Anyone who grew up here in New Orleans should remember watching our beloved Morgus the Magnificent. For over half a century, Morgus prefaced the weekend horror movies with his own New Orleans style horror vignettes. Morgus, along with his sidekick Chopsley would entertain us with his weekly scientific experiments gone wrong, dissecting and poking and prodding […]
Category Archives: Oral History
Could it be that the French Quarter of New Orleans might have its very own “sister city” — the walled city of Pingyao, in China’s Shanxi province?
Does this not look eerily similar to the intersection of Decatur Street (left) and N. Peters Street/the French Market (right) in the French Quarter (albeit with the streets and angles being depicted in reverse), looking in the direction of Canal St. (minus the Joan of Arc statue in the green space triangle)? It’s a virtual mirror image of that sliver of our own Vieux Carré.
Similarities between the French Quarter and Pingyao include:
• Tourism as the primary economic driver;
• infrastructure concerns resulting from “hoards of tourists”;
• projects involving the collection of “oral histories” from residents;
• Disneyland facsimiles (New Orleans Square at Disneyland vs. Pingyao being compared to the Temple of Heaven pavilion at Epcot);
• hole-in-the-wall shops offering “reflexology foot massages” (there are at least four in the French Quarter these days);
• music blaring from loudspeakers; and
• concerns of local businesses being overwhelmed by “souvenir shops selling mass-produced junk next to bars and restaurants.”
Consider this: two cities, half a world apart, offering alarmingly identical experiences to their respective visitors… isn’t that homogenization defined?
“‘The exodus of indigenous residents and the loss of confidence in local Pingyao cultural traditions may be the single biggest threat to Pingyao today,’ says UNESCO’s Dr. Du Xiaofan. ‘There are threats that the Pingyao could become nothing but a city full of souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels,’ adds Tongji University’s Shao Yong.” Sound familiar?
The N.O. Tourism and Marketing Corporation, and the N.O. Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Morial Convention Center would still like to increase the number of tourists present daily in our city from the current estimated 24,000 visitors per day to an average of 37,500 per day (an estimated 95% of whom would likely visit the French Quarter). There are concerns that this many visitors would likely have a detrimental impact on the quality of life for the residential population of the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods, resulting in a further decline in the number of full-time residents.
Pingyao’s master plan, however, calls for the implementation of a deliberate reduction in the number of full-time residents to enhance its appeal. What might happen as a mere consequence in the French Quarter (not as a result of our city’s master plan) is an acknowledged and planned course of action in Pingyao, who’s annual tourist influx is a mere one million — not the 13.7 million figure desired for our city, as prescribed by the Boston Consulting Group’s report of 2009.
In MADAME VIEUX CARRÉ by Scott S. Ellis, he references the French Quarter’s early preservationists (Saxon, Irby, Fields, etc.) with the following words:
“What cannot be overstated is that this first band of preservationists left a legacy that ultimately became the economic engine of New Orleans. Their influence was slow and sometimes faltering, and there were reverses along the way. But it was at the smoky, absinthe-informed parties of the 1920s Quarter ‘bohemians’ that the foundations for New Orleans’ modern tourist industry were laid. Long after most primary industry has fled, tourism, in many ways great and small, keeps the city ever so slightly above utter destitution. Most of the oil industry has decamped to Houston, but the hotels stay busy. The high-tech sector may roll its eyes when thinking of Orleans Parish, but the souvenir shops of Decatur Street still turn the goods to each new generation of tourists. This first band scraped a few sparkling shards of ‘charm’ from the gutter and exposed the mother lode of unique character that is New Orleans’, and the Vieux Carré’s, livelihood.”
Ellis’ contention that preservationists birthed the modern tourism industry makes absolute sense, but given the recent Hospitality Zone battle and the ongoing skirmishes between the city’s administration and neighborhood groups, the truly warped part is that it may have been this very impulse to protect and preserve that has sown the seeds for the cultural commodification and destruction of our city’s most cherished traditions and customs.
Lately it could be said that the voracious triplets (the Tourism & Marketing Corporation, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Morial Convention Center) seem to want to cannibalize their parent.
In the French Quarter, cast iron ornamentation, fence posts, and columns occasionally feature ornamental pineapples as part of their decorative motif, a Victorian era symbol of prosperity adopted by our city’s earliest French settlers. Much like Pingyao’s tortoise symbol and its relevance to that city’s current struggles, the preservation of our history and local culture desperately needs an infusion of prosperity in the form of community interest. It bears repeating: we are a community — not a commodity.
Please read the Atlantic’s article about Pingyao and consider the corollaries between this city and our own city’s French Quarter — might Pingyao be the Chinese Vieux Carré?: Can an Ancient Chinese City Pursue Preservation Without Disney-fication?
On Writing in the Wake of Katrina I watched CNN on Sunday for a long time, following the path of Hurricane Irene, worrying about relatives and friends who were in various states along the storm’s expected travels. As it became clear that the inland flooding from overflowing riverbanks would be by far the greatest danger […]
The following post was originally published April 12 on local blog American Zombie.
Last Saturday I spent the day at Dr. Michael Robichaux’s farm in Raceland talking with well over 60 offshore workers, fisherman, and family members who are experiencing extreme health effects from the BP oil spill. Many of the workers who came into direct contact with the oil and the dispersant, Corexit, are experiencing similar health problems ranging from mild sypmptoms to life threatening conditions. It’s not only the men who were out on the Gulf during the spill that are sick, family members are experiencing health problems as well. Even people who swam in the ocean are stricken.
While I can’t confirm this number, I am told by folks monitoring the issues that they estimate thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida are suffering. Some are experiencing mild symptoms such as asthma, nausea, and headaches, while others are suffering extreme health issues such as internal bleeding, paralysis and even death….yes death.
The following video is a testimonial from Louisiana charter boat captain, Louis Bayhi. It’s 6 minutes long and I implore you to watch the entire thing:
Louis was one of over 40 fisherman I spoke with on Saturday who is gravely ill. All of these fisherman confirmed to me that the Gulf is still full of oil and dispersant is continually being deployed….including areas which have been deemed safe for seafood harvesting.
There are more testimonials coming….please help spread this message…please help spread the truth. The nightmare BP left us with is not over, in fact it may just be starting. The MSM is not going to report what’s happening, but I implore you to dig deeper and don’t trust what you are being spoon-fed.
I fully expect to get attacked on the seafood issue but my response is fire away…I just spoke with over 40 guys who are out there every day and their concerns have now become mine. I will take their word over anyone.
Check out the LEAN – Louisiana Environmental Action Network website for more information.
This video is a production – a very good production – of Pablo Neruda’s poem Standard Oil Co. If the oilspill catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon last April (6 months ago today) affected you in any way, I think you’ll find this quite provocative. Even if you don’t like poetry.
This Wednesday, join Ms. Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons for storytelling and conversation about New Orleans’ role in the civil rights movement. Dodie has dedicated her life to the preservation of New Orleans culture, and will offer rememberings of her time as a task force member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a test rider for the Freedom Rides, and a youth member of the NAACP.
What: Talkin’ Revolution: Conversations with Elders who Led the Way, featuring Dodie Smith-Simmons
When: Wednesday, May 12, 7pm
Where: The 7th Ward Neighborhood Center,
1910 Urquhart Street at Pauger Street
Patois and Junebug Productions are proud to present this first installation of the monthly summer series Talkin’ Revolution: Conversations with Elders who Led the Way. Talkin’ Revolution highlights the voices of local heroes in the struggle for justice and equality.
Southern Rep Partners with Junebug Productions, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and Tulane University
for the Regional Premiere of Ameriville by Universes, which runs February 24 – March 7, 2010.
In AMERIVILLE, the critically acclaimed Bronx-based ensemble group gives an emotionally riveting performance that is not only about Katrina, but also about the struggles and heartbreaks that happened in New Orleans. With the unbelievable power and passion that Universes brings to the stage, stories, facts, and memories are brought back through a mixture of poetry, hip-hop, jazz, and theatre.
Created by Universes, AMERIVILLE gives new insight and urgency to our national re-examination of what it means to be American – with heart, impassioned stomps, and incandescent harmonies. It’s a jubilant cry to rebuild America itself. Universes has created their own brand of high-energy performance, rooted in hip-hop but drawing on a global multitude of lyrical and musical influences and performance styles.
AMERIVILLE will be directed by Chay Yew, who is both a director and award-winning playwright, currently living in New York City. He has directed countless shows and is a recipient of the Dramalogue and OBIE Awards for Direction. As an alumnus of New Dramatists, he currently serves on the Executive Board of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Yew is a graduate from Boston University.
Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Gamal Abdel Chasten, and Ninja make up Universes. All four actors are the founders of the company. Steven Sapp, a graduate from Bard College, is a playwright/actor. Mildred Ruiz-Sapp is part of this group as a playwright/actress/vocalist. Gamal A. Chasten is a songwriter/poet/screenwriter whose work has toured in over 25 U.S. cities and 5 countries. Ninja (William Ruiz) is a playwright/director and also a graduate of Bard College. Universes is a National / International ensemble Company of multi-disciplined writers and performers who fuse Poetry, Theater, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Politics, Down Home Blues and Spanish Boleros to create moving, challenging and entertaining theatrical works. The group breaks the bounds of traditional theater to create their own brand, inviting old and new generations of theater crafters as well as the theater goers and new comers to reshape the face of American Theater.
Southern Rep Artistic Director Aimée Hayes was drawn to this wide-reaching partnership out of a shared belief in the power of Universes’ production. “When I saw AMERIVILLE in last year’s Humana Festival, I jumped to my feet along with the rest of the audience to applaud before the lights came down at the end of the show. After seeing a production that spoke to my hometown in such a ground-breaking and inspirational way, I knew we had to find a way to bring it here to share with our friends and neighbors.”
Southern Rep is proud to be part of this expansive partnership project with Junebug Productions, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and Tulane University Department of Theatre and Dance that brings together such a diverse group of stakeholders, including school principals, teachers, members of the media, church and business leaders, as well as organizations’ board members to ensure the widest possible impact of Universes’ work in New Orleans. Thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, Louisiana Division of the Arts, Arts Council of New Orleans, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, and the National Performance Network, Southern Rep sees AMERIVILLE and Universes’ residency as fruitful and productive endeavor to benefit the New Orleans community at large.
Junebug Productions (JPI,) a professional African American arts organization located in New Orleans, Louisiana, produces, tours and presents high quality theater, dance and music that encourages and supports African Americans in the Black Belt South who are working to improve the quality of life available to themselves and others who are similarly oppressed and exploited. For the past 29 years, the company has toured the U.S. and performed internationally with John O’Neal, Junebug’s Artistic Director who co-founded the Free Southern Theater in 1963 as a cultural arm of the southern Civil Rights Movement. Junebug Productions is currently creating the Free Southern Theater Institute (FSTI) to codify the particular techniques, ethics, and aesthetics developed by FST and Junebug Productions. Artists from around the region and the nation will be able to come to New Orleans, learn the FST and JPI technique and work with the local community and artists. Junebug is currently offering the third of three pilot program courses, “From Community to Stage”, bringing in artists to work with community residents, high school and university students.
Ashé Cultural Arts Center is an effort to combine the intentions of neighborhood and economic development with the creative forces of community, culture and art to revive and reclaim a historically significant corridor in Central City New Orleans: Oretha Castle-Haley Boulevard, formerly known as Dryades Street. Ashé is a gathering place for emerging and established artists to present, create and collaborate in giving life to their art so as to activate the artistic, creative and entrepreneurial possibilities available in our community. Storytelling, poetry, music, dance, photography, and visual art all are a part of Ashé’s work to revive the possibility and vision of a true “Renaissance on the Boulevard.”
The Tulane Department of Theatre and Dance is a multi-disciplinary program that offers a fusion of performance styles and techniques in the framework of a liberal arts setting. Their diverse and international faculty teaches a mix of approaches that allow their students to explore all aspects of the theatrical and dance arts in order to help them prepare for the world around them. After beginning with the solid foundation of a hands-on curriculum, students are allowed to individualize their journey by choosing study in numerous areas that include academic research, storytelling, regional and international dance styles, acting methodology, community action, directing, choreography, design and technical stagecraft. The Department’s goal is to create the beginnings of a well-rounded dance or theatrical artist who understands where she or he fits into a larger performance community.
TICKETS AND LOCATION:
Regular ticket prices range from $20-$35: $35 for Opening Night, Wednesday February 24 (includes post-performance reception); Individual tickets are $26-$29 with special discounts for students, seniors, K-12 teachers, active military, theatre professionals (with ID) and groups of ten or more. $10 Student Rush tickets are available 15 minutes before curtain on a cash-only basis, with student ID. On the edge of the French Quarter, Southern Rep Theatre is conveniently located on the 3rd floor of the Shops of Canal Place, where validated parking is available. For more information and to order tickets, call (504) 522-6545, or visit southernrep.com.
Southern Rep continues to show that it is staging the most important, challenging, and downright mesmerizing pieces of theater New Orleans audiences are graced to experience. – Theodore P. Mahne, The Times-Picayune Lagniappe
“Their energy and realness is unmatchable.” — The Village Voice
Ameriville is an experience on many levels: percolating, bubbling, and broiling, flooding the theatre to the very last row. Hold your breath and dive in. – Theatre Louisville
“A headlong explosion of poetry, percussion, and multi-culti musical exploration that absolutely demands to be seen.” — The Boston Globe
Words written here would only spoil the song and the message. Enjoy.
LadyFest New Orleans is a non-profit music, spoken word and arts festival organized by local women to showcase, celebrate and encourage activism through the arts for and by New Orleans women. It also serves as a benefit for local organizations that support women.
The festival runs for five days at five different venues. It will begin on Wed., Nov. 4, 6 pm at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade, New Orleans, with a Homily by Deacon Joyce Jackson, the first and only black woman Episcopal deacon in New Orleans. This will be followed by gospel music from Tonia Scott and the Anointed Voices who were the featured choir in “Skeleton Key”. The Queen Clarinet of Louisiana, Doreen Ketchens, will close out the evening with lots of hot music from Doreen’s Jazz New Orleans.
The festival moves to Snug Harbor on Thur., Nov 5 with two shows 8 and 10 pm at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, 626 Frenchmen, featuring Cindy Scott, Leah Chase, Megan Swartz on piano, Cori Waters on drums and Cassandra Falconer on bass.
On Friday, Nov. 6, Sweet Lorraine’s, 1931 St. Claude is the place to be with Charmaine Neville, David & Roselyn, Estelle Compagne on flute, GaBrilla Ballard, Lynn Drury & the Pfister sisters accompanied by Amassa Miller on Piano, Cori Waters on drums and Cassandra Falconer on bass.
Poet Valentine Pierce will be reading from her work also.
Sat, Nov. 7th the show moves to the Marigny Theatre, 1030 Marigny at St. Claude to enjoy blues with Beth Trepagnier, hear Gina Forsyth, dynamite on guitar or fiddle, and be amazed by Kayne Reznick‘s lusty irreverent folk songs, Lindsay Mendez performing music from her new CD, Olivia Greene bringing a fresh slant to jazz accompanied by Cori, Cassandra and Estelle. Then Some Like It Hot tears up the evening.
Sun., Nov. 8th, LadyFest New Orleans 2009 has its final performance at the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., from 11 am to 6 pm with 30 X 90, Dixie Rose, Hazel and the Delta Ramblers, Kelcy Mae, Margie Perez, Olga and Troi Bechet with Mimi Geste on Piano, Cori Waters on Drums, Cassandra Falconer on Bass and Estelle Campagne on Flute.
For more info, including some great photos, visit LadyFest New Orleans.org