John Waters has become a New Orleans holiday tradition, you sickos

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 3.41.31 PMOne of the first shows I got to enjoy after returning to New Orleans was the one and only, the delightfully raunchy John Waters — the director, the humorist, the author, and the general trouble-maker. It was at the Civic Theatre, and as if to remind me how fun it was to enjoy him in New Orleans (after a delightful interview, my second counting one while at Gambit Weekly), I got seated next to someone I’d met on New Year’s Day, 2006, a few months before leaving for Atlanta. (Here’s my preview for that 2013 show.)

Waters returns to New Orleans and the Civic tonight (Thursday, Dec. 17) for his annual Christmas show, subtitled “Holier & Dirtier.” (Check out the Facebook event page for details.) His years living here in the pre-“Pink Flamingos” days are so etched in our memory that, after recounting that period for Gambit in 2010, he’s grown tired of recounting them in subsequent interviews. Which is not to say Waters is hesitant to show his love of New Orleans and its sometimes-seedy ways (the whole world knows his favorite bar is the Corner Pocket), and always gives his props (as he did in 2013) to New Orleans audiences:

They’ve always been appreciative. They ‘get it,.’ I don’t ever have to worry if people are going to get it in New Orleans. Even though you are a city that does not participate in the rest of America, which I give you kind of credit for. You’ve seceded. Culturally, you always kind of had your own kind of world there, and you decided what was good there. You were not influenced by the rest of America, which I always find kind of amazing.

After all these years, he still delights in shocking people’s sensibilities, as he did when discussing Christmas on the eve of the 2013 show:

I love Christmas. I celebrate it. But I want the war on Christmas, if it’s [celebrated] on government property. I am against that. However, I decorate my house. I want to go Christmas caroling with crack addicts. I always wanted to go with crack addicts so you could go ring the door bell and really scare people. I’m for Christmas, but it should not have anything to do with the state. I do celebrate it. I even mock all the traditions of it. I decorate an electric chair in my house.

I got a chance to interview him once again in March for his traditional “This Filthy World” show at the Joy (which I missed). The highlight from that interview came when I asked him what he thought about a certain cultural shift when “more and more people don’t get mad at what you’re doing?”

It’s because I’m not mean. I think people, when they come to see me, want me to take them into some world where they might get a little uncomfortable in but they’re not uncomfortable with me as their guide. I have a lot of parents bring as a last-ditch effort bring their angry children to see me together. That’s touching. I don’t know if it works. I don’t know if they go home and discuss what “Ultimate Nudity” was and bond. Before when I was young and people saw my movies, they’d call the police. Things have changed but for the better, certainly.

And finally, enjoy one last New Orleans connection, however bizarrely:

 

Historic New Orleans theaters come storming back post-Katrina. Now what? (Biz New Orleans)

Interior shot of the recently reopened Orpheum Theatre. (Photo by James Shaw)

Interior shot of the recently reopened Orpheum Theatre. (Photo by James Shaw)

New Orleans has a rich history of lovely theaters, many of which were laid low by the floodwaters following Hurricane Katrina. That’s why it was such a fun and challenging assignment to chart the post-Katrina renaissance of five of these theaters: the Civic, Saenger, Joy, Carver and, most recently, the Orpheum. This was for Biz New Orleans‘ November issue, which is out on the streets and available online here.

In “Encore Performance,” I try to place both the collective and individual resurgence of the theaters in an economic perspective, checking in with leading authorities in the New Orleans business community to try to figure out just how all of these theaters will continue to sustain themselves. Maybe it’s a matter of remaining viable in an increasingly competitive entertainment market, though just about everyone interviewed didn’t think their respective theater was in direct competition with another. More accurately, it seems, it will be about each theater establishing its own identity (or “brand,” if you will) and making smart bookings (and at the right price point) that speak to their particular audience.

I would say that three of the theaters profiled have a firm grasp on that identity: the grand daddy of them all, the Saenger, obviously is the go-to spot for touring Broadway shows, big-name music acts and other top-flight entertainers (with the occasional touring family-entertainment show); the Orpheum is the beloved home to the LPO and prestige touring acts that have marquee value but not big enough for the Saenger; and the Civic, which has become an indie-rock haven while also welcoming such quirky acts as the legendary John Waters and the nerdie podcast show, “Welcome to Night Vale.”

If you can’t tell, I remain a bit skeptical of the Joy Theater, which has occasional great bookings for music and comedy and cabaret (hello, Alan Cumming!), but needs more consistency; and the Carver, which, at press time, appeared to be undergoing yet another management change. Stay tuned on that.

There are other factors, as well, most notably a New Orleans economy that appears to be entering the next chapter of its post-Katrina recovery — one that won’t necessarily benefit from the kind of recovery, stimulus, tax incentive or other funding mechanisms that brought these theaters back to life. There’s the job market, and wages, and a housing market whose boom period might at some point head to a seemingly inevitable burst. (Doesn’t it always?) As Greater New Orleans, Inc.’s Michael Hecht put it:

“These venues, which not only are expensive to operate but also to maintain, will be the canaries in the coal mine for the health of the New Orleans economy,” Hecht says. “As we continue to add companies and great talent from around the country, we need to keep building a middle class that has more disposable income. If, in the post-Katrina environment, as the recovery money goes away that the economy flattens, these theaters are going to be one of the indications of that happening, because this is where that disposable income goes.”

I’ll have more stuff in upcoming issues of Biz New Orleans. So please stay tuned on that and other future work coming soon. In the meantime, enjoy the piece.

That said, which theater’s future concerns you the most? Which one do you worry might not make the cut? Take the poll below.