Selling a Story in Death Valley

May 28, 2016

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In a recent episode of The Speaking for Profit Podcast I spoke about the amazing story of The Amargosa Opera House that has operated in the tiny community of Death Valley Junction for decades. I wanted to share the story here as well.

If you want to listen to the whole podcast (and there’s lots of great info in this episode) then you can do so by using the audio player below. Or you can continue reading to hear about how an aging dancer became a legend in the most unlikely of places.




“You know, on this podcast Cindy, I talk a lot about the idea of selling through stories and how sometimes what people are buying really isn’t the product or service, but the story around it.

And I saw a great example of this on my most recent vacation. It’s a story that would inspire practically anyone.

My girlfriend and I were driving through Death Valley, California when we discovered it.

Death Valley is one of the driest and hottest places on earth. There are a few small villages scattered about – and most of them are practically abandoned.

One of these places is called Death Valley Junction. It’s an old railroad and mining town that has a population of less than two dozen people.

It contains a café, a hotel, and the Amargosa Opera House. Yes an Opera House. And they’re run by the same lady…. A woman by the name of Marta Beckett.

Marta’s an actress, ballet dancer and choreographer. She’s in her 90s now, but in 1967 she did an amazing thing.

Like many talented people in the arts, she never quite made the big time. She had been on Broadway but she’d never cracked stardom.

When she was in her 40s, she was driving through Death Valley when she got a flat tire after stopping in the village.

Rather than continuing onwards, she decide to stay because.…. There was a theatre in the village.

It was built as a community hall, but it had a stage!  So she moved in and started doing performances and ballet. She did regular shows, with her husband selling tickets in the box office.

There was only one problem. This was Death Valley. There were no people around. She did shows to empty theatres for more than two years.

Then, in 1971, a photo team from National Geographic was doing a photoshoot in Death Valley, stopped for gas and a bite to eat, and saw the Opera House. They payed their money, went inside and were surprised to see this woman doing a one woman ballet to a totally empty house.

They wrote about it and guess what? It made her famous. More and more people came to watch her ballet, including many A-list Hollywood celebrities. She played to the type of people most of us could only dream about.

These celebrities drove for hours from places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles into the middle of nowhere to a dusty little theatre to see this aging dancer perform.

Do you think they came because the ballet was awesome?


Ballet is really for the young. But you know what, the quality of this ballet (the product) didn’t matter at all. That’s not what people were buying.

What people payed for when they went to see her show was the story of Marta Becket. A story that they could tell their friends. A story, that they themselves could become part of when they bought a ticket.

And what a story it is! A story about the human spirit – and this idea of playing full out on a stage, any stage, even if no one is there to watch.

What is the story of your business? Why should people travel hundreds of miles to work with you?  That story may not be quite as dramatic as Marta’s, but if you tell it in the right way you can be a star in your own industry.

Oh by the way, there are still ballet’s being performed at Amargosa Opera House if you happen to be interested. Marta’s original ballets are being performed by others and their schedule runs from November to May.


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