For Aviation Cinemas co-owner Barak Epstein, the Texas Theatre is an integral part of the Dallas film and music scene. And he has a pretty damn good point: The historic theater screens 35mm prints of cult-classic films, has a full-service bar that serves movie-themed drinks complete with a safe-room art gallery, and is a formidable music venue.
In fact, that last one is a bit of a sleeper: Texas Theatre has showcased national touring acts like Thurston Moore, No Age and Goblin as well as locals such George Quartz, Black Dots and Def Rain. And a big part of that cred can be attributed to the one-of-a-kind experience offered by Epstein's Behind the Screen series.
While it isn't atypical for a historic theater to put on concerts on the main stage (as was the case with the packed Thurston Moore show), the team at Texas Theatre thought it would be interesting to put on comedy shows utilizing the space behind the 40-foot tall movie screen.
"We have 2,000-plus square feet of space, so we figured we needed to take advantage of as much of that space as possible." says Epstein with palpable excitement. He's a tall, thin man in his 30s that would be easy to pick out in a crowd, with a voice that exudes the confidence of a seasoned businessman. But he's also of a film nerd who unabashedly wears his influences on his sleeve.
"Two years ago we put on our first Behind the Screen show because we were looking for a venue at the last minute," Epstein continues. The name of that artist who performed for the first time behind the screen was local musician Mark Ryan (of the Marked Men) with his band Mind Spiders. "It's intimidating on the main stage if you don't have a 500 person show," Epstein explains. "So for something more intimate it's way more of that scene back there."
Behind the Screen's main focus is on good, local acts, which more often than not get double-billed with a film that screens before the musical performance, a unique thing that Epstein doesn't think anyone else is doing in Dallas. It's quite an experience to watch a psychedelic film like Fantastic Planet on one side of the screen and then grab a drink after and go on the other side to see local heavyweights True Widow blare their shoegazey riffs in a space that has surprisingly great acoustics.
Normally, the bands that are chosen to play after a screening pair thematically with the film like Holy Mountain and New Fumes (psych-rock/IDM) or A Band Called Death and Radioactivity (punk/garage rock). At the same time, a DJ is almost always programmed in the lobby during these events while the bar is bustling away with its regular patrons. "We try to do a little bit of everything," Epstein adds.
At the same time, the venue also provides an atmosphere much like an art gallery because the audience has full respect and appreciation for each event especially, given the theater's historical and cultural value. With all of its multi-faceted features all contained under one roof, the theater definitely feels like a cut above your standard club venue. "If you want a rock-and-roll thing, you play at a rock-and-roll club, but if you want an old theater you come to us", Epstein explains.
Oddly enough, Los Angeles noise-rock duo No Age played Texas Theater last year under the impression that they were playing in exactly that, a rock-and-roll nightclub. "They loaded up in the back and just thought it was a punk rock venue," Epstein says with a laugh. "I gave them drink tickets and they asked, 'Where's the bar?' I told them it was outside of the theater in the lobby and they were like, 'Oh, shit.' They had completely forgotten that they were inside a movie theater."
Outside of touring acts and double-bill shows, the Texas Theater puts a unique spin on the traditional concert formula. For instance, the theater recently hosted a "Horror Remix" edit of the 1983 film Bloodbeat while electronic act Nervous Curtains performed an original live score. Epstein explains, "You could totally just sit in the chair, watch the film and listen to the band. Or you could go behind the screen, watch the band and watch the film backwards."
Bryan Campbell, the man behind performance artist-cum-rock star George Quartz, is the in-house booker for almost all of the shows that the theater puts on. In fact, at the Scuzzmas event last Saturday that he both programmed and performed at, Campbell wore something not much different than Glenn Hughes in the Village People. He's energetic just as much as he is mystifying. When questioned about what 2015 has in store for Behind the Screen, Campbell and Epstein look at each other with restraint.
"It's too early to tell right now," Epstein teases. Judging by the track record so far though, there's no doubt that the theater will put out some mind-blowing shows that no other venue can come close to in terms of style and creativity. Let's all just make sure to show support to our local theater and be a part of history in the making in the Texas Theatre's fruitful years to come.
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