In 1967, a few miles from the California-Nevada border, a flat tire changed the trajectory of an artist’s career and life. New York City ballerina and Broadway dancer Marta Becket was camping with her husband in Death Valley, California when their trailer got a flat, sending them to Death Valley Junction for service.
As the tire was being repaired, Marta Becket wandered through the town. One building seemed to be calling her in particular, an old miners’ hall that had been built by Pacific Coast Borax Company in the 1920s. As Ms. Becket peeked through a hole in the back door, she immediately envisioned a theater of her own.
Although the building was in disrepair, she and her husband rented the property the next day for $45 a month and renamed it the “Amargosa Opera House.” After months of fixing up the building, Ms. Becket debuted her first show on February 10, 1968.
At first, she was performing mostly for herself and maybe a handful in the audience. To make sure she always had a packed house though, one year she decided to paint the walls with murals of theatergoers. It took her six years to finish painting the walls and ceiling.
Over the years, the opera house attracted larger audiences and became a quirky, cultural destination in the middle of the desert. Although Ms. Becket gave her last performance in 2012 and passed away in 2017 at age 92, her legacy continues thanks to another ballerina.
Jenna McClintock was six when she first visited Amargosa. She grew up to become a dancer herself and was drawn back to the desert to perform. Like Ms. Becket, Ms. McClintock’s vision is to live and share her art and hopes to inspire others to do the same.
The Opera House is still open for performances every weekend from November to May, where attendees get to see a once-in-a-lifetime immersive art experience. To view additional artworks by Ms. Becket, guests can book a night at the adjacent Amargosa Hotel.
For more information, you can watch the video, filmed on the 48th anniversary of Marta’s first performance at Amargosa, below: