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A Little Bit of Coney Island at the Bath House

by Gail Sachson 26 Jul 2011 11:16 AM

As the Festival of Independent Theatres rolls on, a piece of the Bath House Cultural Center’s past is rediscovered down below.


Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.

Follow me underground. Keep an eye open for hidden staircases, half-century old wading pools and … ghosts.

We are exploring the cool – yes, really cool in temperature and ambiance – FIT Underground, the recently unearthed and re-birthed  theater/party basement  space at the Bath House Cultural Center.  Used for storage rather than staging or bathing since 1953,  when the Bath House was closed for water sports, this lower level  was where beach bathers would buy concessions and climb the now hidden staircases to the locker rooms upstairs (where the art galleries are today). Bathers would first wash the sand from their feet in the basement wading pool, which is now covered and provides the footprint for the newly constructed stage. Barely detectable signage from a half-century ago points men to the right, women to the left.

But now on weekends until Aug. 6, while FIT (Festival of Independent Theatres) fills  the Bath House black box theater upstairs with great provocative work, men and women descend the staircases together from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and 10-11 p.m. for a beer, some cheer and camaraderie  before and after the shows.  Since FIT opened on July 15, theatergoers have been singing, dancing, lounging on lawn chairs, listening to music and drinking and dining from “Crusin’ Vietnamese Fusion,” the food truck parked steps from the lake.

With the help of Kineta Massey, manager of the  Bath House after-school and Big Thought summer programs, Massey’s family and the support group Friends of the Bath House, Bath House director Marty Van Kleeck created FIT Underground, a throwback in time, but timeless all the same.

“It had been my dream to open this space as soon as the SMU rowing sculls moved over to the newly restored boathouse last year,” Van Kleeck says. “It was the hard work of the Friends that made it possible when they cleared out the space and painted the walls. We  gravel covered the underground and decorated it with a mish-mash of things to give the space a festive fun feel. I wanted it to have a Coney Island feel. A place to hang out with some wonderfully fun entertainment during the festival when audience, actors and staff could all hang out before and after the shows.”

Massey sees the Underground as “another space for local artists to perform,” and  her family members all pitched in to make it happen.  Husband Johnny Sequenzia, a one-man bluegrass-jam band, is donating his incredible talent to entertain. Using a looping machine, Sequenzia plays a mandolin, harmonica, guitar, bass and sings all the while. Other nights you might hear an indie rock band with an Irish step dancer. Anything seems possible in this fantasy land with a mechanical fish as its logo – designed by Massey’s brother – while artists perform on a stage painted by Massey’s mother.

Van Kleeck has no immediate plans for the space after the festival wraps, but it could be another needed revenue source for the Bath House or an extension for another level – literally – of scheduled performances. Book a party, a prom, a picnic, puppet show or play … or  in this weather, just reserve it as a place to cool down.