When a group of Tisch students moved to New Orleans in 2005 and formed the NOLA Project, they wanted to bring high-quality drama back to the Big Easy. That stirring of the pot, combined with the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina, shook up the New Orleans theater scene like never before.
NOLA Project, under the direction of its first artistic director Andrew Larimer, came to New Orleans pre-Katrina. The company performed a production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” in August 2005. The run was cut short a week, and by the end of the month the levees broke.
“Our commitment to the city was just strengthened,” says A.J. Allegra, NOLA Project’s current artistic director. “It became a mission about bringing art back to a city in desperate need of some sort of human assistance, and that was the way we were able to give it.”
Along with the ensemble-driven NOLA Project came several other independent theater companies that set roots in New Orleans with a similar mentality—Cripple Creek, Skin Horse, and Goat in the Road, to name a few—performing pieces wherever they could draw a crowd.
NOLA’s ninth season closes with a production of “Adventures in Wonderland,” running May 7–25, adapted by company member Pete McElligott, and to be performed in the sculpture garden at New Orleans Museum of Art. The nonprofit theater company doesn’t have a permanent location in the city, so it looks at various venues to use as art spaces.
Many other smaller theaters are shaking up the scene in Louisiana; add a burgeoning TV and film business, and actors take notice, says Aimée Hayes, artistic director at Southern Rep. “With the film industry exploding here, there’s a lot of professional actors who have moved back to the city, or have chosen to come here and do their work,” says Hayes.
In helping to bring those actors work, the theater hosts two citywide, open call auditions for its season. According to Hayes, those auditions are a great way for actors to get introduced to New Orleans’ collaborative theater scene.
Southern Rep, a professional, Equity bonded theater company founded in 1986, will start its 2014–2015 season with “Broomstick.” Written by New Orleans playwright John Biguenet, the production was tapped by the National New Play Network to premiere at theaters in New Jersey and Montana before its regional premiere at the Rep.
While the theater scene has certainly grown, most funding for New Orleans theaters is based on ticket sales. Such is the case for Rivertown Theaters, a community theater in Kenner, a New Orleans suburb. Gary Rucker, artistic director at Rivertown, says because of that he and his partner, Kelly Fouchi, plan a season that will bring something new to the audience, in addition to shows that will bring in a crowd. Rivertown will kick off its season in September with “Shrek the Musical”; it will also feature “One Man, Two Guvnors,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Will Rogers Follies,” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” The diverse selection seems to have worked; this year, Rucker says Rivertown will be able to pay its performers, a welcome change since most actors and artists have to work a day job in the theater due to few Equity houses in the city and lots of tight bottom lines.
New Orleans is a bit smaller and slower-paced than other places, but the voice of the city and its artists is singular.
“You can’t bring a New York mentality to New Orleans—it’s just two different cities,” Rucker says. “We take our art very seriously here, but it’s much more relaxed.”
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