At Southern Repertory Theater (The Shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., third floor, 522-6545; www.southernrep.com), "we want theater to become the go-to option for arts entertainment, rather than the exception," says artistic director Aimee Hayes. Founded in 1986 by playwright and scholar Rosary O'Neill, Southern Rep has dedicated itself to premiering local talent and new plays in New Orleans. Since then, 27 world premieres have unfolded on its stage.
Hayes, who returned to New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina after working as a freelance director in New York, has been the artistic director since 2008. Under her direction, Southern Rep has fostered numerous community partnerships within the New Orleans theater world. Hayes sees this as the staff's greatest accomplishment.
"Finding new ways to work together makes the center strong," Hayes says. "In agreeing to join together rather than remain divided, we have helped rebuild the New Orleans community."
According to Hayes, unlike theater venues in some cities, Southern Rep views other arts institutions as team members rather than competitors. Southern Rep has collaborated with Le Chat Noir, Tulane University, Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Junebug Productions and others, creating what Hayes calls "a cultural collision of major arts institutions."
In their dedication to new play development and support of local playwrights, the Southern Rep team created three new programs — Playlab, The Crosstown Reading Series and 6x6, as well as a new award, The Ruby Prize. The award, which honors local civil rights veteran Ruby Bridges, recognizes a woman playwright of color with a $10,000 prize, a development workshop and a play reading in New York City.
Southern Rep also offers acting classes for youth and adults throughout the year. Current and upcoming productions include Afterlife: A Ghost Story by Steve Yockey, directed by Hayes; Love Child by Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton; and the world premiere of Running with Scissors.
According to the six main staff members, a vital goal of their diligent and sometimes stressful work is for everyone to have fun.
"We are most satisfied when we have fun while working to excel and entertain," Hayes says. "We live in a theater culture that reflects our city of New Orleans — a combination of hard work and good times."