One of The NOLA Project’s many strengths is its ability to place several shows in a physical context with its site-specific productions. While the company stages perfectly fine shows in traditional venues (think the recent “Marie Antoinette” at NOCCA), there’s something to be said for a theater company being a little on the rootless side. While other theater companies might lament the lack of a permanent home, The NOLA Project plays it fast and loose — and sometimes fancy-pants, given the location of its next production.
“Our mission clearly states that we’re committed to ‘innovative performances.’ For us, as theatre professionals, we’re not here to simply mimic what’s come before us. Because that’s boring. We want to change the way people think about theater,” said company member and Marketing Director Richard A. Pomes. “It doesn’t have to be audience on one side and actors on a stage. To us, that traditional proscenium style of theatre has its place when the production calls for it. But we live in an age where people are constantly immersed in interactive entertainment. We’re in an age of iPads, video games, and theme parks where people expect a new level of attention grabbing excitement. On top of that, we’re in New Orleans where every weekend is a festival, a sporting event, Mardi Gras, concerts, and more.
“And despite what you think about these kind of outings, they aren’t spectator events,” he continued. “Theater in New Orleans doesn’t compete with other theatre. It competes with our audience saying ‘Hey, it’s Friday night. What do you want to do tonight? Basketball game? Kermit Ruffins? Movie?’ Etc. Both from a creative perspective and a marketing perspective, we have to constantly push the envelope to engage our audience in new, exciting ways. Something I hear often at our site-specific productions is: ‘I don’t go to a lot of plays. But this is great.'”
As it has done in the past, the company will stage one of William Shakespeare’s last written works, “The Winter’s Tale,” inside the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Great Hall. (Check out the Facebook event page.) On the eve of the show’s run (Dec. 1-20), I asked Pomes for the company’s top five locations over the years.
Little Gem Saloon — “The newest NOLA Project venue on this list is the Ramp Room, upstairs at Little Gem Saloon on Poydras. If you’ve never been to Little Gem, check it out. It’s a snazzy little restaurant and bar that features great live music acts. The Ramp Room is where we performed our second show this season, ‘Clown Bar.’ (Read the review here.) One of the most distinct productions in our company’s history, ‘Clown Bar’ required a unique venue. The script tells a film noir inspired story about the seedy underbelly of the organized clown crime world, orchestrated by clown crime boss and bar owner, Bobo, and the show’s playwright, Adam Szymkowicz, suggests (nay, demands) that the show takes place in a real bar. Actors in full clown regalia performed the script not only on a small stage built for a jazz quartet, but also throughout the rest of the bar, weaving between cocktail tables and muscling people out of the way at the bar to order a drink. Although for me, the best part was using audience members for cover during shootouts.”
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art — The NOLA Project’s relationship with the New Orleans Museum of Art goes way back. One of our earliest performances was a 2006 production of ‘The Misanthrope’ in NOMA’s lecture hall/auditorium that most people don’t know exists. Several years later I, was chatting with their then-marketing gal, Grace Wilson, who mentioned she was thinking about doing a concert series in the Sculpture Garden. I blurted out, ‘What about Shakespeare?’ (As if those two things were somehow interchangeable.) Suddenly we’re performing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for standing-room-only crowds. They were standing-room-only because director (and NOLA Project founding artistic director) Andrew Larimer designed the production as an immersive experience in which the audience would get up and move from location to location for different scenes. If you know ‘Midsummer,’ you know that as the story progresses our heroes go deeper and deeper into a forest, get lost, and then reemerge for a double wedding celebration (sorry, 400-year-old spoiler alert). And so our audience quite literally followed the heroes deeper into the garden to find out what happened next, stumbling across characters hidden in the scenery along the way. Since ‘Midsummer,’ we’ve performed more Shakespeare in the garden as well as original takes on ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ But that production of ‘Midsummer’ will always be our favorite. There’s something about performing Shakespeare under the stars that’s really magical.” Continue reading