The 12th annual Festival of Independent Theatres opens tonight at the Bath House Cultural Center. Its motto this year: “Shifting Your Focus” (illustrated by the coin-operated binocular that adorns the Bath House veranda). FIT, as it’s called, is the oldest theater festival in North Texas. But KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports FIT is continuing these days mostly through the determination and creativity of the artists involved — despite city budget cuts.
- KERA radio report:
- Expanded online report:
Four years ago, the entire programming budget for Dallas’ Bath House Cultural Center was $52,000. This year, it’s $17,000. Next year’s proposed budget is $8,000 — that will represent a cut of 85 percent over four years. While bond money and private money funded an apparent North Texas arts boom with projects like the AT&T Performing Arts Center, the city of Dallas was actually, repeatedly, cutting back on the Bath House, the Oak Cliff, the Latino and the South Dallas Cultural Centers.
And much of that that was even before the current round of drastic reductions that will hit city departments this fall.
Marty van Kleek manages the Bath House, and last year, that position was eliminated. Karen Casey, president of the Friends of the Bath House, says that van Kleek continues in the position — continues to co-produce things like the Festival of Independent Theaters — because it was the Friends of the Bath House who raised the money for her salary this year – as a private grant.
So the festival operates the way many non-profits and city arts efforts actually do: by patching things together. There was no money to mail the brochures this year; they were hand-delivered to restaurants and retail outlets. Concession food is being donated. A garage sale and a book sale are being planned.
Remarkably, even under such straitened circumstances, this year’s festival has added a gallery show of works by 41 Texas artists: the “Fictional” Exhibition, containing paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures loosely inspired by the festival’s dramas (below, one of three Fish Lanterns by Amber Block). Twenty independent theater companies submitted scripts, and eight of those plays are being staged, including four world premieres, in addition to a choral piece by artist-musician-director Elizabeth Swados (Echo Theatre’s Bible Women, above left) and Andre Gregory’s famous modern revision of Alice in Wonderland (presented by White Rock Pollution, right).
Van Kleek designed the costumes for one of the world premieres, The Turquoise Pontiac, by Austin playwright Ellsworth Schave, presented by One Thirty Productions (it’s a companion piece to his Under a Texaco Canopy, one of three Schave plays One Thirty is staging this year). In Pontiac, a young woman challenges a man to battle. Van Kleek created the armor, breastplate and helmet the young woman builds.
The funky, intricate costume reflects much the same inventive, patched-together, make-do efforts behind the festival itself.
Van KLEEK: “Well, this show takes place in a bar, so I figured she made it from things she could find in the bar: cardboard and baskets that they serve the burgers in and – “
WEEKS: “— bottle caps – ”