Art, jazz drive ‘9th Ward Improv’ recalling Katrina _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by J.T. BLATTY -- The St. Maurice Church in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans is shown on Sept. 3, 2014. This deconsecrated church, established in 1857, will be the location for 'The 9th Ward Improv Opera' on Aug. 27.

Local audiences will have at least two more chances this month to see “The 9th Ward Improv Opera,” a production first presented as an open rehearsal in January as part of Prospect.3, the city’s biennial celebration of the arts.

The hybrid opera is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 27 at its original performance space, the former St. Maurice Church in the Lower 9th Ward, and again on Aug. 28 at the new Andrew P. Sanchez Community Center.

Tickets for the production marking the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina are available through Tickets for the Aug. 27 performance at St. Maurice are $14; the Aug. 28 show is presented as part of the Lower 9 Resilience Festival and is free and open to the public.

The show has the story, the performance space, the music and the talent.

Presented on what writer, director and producer Jeanne Nathan describes as a shoestring budget, the Creative Alliance of New Orleans production has raised money to fund writers, dancers, vocalists and musicians, as well as buy advertising and defray the cost of marketing the ambitious and emotional production.

A January performance starred co-producer and spoken-word performance artist Chuck Perkins, along with a cast of dancers, vocalist Angelika Joseph singing a rendition of the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away” and an all-star jazz ensemble led by drummer and musical director David Torkanowsky.

The “improv opera” opens with a cacophonous jazz piece that evokes Hurricane Katrina’s force and the destruction of the levees. There are four more acts: the discovery and mourning of the dead, then picking up the pieces, the rebuilding — during which the frame of a shotgun house is assembled — and a final segment that deals with the bureaucratic obstacles that residents faced in the weeks, months and years after the cataclysm.

“I basically just wrote out the sequence of scenes and lined up the talent and sat down with the team. I can’t tell you exactly how many hours we put into it, but it was a very spontaneous production. For me, it seemed like we were pulling off a little miracle,” Nathan said.

The performance is called “improv opera,” Nathan said, not only because of the way it came together but because Lower 9th Ward residents are given a chance to share their own storm stories.

“People who have driven through and seen the destruction, heard about it — maybe even have gotten tired of hearing about it — will experience it on a different level, on a more personal and emotional level when you have folks from the area talking about what they’ve done, what it was like, what they hope for,” Nathan explains in a video presentation.

If all goes as planned, the opera also will be presented during the city’s celebration of its 300th anniversary in 2018.

“We are trying to help the community go forward, show off local talent and give citizens an opportunity to participate in a creative production and also just to kind of bolster their spirits going forward. It also has to do with our overall goal of strengthening the ability of artists to have sustainable careers in the arts and to build the creative economy,” Nathan said.