Along with a core of mainstream theater and production companies that offer regular, full seasons of plays, New Orleans is home to performance ensembles and collaboratives whose mission centers on originality and experimentation in both form and content. Some groups are also known for nurturing a sense of activism and social consciousness.
One way to get to know some of these innovators is to attend the annual New Orleans Fringe Festival. Each November the multi-day event draws dozens of performing groups from local area and around the country. An extravaganza of theater, dance, music and performance art, the festival is certain to expose audiences to experiences they’ve never encountered before. See highlights of last year’s festival at nofringe.org where you can also get a preview of the 2014 event.
Meanwhile, here are snapshots of recent works by just a few of the established local troupes that have become known for their creative methods of storytelling or social and political activism.
Theater ensemble New Noise continues to garner attention for its original work “Runnin’ Down the Mountain,” the story of a brother and sister living on their family’s orchard in the Great Smoky Mountains. The production premiered in January 2013, followed by an abbreviated “Runnin’ House Party” that toured last fall to six cities and played at the New Orleans Fringe Festival.
The performance mixes original and traditional music, live looping and soundscapes with visual storytelling, according to the troupe’s artistic team. They recently announced completion of a mini-documentary called “The A-Side and the B-Side,” a short film that explains how “Runnin’ Down the Mountain” tells a story through sound.
See newnoise.org for more information.
“Runnin’ Down the Mountain” by New Noise | Bruce France photo
Skin Horse Theater
In the view of the artistic minds at Skin Horse Theater, Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy deserved a fresh retelling, and last month the company delivered a radically different performance of “Macbeth.”
Described by the collective as “Shakespeare meets David Lynch,” the February production took its audience inside the twisted psyche of a murderer and his queen, in part through the creative choreography of Angelle Hebert.
Keep an eye out for future Skin Horse productions by checking in at skinhorsetheater.org.
Skin Horse Theatre’s “Macbeth”
Cripple Creek Theatre Company
One of the most rigorous and socially conscious troupes in the region has a treat for audiences slated in May. Described by director and company founder Andrew Vaught as “a musical unlike any other,” Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” presents the struggles of everyday people fighting against a nearly overwhelming power.
“This paean to the right of individuals to make a decent living could find no better location than the right-to-work state of Louisiana,” Vaught says, referring to the state’s longtime resistance to labor unions. The production fits the mission of presenting plays of “cultural, historical and political relevance “ in order to provoke action.
“Our season explores the struggle for possession and freedom in a world where both are quickly eclipsing,” Vaught says. In December the company presented “Under the Milk Wood,” by Dylan Thomas.
See more at cripplecreekplayers.org.
ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro
Art is not static, and many dramatists believe its true purpose is to open people’s eyes to human problems and possibilities. Last fall two local artist ensembles that share that belief teamed up to present a new outdoor performance that journeys into the heart of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands.
“Cry You One,” which debuted at the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society in St. Bernard, “celebrates the people and cultures of south Louisiana while turning clear eyes on the crisis of a vanishing cost,” says ArtSpot founder Kathy Randels.
The two companies partnered with a series of local organizations in an effort to increase public awareness of the crisis. In coming months they will present a series of salons across the Gulf Coast. For more information, check in at cryyouone.com where you can read interviews and cultural snapshots, and find links to “witness stories” about Louisiana as told by the people who have lived in the region for generations.
Reese Johanson (Collective)
The founder of this multidisciplinary performing arts company says it aims to force artists out of their comfort zone. Reese Johanson wants to create performance works that are “innovative, poignant, risky and human.”
Recently, the collective offered “Mascherarsi, a Masquerade Rock Opera,” which Johanson described as inspired by literary classics, great operas and the music of Monteverdi and Mozart. The cabaret-type experience featured a cast of more than a dozen performing artists, including Bremner Duthie.
See more at reesejohansoncollective.com.