ground, and ours is anchored on top. Which means it rolls back and forth.”
Epstein; Bryan Campbell, professionally known as George Quartz; Chris Billings and Jason Reimer act as a collective of the Texas Theatre crew to book the theater’s gigs, as well as larger promoters such as Margin Walker, Parade of Flesh and Spune. Acts have included Italian composer Fabio Frizzi (The Beyond), experimental rock band Goblin (Suspiria), and plenty of local bands, DJs and singer-songwriters. The theater also partnered with local culture hub The Wild Detectives to host French-Mexican musician, actor and director Adan Jodorowsky in September.
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Epstein and Ryan agree that Goblin’s live performance in 2014 of Suspiria's original score onstage during a screening of the 1977 Italian horror film was one of the coolest shows to come through the theater. And, Epstein says, the theater hasn’t seen too many original composers enter its doors.
Because of the success the theater has had with acts such as Goblin, Frizzi and Seu Jorge, who brought his critically acclaimed A Life Aquatic — A Tribute to David Bowie tour to the theater last year, Epstein says more composers and touring musicians are looking at the theater for potential gigs.
“It’s not just a movie, and it’s not just a show,” Epstein says.
After years of vacancy and vandalism, a large fire, and almost becoming a furniture warehouse, Texas Theatre is much more than a movie house. It incorporates all elements of multimedia and has finally hit its stride.