Southern Rep Theater drops the curtain after 36 years – Mid-City Messenger
Southern Rep Theatre, a leading arts organization in the southern Gulf, is closing after 36 years of artistic achievement.
The challenges of running a local theater company over the past few years have proven too much to overcome, according to the statement from Southern Rep.
“Unfortunately, financial pressures and other considerations during these extraordinary times have exceeded available resources,” said Karen Swaim Babin, Board Chair since late 2020. “With heavy hearts, we have exhausted all options to serve New Orleans as best we can, and we must recognize that closure is our most honorable option.
The award-winning regional theater took up residence in the former Catholic Church of St. Rose of Lima on Bayou Road in 2019. The 13,400 square foot church, built in 1915, had been renovated into a full entertainment venue.
Southern Rep presented their major regional and national premieres on a main stage that could accommodate approximately 125 spectators. Additionally, the old church contains a lounge and bar as well as a smaller, more laid-back 65-seat Lagniappe Stage which features music, comedy, children’s story times, yoga, cabaret and other entertainment.
The renovation of St. Rose of Lima is part of a three-building development of the church’s vacant historic property by the Rose Community Development Corporation and Alembic Community Development. In a nonprofit partnership, the organizations purchased the church’s vacant and desecrated property in 2016.
Three local theater companies have announced they will use the Southern Rep space, according to Alan Smason’s NOLA Theater Talk. No Dream Deferred, Junebug Productions and Voices in the Dark Repertory will present productions at the theater.
Even before the 2020 pandemic shutdown forced Southern Rep to abandon its already developed 2020-21 season and the virtual content rush, the venerable theater company had signaled that it was financially strapped.
In December 2019, artistic director Aimée Hayes emailed Southern Rep subscribers asking for donations to a GoFundMe account.
“Our expenses doubled in the last year while ticket sales only cover about 30% of the necessary costs,” Hayes wrote.
Hayes also noted that Southern Rep primarily employs equity actors. “This season, Southern Rep will employ over 200 artists; introducing theater techniques to hundreds of children; provide low-cost community mental health support to creatives in our community; produce two world premieres and three regional premieres; and host artists and audiences almost every night,” she said in the email.
Of course, the planned “joyful and elegant season” never happened. Hayes left in November 2020 after 13 years with Southern Rep.
With funds from pandemic relief programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, Southern Rep has adapted to the pandemic by creating new programs, such as a series of pop-up games.
He also adapted classic programming for a streaming platform. His popular hyper-local and topical Christmas musical, “Mandatory Merriment,” for example, became “Mandatory Merriment: This Time It’s Virtual!” But these efforts failed to generate sufficient funds.
“We pull down the final curtain with sadness and recognition of this great loss to the community, but also with a sense of pride in Southern Rep’s long history,” Babin said. “We celebrate and honor Southern Rep’s long history.”
The company has always been known for its critically acclaimed innovative productions. Playwright and scholar Rosary O’Neill founded Southern Rep in 1986. Her works have focused on life in the South, tackling difficult topics such as racism and slavery.
From 2002 to 2007, under Artistic Director Ryan Rilette, the company began to focus on new plays by American playwrights, featuring regional premieres of national works.
After 19 years in residence at Canal Place, it lost its lease in 2012. The company then led a nomadic life, performing in the ephemeral Mid-City Theater on rue Toulouse, the Marquette hall at Loyola University, the Studio Michalopoulos, the auditorium of the Ursuline Academy. , the Ashé Power House Theater and the Center for Contemporary Art.
“Countless memorable performances have graced the Southern Rep stage,” Babin said. “So many talented actors, playwrights and theater professionals have lent their talents to this company. We also congratulate our loyal group of subscribers, supporters and spectators.
“We are inspired by the continued work of our community to provide great theater for our deserving region,” continued Babin. “We sincerely hope that Southern Rep has earned a special place in the fabric of the theater community over its 36 years. Our desire is that our legacy will live on in the minds of the theater professionals who have been part of Southern Rep and in the memories of the exceptional theater we have provided.