On Stage
Jul/Aug 2004

Above: The New Orleans Arts District is home to museums, galleries, restaurants and theaters, including the True Brew Cafe Theater and the Contemporary Arts Center. New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau photo

Below: New Orleans gets its share of traveling Broadway productions, including Hairspray, which will be at the Saenger Theatre from Dec. 7–12. Paul Kolnik photo

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Live Theater is blossoming in New Orleans, where patrons
of the arts can enjoy a wide range of performances.
By Don Redman
Associate Editor

ive theater is indeed alive and doing well in New Orleans, which is one of the nation’s oldest venues for theatrical performances, spanning more than two centuries. On almost any night, theatergoers can catch live performances ranging from opera to cabaret to Broadway to one-person monologues.

“Live theater is definitely blossoming,” says John Perkins, regional theater reviewer for the Slidell “Sentry-News.” “It’s hard to keep up with everything that’s going on in the area.”

David Cuthbert, theater critic for the New Orleans “Times-Picayune” couldn’t agree more, adding, “There’s a lot more theater in quantity and quality.”

Perkins and Cuthbert attribute the renewed interest in live theater largely to a growing number of producers anxious to stage plays, as well as a seemingly endless supply of talented actors who are being groomed at ever-younger ages. In addition to the renowned New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), which provides teenagers intensive instruction in the arts, many area high schools have focused on the performing arts, too, and now offer classes taught by full-time drama teachers. There are also several venues for younger children through the New Orleans Recreation Department’s (NORD) theater program and other drama programs in area elementary schools.

New Orleans area universities also have contributed to the mix with a steady flow of talented thespians, directors and set designers, as well as excellent venues for live productions.

Thanks largely to playwrights like Tennessee Williams, New Orleans has captured the imagination of many budding playwrights who see the city as an excellent proving ground to test new and original material. And in a city renowned for its many and varied “characters,” there are ample sources for inspiration.

Theaters in many other cities around the country have to compete with the increasing popularity of home theaters with high definition televisions and surround-sound systems, but venues in New Orleans still have an eager audience.

“We’re used to live theater,” says Cuthbert. “New Orleans is a city that had neighborhood theaters on nearly every block, so we’re used to theater. And we’re a party city and we’d much rather go out than stay inside.”

The history of theater in New Orleans parallels the history of the city, which hosted the first operatic performance in the United States in 1796. As the city prospered, so did theater. More venues for live theater were constructed, including the majestic St. Charles Theater. The original St. Charles Theater burned down in 1842 and another, less opulent theater was constructed to replace it. The theater was frequented by many of the country’s most popular actors, including the Booth family. Making his first appearance in New Orleans, John Wilkes Booth appeared onstage in “Richard III” on March 14, 1864.

Now appearing

Today, many of the country’s most popular actors can be found onstage at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans, which specializes in staging Broadway productions. The Saenger originally opened in 1927 at the cost of $2.5 million, primarily as a venue for silent movies and stage productions.

New Orleans also is home to one of the nation’s oldest, continuously run community theaters, Le Petit Theater du Vieux Carre in the French Quarter, which started in 1916. The community playhouse offers performances that border on the professional and attracts many national talents to its stage.

Far from being a complete listing, other venues for catching live theater in New Orleans include:

• The Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts: Home of the New Orleans Opera Association.

• Southern Repertory Theater: Stages local and regional plays and offers cutting-edge productions.

• Contemporary Arts Center: Stages dozens of local and regional plays annually and offers its facilities to the many theater troupes that do not have permanent homes.

• Le Chat Noir: Le Chat initially started out as a venue for cabaret, but it has also begun to offer an eclectic variety of theater including locally written plays, as well as national acts.

• True Brew Café Theater: A local favorite, True Brew specializes in original, witty local productions.

• Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center: Presents film, video, performance art, visual art and literary events six nights a week, year-round.

• Anthony Bean Community Theater: One of the few remaining predominantly black community theaters, the theater specializes in local productions.

• Fine Arts Center: Offers local productions as well as a well-received children’s theater.

• NOCCA: Offers innovative, sometimes risky productions by student performers.

• NORD: City-sponsored theater staged by the New Orleans Recreation Department at Gallier Hall, featuring family- and child-friendly productions.

New Orleans’ love affair with theater also has spread to surrounding communities. The Rivertown Repertory Theater in nearby Kenner offers outstanding musical and dramatic productions with the added option of dinner.

Shine Productions in St. Bernard Parish also offers quality theatrical productions onstage at the Nunez Community College Auditorium. And St. Tammany Parish, north of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, boasts no less than four theaters with a dinner theater slated to open soon.

Quality community productions can be found in Slidell at the Slidell Little Theater and the soon-to-be-opened Minacapelli’s Dinner Playhouse. Staged productions can also be found at the three other theaters in Western St. Tammany: The Playmakers Theater in Covington, North Star Theater in Mandeville and the Skyfire Theater in Covington.

An excellent source for theater events can be found in the “Times-Picayune’s” “Lagniappe” section, as well as “The Gambit Weekly” newspaper. In addition, the Arts Council of New Orleans Web site, www.artscouncilofneworleans.org, lists live theater venues in its arts directory. Rest assured that regardless of the time of year, there will always be an opportunity to catch live theater in and around New Orleans.

For more information, contact these New Orleans-area theaters:

New Orleans theaters

• Anthony Bean Community Theater, 1333 S. Carrollton Ave., (504) 862-PLAY (7529), www.anthonybeantheater.com;

• Contemporary Arts Center, Bank One Theater and Freeport McMoran Theater, 900 Camp St., (504) 528-3805, www.cacono.org;

• Dilliard University, Samuel C. DuBois Cook Fine Arts and Communications Center, 2601 Gentilly Blvd., (504) 816-4762;

• Fine Arts Center, 1733 Constantinople St., (504) 269-3922, www.thefinearts center.com;

• Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., (504) 581-5812, or visit the Web site www.cabaretlechatnoir.com;

• Le Petit Theater Du Vieux Carre, 616 St. Peter St., (504) 522-2081, www.lepetittheatre.com;

• Loyola University, Lower Depths Theater, (504) 865-3824, or visit the Web site www.loyno.edu/drama;

• Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts, 305 Baronne St., (504) 529-2278, www.neworleansopera.org;

• NOCCA Riverfront, 2800 Chartres St., (504) 940-2787, www.nocca.com;

• Saenger Theater, 143 North Rampart St., (504) 525-1052,or visit the Web site www.sangertheater.com;

• Southern Repertory Theater, 3rd floor of Canal Place, 333 Canal St., (504) 522-6545, www.southernrep.com;

• Tulane University, theater department’s Summer Shakespeare Festival (504-865-5105) and Patchwork Players children’s theater (504-865-5106); music department’s Tulane Summer Lyric
Theater (504-865-5269);

• True Brew Café Theater, 200 Julia St., (504) 524-8440;

• University of New Orleans, Performing Arts Center on the UNO Lakefront Campus, (504) 280-7469;

• Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., (504) 525-2767, www.zeitgeistinc.org.

Theaters in the
surrounding area

• Minacapelli’s Dinner Playhouse, 1540 W. Lindberg Drive, Slidell, (985) 781-6565;

• North Star Theater, 347 Gerard St., Mandeville, (985) 626-1500, www.north startheatre.com;

• Playmakers Theater, 19106 Playmakers Road, Covington, (985) 893-1671, www.playmakersinc.com;

• Rivertown Repertory Theater, 325 Minor St., Kenner, (504) 468-7221, www.rivertownkenner.com;

• Shine Productions, 3622 Park Blvd., Chalmette, (504) 277-SHOW (7469), www.shinepresents.com;

• Skyfire Theater, 332 N. New Hampshire St., Covington, (985) 875-7577, www.skyfire.tv;

• Slidell Little Theater, 2024 Nellie Drive, Slidell, (985) 641-0324, or visit online at www.slidell-slt.org.

–Don Redman

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