New Orleans' theater scene has undergone a lot of change in the decade since Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods, though much of it has not been a direct result of the storm — Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre shuttered and re-opened; Southern Rep left The Shops at Canal Place and is still looking for a permanent home; New Orleans' comedy has burgeoned and is regularly scheduled in a range of venues all over the city. The New Orleans Fringe Festival (which is changing its name to faux/real this year), started in 2008 to showcase unconventional theater performances and now draws thousands of attendees. The storm inspired productions and new works that captured the dramas of loss, uncertainty and rebuilding in New Orleans. Here are five of the happenings more directly related to the floods.
Waiting for Godot. Waiting for FEMA doesn't have a great ring to it, but in 2007, Paul Chan and Classical Theatre of Harlem staged Samuel Beckett's classic outdoor play on devastated blocks near a levee breach in the 9th Ward and at a ruined home near the University of New Orleans. Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme) starred as Vladimir, and the existential piece took on an activist purpose in the city's hardest hit, still-dark neighborhoods.
Get This Lake Off My House. The young actors, mostly New York University graduates, comprising The NOLA Project launched the company in New Orleans (home of co-founder Andrew Larimer), despite the flood damage. One of the first shows was a post-Katrina adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest performed in shallow water at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. In its 10 years, the company has done a diverse array of shows at established and improvised venues around the city, and is one of the newer theater companies that added to the wave of artists who came to New Orleans after the storm.
A Katrina trilogy. No playwright has dramatized the arc of Katrina disaster and rebuilding as thoroughly as John Biguenet, and his three plays have been read and performed across the United States. Rising Water (2006) features a couple who seek refuge in their attic amid a lifetime of relics and mementos as flood waters rise. In Shotgun (2009), two families broach the city's racial tensions as they find themselves piled into adjoining halves of a shotgun home as housing is scarce in post-flood New Orleans. In Mold (2013), a couple that evacuated and then settled in Texas return to clean up one of their parents' homes and must reconcile whether they are holding onto the past or looking to the future.
From a Long Way Off. Jim Fitzmorris has chronicled various aspects of New Orleans, particularly its politics, culture and vernacular, and he weighed in on Katrina-related subjects in narrowly focused works. From a Long Way Off picked up previous characters and political themes in an Irish Channel community caught up in rebuilding issues. What, Has This Thing Appeared Again Tonight?, written for The NOLA Project, addressed the Danziger Bridge killing.
I'm Still Here, Me. Ricky Graham never lost his sense of humor, and in both solo shows and as the ringleader of small ensembles — shows such as The Renew Review and I'm Still Here, Me — he invited New Orleanians to laugh until they cried in songs and sketches such as "The City the Corps Forgot."