Southern Rep, the highly regarded theater company that has been performing all over the city since losing its longtime home at Canal Place two years ago, hopes to settle down in the Lower Garden District, its director told neighbors last week.
Southern Rep, which was founded in 1986 with a mission of developing new plays, spent the 19 years prior to 2012 in a space at Canal Place. After its lease was not renewed that year, the company went mobile, performing in venues from Ursulines Academy in Uptown to the Contemporary Arts Center downtown, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in Central City, the Mid-City Theatre and venues in Marigny and elsewhere, the producing artistic director, Aimée Hayes, said at a recent meeting of the Coliseum Square Association.
Meanwhile, the company has been looking for its next long-term home, Hayes said, and it has identified a prime candidate in a building at 651 Richard St. in the Lower Garden District. Several individual businesses already are in the complex, and Southern Rep hopes to join them in a space on the St. Thomas Street side of the building.
“I’ve walked through every available space and warehouse in New Orleans to see if there’s a space that makes the most sense,” Hayes said. “Our needs are very specific.”
The Richard Street building is “special,” distinctive for its red brick and ornamental lamps outside, Hayes said. It is close to Second Line Studios and is surrounded by empty lots that can help accommodate parking needs without disturbing residential neighbors.
The company would need about 50 spaces for performances. The complex already has space for about two dozen, and choices for the remaining spots abound nearby.
“We’re in talks on a couple of parking options,” Hayes said. “I’ll give an update once I know exactly how that’s going to work out.”
Use of the space will require a conditional use permit from the city, Hayes said, but City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell already has been helpful in trying to find the theater a new home, and they anticipate her support.
“I think it offers a lot of energy and opportunity to the Lower Garden District,” Hayes said.
The theater likely will serve wine, and occasionally spirits during opening-night parties, Hayes said, but she hopes to pursue a liquor license modeled after the one Le Chat Noir had, with designated specific times when drinks could be served. It’s a better option than seeking a special-event permit for every show; those expire after 10 days and would have to be renewed several times during longer runs of performances, she said.
“I don’t want to run a bar,” Hayes said. “That is not what I’m interested in doing.”
Right now, Southern Rep hopes to sign a three-year or five-year lease for the site, Hayes said. If the space serves the company well, though, it may seek to make it a permanent home, she said.
Members of the Coliseum Square Association were enthusiastic about the project; one man in the audience encouraged others to buy season tickets right then. Association Treasurer Pat Ibert asked Hayes how the group could help.
“I would love your stamp of approval,” Hayes replied. “I think it’s important that wherever you are, you connect with the people around you.”
Hayes said after the meeting that she has looked at nearly 40 potential spaces around the city, and she has made a point of speaking to neighborhood groups whenever she thinks she might have found a site. If negotiations on the Richard Street space do not work out, she said, she will continue looking.
“There’s no point in going through the permitting process, only to find a neighborhood association vehemently opposed to your presence,” Hayes said. “Everybody wants to be wanted.”