MOJAVE DESERT HERITAGE & CULTURAL ASSOCIATION

Amargosa Opera House

operahouse1Located in the small town of Death Valley Junction, which officially lists its population as "fewer than 4," the Opera House was the official performance space for dancer, actress, and painter Marta Becket, who would perform ballet there three nights a week for more than forty years, whether she had an audience or not.

According to legend, Marta arrived there purely by chance. She and husband Tom Williams, a former ad exec from NYC, had been traveling across the country en route to Vegas in search of theatre work, when they decided to spend a few days camping in Death Valley over Easter weekend, and wound up popping a tire. As Tom got out to fix it, Marta went wandering into the desert, and came running back 20 minutes later telling Tom there was something he needed to see.

Minutes later, she led him to a small 23-room desert hotel, with an adjoining cafe, both in operation, while a theater sat at the far end of the property, all boarded up.

What they'd come to learn was that, forty years prior, the property was part of a Borax mining town called Amargosa (slides 8-10), then located at the end of the now-gone Death Valley Railroad. Back then, the theater was an all-purpose Hall, used for movie screenings, dances, town meetings, funerals, & church services, up until the mine shut down in the 1930s. After that, the hotel stayed open and converted it to a bowling alley, letting guests put dozens of holes through its stage.

Deciding to make Amargosa their home, Marta and Tom rented the theater and spent $2,000 renovating it, with Tom bringing in 60 seats and new flooring while Marta painted herself an audience along the walls to be sure that while she might perform to an empty room, she’d never be alone.

Their story went around the world, thanks to pieces in LIFE & National Geographic, bringing audiences from all over. They didn't sell tickets. All that was requested was a $1.50 donation from any adult attending the show.

Marta's final performance was in February of 2012.

She died in 2017.

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