Don’t be surprised if you hear strange sounds emerging from a tiny corner of Toulouse Street in Mid-City, or see marquis lights flashing like the Bat-signal over the night sky. At the Mid-City Theatre, one of the newest theaters in town, the point is to expect the unexpected.
By all accounts, the past year has been rough for theater in New Orleans, as flagship institutions such as Le Chat Noir, Le Petit Theatre, Southern Rep and, most recently, The Actor’s Theater of New Orleans, have all for varying reasons had to close their doors. The gaps these closures have left in New Orleans’ cultural landscapes are significant, and the roadmap to turning the lights back on in each house difficult and uncertain.
This is not to say that local theater is completely in the doldrums. On the contrary. This year’s Fringe Festival was a resounding success, and companies such as NOLA Project, Cripple Creek, and Art Spot Productions alongside smaller, edgier groups such as Skin Horse and the Nightlight Collective continue to grace the stage, at venues such as the Allways Lounge in the Bywater, the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Treme, and the Anthony Bean Community Theater and La Nuit in Uptown.
Thankfully, while we watch and wait, a new theater has stepped in to fill the need in Mid-City – which is still lamenting the loss of the Alamo Underground – flinging open its doors to all comers. Founded by Fred Nuccio, who theater mavens will remember from his involvement in the True Brew Theater in the Warehouse District, the Mid-City Theatre (Facebook) has been in operation since the autumn. Recently I had a chance to catch up with Su Gonczy, box office manager and self-described “head techie,” to hear more about the theater’s plans.
“The only way you can produce shows you want to see,” Gonczy said, “is if you have your own theater.” While she notes their strengths are in playhouse and cabaret-style theatre, she hastens to add that their mission is ecumenical, in that the Theatre is interested first and foremost to work with new and engaging work. “Right now our conversations are being driven by interesting scripts,” she says. “Scripts from young performers, younger production groups. We can open our doors for straight drama or for 100 different light cues and mirror balls.”
Asked what the Theatre’s goals are, she laughs and says, “We want to do everything: cabaret, tiny plays, classic drama, variety shows like the New Orleans Bingo Show, [and] musical theater.” Their production schedule reflects this diversity, with past shows such as Edward Albee’s gripping Tiny Alice and upcoming shows including musical tributes and comedies alike. She’s not telling what’s coming up after that – after all, it’s no fun spoiling what happens in the next act.
But the most important part of their mission, Gonczy says, is to help rebuild the theatrical community here in town. After so much volatility and change, the Mid-City Theatre wants to serve a long-term purpose by building an acting pool, hosting visiting companies, and developing the local neighborhood. It’s not about business, she says. It’s personal. “Theaters are families – performers, directors, playwrights, and audiences – and every theater has a different family. We’re just trying to prevent the theaters from losing the families they’ve built over so many years. Even as we see individual theaters close, the lifeblood is not stopping.”
In other words, the show must go on.
It’s official: Krewe du Vieux rolled, and rolled hard, so the game is on. Hope to see you out on the route at Oshun, tit rex, or Sparta, or if Carnival’s not your thing, at Tom Piazza’s reading at the Columns Hotel on Tuesday night, or Constance Adler’s reading at Garden District Bookshop on Thursday. Busy week: the world may not come to a complete stop for Mardi Gras, but it sure does try.
Benjamin Morris is the author of Coronary, a poetry collection, and The Bella, a novella. Around town, he can be found catching music on Frenchmen, crawling the galleries on St Claude, playing soccer in City Park, or tending bar at the Sovereign Pub Uptown. His column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.