What To Do About Le Petit Théâtre

AN ORIGINAL ©MIKE LUCKOVICH CARTOON FOR NEW ORLEANS MAGAZINE

During its long existence Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré has experienced many personal plot twists; unfortunately they’ve been all drama and few laughs.

Once again the theater, whose facility is one of the best community stages in the country, is in deep financial trouble. Founded in 1916 by a group of neighbors who called themselves the Drawing Room Players, the theater was created as a place where amateurs could stage light fare, including British drawing room comedies. The problem is that in contemporary times such productions don’t draw an audience. Many theaters face the same situations. Musicals sell best, but musicals are expensive to stage. Plus, what the public wants to see is the really big name musicals of which there is finite supply.

Le Petit struggled for years as a community theater governed by a board evolved from a membership base of subscribers. (Full disclosure, Editor Errol Laborde once served on the board and is a former chairman.) Le Petit’s biggest asset has been its biggest liability: the building itself, a handsome but costly structure that has been a struggle to maintain.

For Le Petit to survive as a theater company, and for the facility to remain as a performance house, some drastic steps need to be taken, including the following:

–Sell the building to a nonprofit organization, or government entity, that can afford to maintain it. We have no candidate for a buyer, nor an indication of who is interested. Names that are sometimes mentioned are The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana State Museum or a nonprofit formed just specifically for this task. Whoever owns it could use the building’s two theaters for meetings; its walls and picturesque patio could display art. The owners could also actively market the buildings to various theater groups, including, and this is the other suggestion:

–Create an entity entitled Le Petit Théâtre Productions. That organization could produce a season of shows in the building under the name of Le Petit. The corporation would have the luxury of concentrating on productions without having to maintain the theater.

Someone experienced with the facility once said something truthful about it, “A person can get seduced by the building.” Having the keys to a building on a prime corner in the Vieux Carré with balconies, office space, a courtyard, a library, a meeting room, a kitchen, bath facilities, costumes and a maze of rooms can be intriguing – like having your own castle. Unfortunately, the romance quickly dissipates once the bills come.

At its best, Le Petit has frequently staged shows that are Broadway-quality. It is a gem that needs to be shined.

Some solutions have been tried over and over again: find a development director, look for grants, try to attract tourists, talk to hotel concierges about delivering guests, stage more musicals, go after a younger audience, provide parking. No matter the strategy, ticket sales alone won’t support a theater, and potential donors are reluctant to give without reason to believe their money is being used wisely.

Through the years many good people have worked hard for the theater, but if it’s to survive some major steps need to be taken. The scene is set. It is time for the action to begin.
 

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