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Performance Anxiety 

Scattered, to the four winds. That's the way it's been. For New Orleans theaters, "scattered" means, "Where did the cast go?" After all, how do you put a show on if you can't find your actors?

Of course, once you find your actors, the next "scattered" problem is the audience. Ryan Rilette, artistic director of Southern Rep, estimates that 25 percent of his audience lost their homes. Are those folks coming back? And, if so, will they be in the mood for a night in the theater? Southern Rep was one of the lucky ones -- though it didn't seem that way at first. Saks Fifth Avenue, on the ground floor of The Shops at Canal Place, caught fire. The first reports told of cataclysmic smoke damage to the theater -- two floors above Saks -- not to mention an inundation from the sprinkler system. All that proved false. Southern Rep is basically OK. True, looters forced their way in -- but they satisfied themselves at the refreshment stand and left. Rilette says he'll reopen with Kimberly Akimbo in May, starring Lara Grice and Gavin Mahlie (as originally planned) and Becky Allen. Speaking of looters, one of the saddest storm stories comes from Roch Eshleman, who purchased True Brew a few short months ago. Eshleman evacuated to Little Rock, Ark., but since True Brew is only a block from the infamous Convention Center, Eshleman often saw his building in panning shots on CNN. All seemed well, until one day, he noticed that one shutter, which had been shut, was now open. In fact, True Brew survived the wind and rain, but looters tore the place up. Most depressingly, as Eshleman said -- with a grim sigh -- "the looters indulged in ... I think the scientific term is 'defecation.' Everywhere, even the top of my desk. It's like the business was raped!" Undaunted, Eshleman plans to reopen ASAP.

Things are brighter at Le Petit. Artistic Director Sonny Borey reports that he and Derek Franklin stayed in town to look out for the theater. Although rain flooded the newly added orchestra pit, the small second theater was undamaged. After a week of caretaking, Borey and Franklin herded their four doggies to City Park, boarded an Army helicopter and whisked off to Houston. Borey says he hopes to have a show on the boards in a month or two.

Another good-luck story comes from Rivertown Rep, which suffered very little damage. Kathy Primeaux, longtime box-office chief, has been reassembling her season-ticketholders one phone call at a time. The theater will be back up in December with Cinderella, featuring Gary Rucker and Sean Patterson as the ugly stepdaughters!

Rucker and Patterson are stalwarts who got back on the boards almost before the storm surge subsided. They brought Greater Tuna to life at the undamaged Skyfire in Covington. Artistic Director Rita Stockstill says Skyfire will keep going, as though the greatest natural catastrophe on record here had not happened. Over in Mandeville, Lori Bennet -- artistic director of the North Star -- was less fortunate. Her home was totally washed away, so she literally moved into the theater's set of Invisible Friends, which was still onstage. The theater itself lost part of its roof and flooded. Nonetheless, Bennet says she will be back in business in about six months.

Back on this side of the lake, Anthony Bean reports that the theater bearing his name survived intact. He'll be up and running shortly with Joe Turner's Come And Gone starring Gwendolyn Foxworth and City Councilman Oliver Thomas. The Contemporary Arts Center got whacked pretty badly. Director Jay Weigel says the building will need nearly $1 million in repairs. The theaters, however, came through in fine fettle. Dennis Assaf, artistic director of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society, returned home to face a thoroughly dismaying mayhem. The facade of the new Westwego theater had "skinned off," while the East Jefferson Auditorium was soaked and mildewed. But Maestro Assaf is hoping to reopen soon with a remounting of Disney's Beauty and the Beast at a second Westwego location. Last, but never least, Le Chat Noir came through with minimal damage. Owner Barbara Motley will open the bar Nov. 1 and hopes to be back in full swing shortly thereafter. The undaunted Motley, by the way, was one of the organizers of a mega-cabaret blast in New York recently -- a benefit to raise money for hurricane-struck performers. Big Apple top bananas sang and swang for three hours plus. But looking right at home with them in the limelight were some Big Easy favorites: Harry Mayronne Jr., Ricky Graham, Banu Gibson, Chris Wecklein and Cynthia Owen. That was a "scattering" of talent that raised our hopes for the future.

click to enlarge Ricky Graham joined Harry Mayronne Jr., Cynthia Owen - and other Big Easy favorites in a New York City benefit - put together by a group of organizers including Le Chat - Noir's Barbara Motley.
  • Ricky Graham joined Harry Mayronne Jr., Cynthia Owen and other Big Easy favorites in a New York City benefit put together by a group of organizers including Le Chat Noir's Barbara Motley.


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