Theatre Baton Rouge Starts its 75th Season Opening

Amongst every challenge to live theatre 2020 has brought its way, Theatre Baton Rouge will be celebrating its 75th season by presenting a blend of in-person and online, broadcasted performances in October, November, and December, The Advocate reports.

Since 1946, Theatre Baton Rouge has produced over 400 productions of dramas, comedies, and musicals for the local community, and amid the pandemic, live, engaging theatre is a highly-coveted commodity. Jenny Ballard, the managing artistic director of Theatre Baton Rouge remarked that there is simply “no substitute for live theater. You can have 400 channels on your TV at home. You can have every conceivable iteration of Shakespeare … but there is nothing that compares to being in the room. It is a special intimacy.”

This season, the Theatre Baton Rouge performers will be staging three productions. “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play”will be staged October 29-31 over the Zoom Teleconference app. In November, live audiences up to 40 people will be able to see “An Act of God,” and up to 80 audience members can see the troupe’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”come December. Also that month, TBR will stream their “The Gift of the Magi” online.

For 75 years now, this theatre has been adapting to the changing environment in order to remain relevant as social and entertainment attitudes, options, and tastes have varied dramatically since 1946.  What would eventually be known among the cultured of Louisiana’s capital as Baton Rouge Theatre began its stored career as the Baton Rouge Civic Theatre with a production of “The Male Animal” at the Woman’s Club on East Boulevard. In fact until the Harding Field theatre became its home in 1948, the theatre staged productions at various venues around the city.

Jerry Leggio, a member of the theatre who began acting in the late 1950 recalled actors exiting stage having to run around the back side of the building in order to return to stage on the opposite side, as the venue at the Harding Field theatre had no backstage. The theatre was built in order to entertain servicemen stationed at the airfield with live performances and films, but weather proved to be quite challenging as rainfall would regularly cancel performances or interrupt them, as it did during the theatre’s run of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1959.

Though, just as the theatre proves to be versatile in adapting to the challenges of COVID and 2020, the actors improvised. Leggio recalled in his interview with The Advocate, ““One night, I went out and came back so wet I had to inject a line: ‘Stella, don’t you know it’s raining outside? Of course, everybody knew what I was doing.”

Theatre Baton Rouge changed its name in 1951 to the Baton Rouge Little Theatre, and Theatre House Magazine rated it as the third-best community theatre in the country due to its quality and community support. In fact, while operating as a membership-based theatre, prospective members had to wait for existing members to leave in order to be granted entry.

With time and community support, the Theatre Baton Rouge’s operations and legacy grew exponentially, starting with its first artistic director, Lee Edwards, who committedly held the role until his death in 1978. Edwards was followed by Frank Pope, Henry Avery, Roy Hamlin, Keith Dixon, and J
Enny Ballard, all of whom have succeeded in carrying on the legacy of this staple of Baton Rouge.

Ballard remarked, ““We have a lot of great things happening, but as soon as COVID lets up, we plan to be able to shoot back into action, but in the meantime, we’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re doing it really well.” So, as the expression goes, despite it all, the show truly must go on.

For more Louisiana related articles, click here.