So what do you do when you've got a hit show running and a catastrophic hurricane hits? Get out of town and open up again wherever you land. At least, that's what two of our producing companies did. The Saturday before Katrina, Carl Walker, honcho of All Kinds of Theatre, was enjoying the success of Native Tongues 4 at Le Chat Noir.
But after the performance on that fateful Saturday night, he headed back to Lafayette (where he was born and raised) to ride out the storm. "I told the cast we'd be back on the boards next Friday," he recalls. Ho, ho. Didn't we all go through some similar delusion? Anyway, Walker did reopen a version of the show -- using what New Orleans actors he could gather -- at the Lafayette cultural center Cit des Arts. He even donned a toupee and played a role himself. Walker says he hopes All Kinds of Theatre will rise from its ashes soon with a bio-drama about Norma Wallace (based on Christine Wiltz's book The Last Madam).
Another refugee production wowed 'em in Philadelphia. EgoPo Productions artistic director Lane Savadove -- aware that The Big One was about to land on us -- packed the set of The Maids X 2 (previously mounted at the Jewel Gallery) into a 16-foot truck and headed north. Then Savadove unveiled the show as part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. Attendance was boosted by a spate of Katrina interest. "The press went crazy for us," says Savadove. "There were news cameras in the theater all the time!" EgoPo plans to stay in Philly temporarily for the simple reason, as Savadove puts it, "We can keep working." There's no telling how long "temporarily" will be.
On a more modest scale, Barry Lemoine of Shine Productions reports that he and some of his cohorts fled to Alabama, where they produced their Voices From the Storm at several college campuses. "And for the cruise ship Nova Scotia, we did The Altos (our Sopranos take-off) to bring laughter to the 700 cops and firemen who were living on the boat." Shine Productions will present its Best of Shine Christmas Show at the undamaged Skyfire Theater in Covington. The Skyfire, by the way, hosted other two New Orleans productions, The Queen of Bingo by Sandy Rhodes Productions and The Bible, The Complete Word of God (Abridged) by Gary Rucker and Sean Patterson.
At least one company bounced back right here on home turf. Over the years, Piazza Productions has treated us to many screwball comedies by its founder, Rene Piazza. Last July, Piazza signed a lease on a theater space in the WTIX-FM building in Metairie. On Aug. 3, Piazza Productions (transmogrified into The Actor's Theatre of New Orleans) inaugurated the new space with the comedy Dinner With Friends. On the first of September, Piazza Productions found itself safely harbored in a Howard Johnson's in Lake Charles. But the undaunted Piazza rallied his troops (or troupe) to return to the fray. "Our recent show, All in the Timing," he proudly notes, "was the first post-Katrina production on this side of the lake."
Running With Scissors is trying to regroup but has lost, at least for now, co-founder Flynn De Marco and actor Brian Peterson, both of whom have relocated. But co-founder Richard Read has worked with mainstay Dorian Rush on a revamped version of holiday fave Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas for a December run at One-Eyed Jacks, and Read is pleased with the early draft.
Among other companies, there is a wide range of reactions -- from a bold "can-do" to a cautious "wait-and-see." Krewe des Sept had performed only two evenings of Flesh and Blood when the wind started blowing. "We had to close down and get out," reports Karl Lengel from Orlando. "Some people, like Jerry Lee Leighton and Lara Grice, are back. But some, like me, have to relocate for now. I guess you could say Krewe des Sept is floating for a while." Director and Tulane theater prof Buzz Podewell echoes that sentiment on behalf of his Red Noses company. "Absolutely nothing happening," he says of the troupe's activity. "As for me, I'm focusing on trying to get Tulane back. It's one of the most important employers of theater people in the city."
Perry Martin of Evangeline Oaks Entertainment is, perhaps, the current king of "wait-and-see." Okra, which he produced and directed, was a smash -- first at Southern Rep and then at the True Brew.
"We were sold out through November," Martin laments, "and then disaster struck. I may stay in New Orleans. I may relocate. I don't know. Look, I need to make a living. And I don't share the optimistic view that this place is going to bounce back in a few months."
- Running With Scissors will remount its holiday fave Grenadine McGunkleÕs Double-Wide Christmas i> with a revamped script and some fresh, new faces in the cast.