Broadway of the Dirty South
Written by Editors
Thursday, 29 January 2009 11:42
"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
In the first 18 months after the storm, when our city was still a world of possibilities, New Orleans was possessed of a great sense of community and creativity, buoyed by financial and emotional support from our kith and our kin. Sure, she was a moll, but even she did not deserve what she got, to be bloodied and left in a sewer. When the cameras came on, many impresarios saw her laying there, and they fretted, wrung their hands and stomped their feet. They were desperate to come to her, to remake her, to avenge her. It plagued them in their sleep: how had she fallen so far? Beneath the grime and the bruises was still her smile. She was a classical beauty; she had been a star. She could be a star again, these mean thought; she's a natural talent, after all, and many of these impresarios just happened to be in the business of resurrecting talent...
These positive lemurs looked for the future by staring directly at the sun; the future looked so bright, when they took off their shades they couldn't see the shitbox around them. The impresarios were getting information from a bunch of bums who referred to themselves as her "management." They would keep her in line; they handled her press; when it was time for an interview, they did the talking. The management reassured the impresarios that she was doing fine, fine, and everything was going according to plan. Everyone would make money.
But the management knew the truth. Sure, their gal had talent, brains, and a pretty face, but they couldn't keep her from hanging around those corner boys. What was left but to keep applying lipstick, to make sure she showed up to some of her acting classes, to some of her gigs, and most importantly, to hide her fascination with thug life?
Now it is 2009, and New Orleans is three and a half years into the Reconstruction. Many of the "Shadowy Visionaries" we refer to in Soul is Bulletproof (NOLAFugees Press 2008) are leaving the building. The money is bad; the government is dysfunctional; the citizenry is divided. We were supposed to see cranes in the sky, but at present the shadows look increasingly like carrion birds. For six months, as much as "change" and "hope," the nation has heard "depression" and "recession," poisonous words to a city whose existence is founded on tourism.
Desire to see this city a better place has run headlong into the city's unenlightened self-interests. For example, take the lauded "Broadway South," the private company founded by Roger Wilson and meant to turn Canal Street into the Great White Way. In The Gambit Weekly's Nov. 11, 2006 cover story (see Leading Roles), Wilson's plan to revitalize the venerable venues of Canal seemed like a great idea, a utilization of historic properties to capitalize on the myth of New Orleans cultural economy.
To some, though, it seemed like a gig conceived while high and in the abject denial of one's surroundings. In 2006, with the stench of refrigerators and sheetrock dust mixing with the scent of first blood still in the air , dreaming of Broadway of the South seemed the province of dicks. It seemed like a money suck, the kind of idea that looks good on paper and at the same time provides ample opportunity to hide cash for the principals.
But a month before, LIFT Productions , the film production company credited with lobbying Baton Rouge for the tax credits required to propel Louisiana to the 3rd largest film location in the nation, had just broken ground on the Film Factory, a 300k square foot facility; in the aftermath of the flood, Hollywood South would rebuild. Why not tack on Broadway South as well?
It turns out we were just Dirty South: In May, 2007, the FBI kicked in LIFT's door . LIFT's co-founder, Malcolm Petal has recently plead guilty to conspiring to bribe Mark Smith, the state's film czar, back in 2003. At stake then were tax credits, which were deemed necessary to make LA's film industry viable. (For a more personal treatment, see "The Short, Shady History of Hollywood South," by Anya Kamenetz).
Six weeks after the FBI raid on the epicenter of Hollywood South, then Governor Blanco signed Senate Bill 218 , the "Broadway South" legislation guaranteeing tax credits for live performing arts productions.
2009 has seen the opening of the Mahalia Jackson theatre, and a deal to reopen The Saenger , two of the crown jewels in the Broadway South crown. It's a step closer to the vision C.Ray laid out in the 2008 State of the City (see The vision/story), and follows through on an updated version of the Downtown Development District's "The Plan," mixing biotech, luxury condos, and entertainment venues.
But with all the fanfare, all the progress, what's happened to Broadway South? According to City Business, Wilson has stepped out of the spotlight to concentrate on private investment, and the city is taking on the projects separately. CB quotes Council President Jackie Clarkson: "...it’s a shame because Roger was a big part of this process, and it’s kind of sad that he’s not continuing to be a part of it. But we’d love for him to come back and buy a theater. He has wonderful connections.” Kurt Weigle, CEO of the Downtown Development District says "they no longer use “Broadway South” to describe the performing arts tax credit because Wilson owns the copyright to that term ."
Patience, patience; no sudden moves in the Year of the Ox. Sure, the same day that City Business filed, the Times-Picayune reported "5 wounded over two days in shootings at Iberville," three blocks away from the Mahalia Jackson, two blocks from the Saenger. Make no mind that the Rampart Entertainment Corridor proposed by "The Plan" runs alongside the most murderous parts of the city.
Forgive the skepticism; the recent opening of the Mahalia Jackson Theatre and the deal to open the Saenger is good news. Theatre is a pillar of civil society (just close your eyes and think of Václav Havel ). It would be wise to cab it there and back, though.
Practice your scales and apply the greasepaint; get ready to break a leg. We know the truth: Broadway South was a dream, a vision; Weimar South is where we at.
|< Prev||Next >|