Some would call them the lifeblood of local theater – members of independent troupes who live in a constant state of “What shall we do next?” Each time they begin a new production, they’re energized by the challenge and opportunity to test what they can bring to the stage. And every time the curtain falls, their manic relief mingles with an incipient yearning to do it over again.
Many New Orleans actors, producers and directors band together to present shows ranging from Shakespearean tragedy to hip musical comedy on local stages that range from spare to chic. The collaborations often produce lasting associations that strengthen the city’s theatrical core.
Kelly Fouchi and Gary Rucker, for instance, have become stalwarts of local musical theater through years of teaming up – in the roles of producer, director, actor and, in Fouchi’s case, choreographer – on stages all over town. During the past few years, they have been half of a foursome called FourFront Theatre, but the pair also are known as Theatre 13.
With an ongoing mission of drawing youngsters into theater with appropriate shows, Fouchi and Rucker just wrapped up a production of “School House Rock,” which featured a cast of 30 kids. Now it’s on to more adult fare: In a September co-production with Jefferson Performing Arts Society, they will present “The Drowsy Chaperone,” starring the ubiquitous Ricky Graham and Brian Peterson (see www.jpas.org).
“The show is what you love about old Broadway – great sets, singing, dancing and fantasy,” says Fouchi. “It brings you back to a time of classic Broadway shows, but it’s not a revival.”
Fouchi says she and Rucker have held rights to “Chaperone” for more than a year, waiting for the proper opportunity. “We’re hoping the partnership with JPAS will bring a resurgence of some big musicals,” she says.
In other theater quarters, cult comedy is the focus as Keith Launey, Liz Mills and Glenn Meche, who last year founded Crescent Theatre Collective, bring “Parallel Lives” to the stage. The gender-bending comedy will skewer dating, religion, homophobia and much more at The Shadowbox Theatre (504-523-7469), April 1-16.
Demonstrating that original theater still has a strong local pulse, veteran group Mondo Bizzaro – comprised of Joanna Russo, Nick Slie, Bruce France and Melisa Cardona – will team up with performance ensemble New Noise on “Pchile GoyIn.” This “folk tale of transformation,” conceived and directed by Russo, will have showings in late April with full production planned in the fall. (See www.NewNoise.org.)
Another local troupe turned to Edward Albee for inspiration this year. Silk Dress Productions joined with Four Humours Theater to present three plays by the famed American playwright, including “Three Tall Women,” which recently concluded at Shadowbox Theatre.
Artistic Director Jennifer Growden describes the Albee project as “learning to see with love all people, especially the difficult ones, and accept that what we call tragedy might just be the making of us.” Next up, in May, is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” followed in the fall by the technically demanding “Tiny Alice.”
One of the newest theater companies on the local scene is following a path taken by some other young troupes of recent years. Baton Rouge native Robert Lee says Neutral Ground Ensemble, which he founded with actors Luke Andrus and Ross Britz, is dedicated to providing theater as a service to the community. “We’re doing all our shows for free, and we use each show to raise money for a local charity,” he says.
Having presented Bertolt Brecht’s “The Exception and the Rule” in January, Neutral Ground will offer Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” in May at the Old Ironworks on Piety Street. See details at www.NeutralGroundEnsemble.org.