By Nick BeJeaux
When you start up a brand new theatre company, you must open with a show that makes a profound statement; what better way than a play about art within the decorated walls of a gallery?
Bridge Nouveau is the newest theatre company in Baton Rouge, and artistic director Alicia Hanley says it was created with the enrichment of the community in mind. Even the company’s name is meant to evoke the soul and iconography of the city.
“We liked the visual of the bridge because we want to bridge the gap by bringing more art to the community, and bringing artists, volunteers, and the community together,” she said. “And being a company just for Baton Rouge, we wanted to represent the Cajun French aspect of the culture, so that’s where ‘nouveau’ [French; modern, cutting edge] came from.”
Hanley says that the fledgling company currently has 15 members from age 16 to middle aged, many of whom are volunteers.
“It’s a combination of community volunteers and professional artists,” she said. “Some of our people are volunteering for just this show, others are members of the company that are helping develop our lineup of shows, and some are professionals that we pull in for specific productions.”
Though still in its infancy, Bridge Nouveau’s mission to unite art and community has already inspired support.
“[We’ve] received donations, and that has been incredibly helpful,” said Hanley. “Time Warp, Radio Bar, and a few other small businesses have donated money and other things, like drinks for our concession stand in Radio Bar’s case, and that has been tremendously helpful.”
To open with a bang, Bridge Nouveau is taking on John Logan’s Tony Award-winning production Red—a play where the theory of art is everything. The two-man play portrays the life and work of American artist Mark Rothko and his mentorship and conflict with his fictional assistant Ken. The show will run July 9 and 10 at the BREC Baton Rouge Gallery at 7 p.m. and stars Gregory Leute in the role of Rothko with Brady Lewis in the role of Ken.
“Rothko is quite an amazing guy,” said Leute, who teaches theatre at Baton Rouge Community College. “There are many things in this play that are like artist manifestos that really reach across to all genres of art—what it means to be an artist, your connection to traditions, and your responsibility to move beyond them.”
Leute admits that Rothko was not a nice guy, but his prickliness and tortured past made him great.
“On a TV show that I’ve been watching, there is an artist who is very much like Rothko, and he said that the best trait an artists can have is selfishness,” he said. “That’s because you spend your entire life trying to give voice to this dark corner of your psyche and in order to do that you have to have the single mindedness to do it. There’s something about that that’s…galvanizing.”
In the play, Leute’s Rothko hires Ken to help him with a commission for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building of New York. He mixes paints, stretches canvases, and gets Chinese food; but mostly he learns from Rothko while weathering his abrasive manner of teaching.
“What he ends up being is a fresh perspective on Rothko’s process and what his paintings are reading as to the viewer,” said Lewis, a student at LSU. “He tries to be a good sounding board and that sparks some of the turmoil between them. Ken is an admirer of Rothko and is there to learn from him, but he also tries to show Rothko how the world really is.”
For more information on Bridge Nouveau, follow the company’s Facebook page.