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Arts & Culture

New Orleans Live Theatre: Beyond the Mainstream

New Orleans alternative theater is thriving with venues hosting regular performances, like the Mudlark Theater, Allways Lounge and Marigny Opera House.

The New Orleans theater scene is, quite possibly, the strongest it’s ever been.  And the reason?  A community has sprouted, creating strong productions in venues all over town, and putting on shows that resonate with contemporary New Orleanians. We definitely have wonderful, and reputable, mainstream theatre, and some of the hottest Broadway shows come to town regularly, but the alternative theatre scene has really carved out a niche here in the Crescent City.

One of the unique theatre destinations that has jumped onto the art scene is Mudlark Theater. This intimate black box theatre prides itself on progressive performances. From variety shows to original plays, and drag king shows to the latest Mudlark Puppeteer shadow play, this theatre is offering a cutting edge live theatre experience in one of the hottest areas for art and artists right now, the Bywater.

One of New Orleans’ best off the beaten path music venues, the Allways Lounge, also functions as an alternative theater house, hosting whimsical, and at times outrageous performances. They have been the setting for several provocative productions including Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” Otter’s “Crimes Against Nature: A Love Story” with music by Ratty Scurvics, and Tennessee Williams’ “Battle of Angels.”

Another alternative theatre venue is the Marigny Opera House. This “church of the arts” is a gorgeous raw performance space in a historic setting to take in live performance in theatre, dance, jazz, and plenty of other special events. Because of its New Orleans charm and natural acoustics, it’s no surprise that this “church” theatre is also one of the venues for the New Orleans Fringe Festival. Coming up, the 9th Ward Opera Company will present two one-act operas in this enchanting stained-glass, arched-ceiling setting. The first is titled “Blue Monday” which is a Gershwin masterpiece mixing classical music, jazz, and the African-American culture of Harlem.  The second show, “An Embarrassing Position,” is a comedy written by New Orleans author Kate Chopin. This classical venue is actually zoned as a residence, oddly enough, and hosts specially permitted public events, so it’s a great setting for theatre productions to perform “outside the box.”

Pu-Pu Platter, a sampling of the Fringe Festival at Cafe Istanbul. Photo courtesy of infrogmation on Flickr.
Pu-Pu Platter, a sampling of the Fringe Festival at Cafe Istanbul (Photo from Flickr from infrogmation)

Café Istanbul in the New Orleans Healing Center in the Marigny, hosts events all across the board including comedy shows, film screenings, slam poetry sessions, and concerts. This intimate space, with its plush seating, oak wood stage, and art-central location, was also a New Orleans Fringe Festival venue.  This month Café Istanbul will set the stage for an event which will pluck at the heartstrings of many folks in New Orleans: Wayne Self’s The Upstairs Musical.  This musical hits close to home because it’s about a tragic event which occurred here in our city nearly 40 years ago, when an arsonist set fire to The Upstairs Lounge killing 32 people, many of whom were members of the LGBTQ community.  Directed by Zach McCallum, the musical will be performed June 20-24, with the final performance benefiting organizations devoted to serving the LGBTQ community here in New Orleans. You can catch bold, alternative theatre events at Café Istanbul on a regular basis, so check back often.

New Orleans artists have really been stepping out and bringing a contemporary edge to the art and theatre scene. So if you’re looking to expand your horizons past the mainstream scene, there are more and more groups creating alternative theatre that are working to educate, push boundaries, and free your mind through story and performance. Continue to check these local venues, and our website, for more theatre opportunities that break the mold.

Thomas Rush is an entrepreneur and writer living in New Orleans in several capacities.  He currently serves as the Proprietor of Few and Far Company, an online retailer for adventurous gentlemen,  and COO of Yvelise Limoncello.

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