New Orleans’ top stages have generated their share of headlines lately. Scores of productions have won critical praise, but in some cases the more dramatic news came from behind the scenes. A few of the city’s leading stages are feeling the stress of strained economic times, although for others, restoration is at hand.

Southern Repertory Theatre recently joined the ranks of the endangered when the company lost its longtime lease in the Canal Place shopping center. On the heels of that news came word that Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans also would go dark.

On the upside, Southern Rep’s board and staff are plotting a new course,  while the city’s oldest stage – Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré – is edging closer to a comeback.

Read some of the details below, and see more about the upcoming schedules of these and other performing arts organizations in the pages that follow. Most important of all, please support local theater and the talented professionals who rely on it. Reserve your seats now, and be there when the curtain rises on the next show.

Kathy Finn, editor

Southern Rep Homeless?

Word came in January that Southern Repertory Theatre would depart its 20-year home on the third floor of Canal Place to make room for expansion of the center’s movie house.

Southern Rep Artistic Director Aimée Hayes graciously accepted the action in a message to supporters. “For many years, our company has benefited from a very positive relationship with our landlords at Canal Place … and we are grateful for their on-going support of Southern Rep,” she wrote in an email statement.

Hayes and the Southern Rep board are still exploring potential sites for a permanent relocation. Meanwhile, they have announced that their spring production of  “A Streetcar Named Desire” will open on the same French Quarter block where Tennessee Williams first imagined it. Michalopoulos Studios, at 527 Elysian Fields Ave., will host the presentation, which will be presented in collaboration with InSideOut Productions from March 24 to April 15. See or call 504-522-6545 for updated information on this and other spring productions.

Le Petit Climbs Back

The news from Southern Rep followed upsets at two other major stages. Le Chat Noir du Cabaret closed its doors in 2011 after a decade-long run. Owner Barbara Motley, who put the building up for sale, said recently that it has attracted a number of shoppers, including a few who are interested in performance space, but no deal has been announced.

Meanwhile, Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré finally concluded a $3 million sale of half of its French Quarter space to Dickie Brennan, who plans to open a restaurant there. The deal enables Le Petit to pay off its onerous debt and make improvements in order to reopen. The 365-seat theater was dark throughout 2011 and will remain so until renovations are completed. Le Petit board president Cassie Worley has said the theater may be able to stage a fall season in 2012.

Big Shows Ahead

Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts, which has brought a steady menu of Broadway shows to New Orleans since its 2010 re-opening following a post-Hurricane Katrina makeover, will get a noteworthy companion next year. The long-shuttered Saenger Theatre on Canal Street finally will get an overhaul through a combination of federal grant funding and private support. The $50 million renovation aims at reopening the theater in 2013 as a multipurpose venue with an expanded stage that will accommodate major Broadway productions, music and dance performances, and film presentations, among other uses.

Meanwhile, just across Canal Street, the long-dark Joy Theater recently opened its doors to show off an extensively renovated space that will accommodate live performances and many other events. The return to service of the Joy, once a movie house, and the Saenger raise hopes that a long-sought downtown theater district may actually come to life.

Actor’s Theater Succumbs

In a mid-January message to supporters René J.F. Piazza announced that Actor’s Theatre of New Orleans was closing its doors. While the theater’s founder and artistic director described the move as a “re-grouping and re-booting” rather than a death, he did not say when or where the nonprofit theater would reopen.

Piazza’s timing in opening the establishment in 2005, a month before Hurricane Katrina, could hardly have been worse. But the theater returned to business quickly and has benefitted during its life from grant funding as well as patron support. Still, the overhead at its Metairie location, adjacent to the Clearview Shopping Center, proved too burdensome. Piazza said he will continue the search for a new theater home.