Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Two grand ladies pass

Bryan's loving memoir to his mother Gayle

The news before Christmas is not very good for a city that is so closely connected. Yesterday, the city lost two grand dames, the first a gracious, charming and vivacious ambassador for the Crescent City and the other a 95-year-old institution that local actors and the theatre public have referred to as "the old girl." Gayle Batt, a true New Orleanian from the top of her perfectly coiffed hair to the soles on her exquisite shoes, lost her courageous, long-running battle with cancer yesterday at the age of 79. Batt, the mother of actor Bryan and local politician and former city councilman Jay, was a cancer survivor at least thrice before. She worked for a large number of local charities and non-profits including the New Orleans Museum of Art, WRBH Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped, the Friends of City Park, Save Our Cemeteries, the Louisiana chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and various garden societies. She was the subject of her son Bryan's loving memoir "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother" released this year by Harmony Books (Crown Publishing Group). A redoubtable figure who always was impeccably attired and never without a smile, Batt worked tirelessly for many causes, but her most special attachment might have been her work as a member of the board of governors of Le Petit Théåtre du Vieux Carré, the other victim who fell yesterday. After weeks of speculation, Cassie Worley, the president of the Le Petit board of governors, announced with regret the cancellation of the remainder of the season including the upcoming productions of "Frost/Nixon," "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Evita" and "Disney's High School Musical." The theatre's production of "White Christmas," slated to have run during the first three weeks of December had previously been canceled. According to several sources, this action was necessary due to runaway costs for the maintenance of the building and other debts that are reported to top at about $1 million. Close friends of the theatre were shocked to hear that were "White Christmas" to have been mounted and had sellouts for each performance, it still would lose money. Money problems have threatened the small theatre, which boasts it is the oldest continuously running community theatre company in the United States. A few years back artistic director Sonny Borey and his entire staff were sacked. The Solomon Group was then brought in to rein in the the finances and Gary Solomon, the 20-something wunderkind was credited with keeping the company from the brink of financial doom. An article in the Times-Picayune earlier in the year gave Solomon the nod as the savior of the theatre most New Orleanians consider the best in the city. He did so by comping the services of the Solomon Group for three months, but then charging the theatre $10,000 per month for their services. Solomon brought about a number of incredible changes for Little Theatre, but the mounting debt still lingered despite the theatre making a turn towards financial stability.When Solomon was discharged by the board two months ago, speculation ran rampant about who would take over the day-to-day operations of the theatre. A recent run of shows "We Need a Little Christmas" with headliner Bryan Batt raised several tens of thousands of dollars for the theatre, but it was, apparently, too little, too late. It is sad, but out of this disaster, the seeds of redemption may be planted. Plans are afoot to see what can be done to make Le Petit more financially viable. Some sections of the building, which fronts near Jackson Square, may be sold off and the money applied towards servicing the theatre company's debt. The board remains very tight-lipped, but no one has suggested the theatre will be forced to close its doors permanently...yet. Meanwhile, the funeral for Gayle Batt will be held at Rayne Memorial United Methodist, 3900 St. Charles Avenue, tomorrow and the burial will be private. In addition to her two sons and their partners, she is survived by two grandchildren. My condolences to all the members of the family and to all those who were blessed to know her.

1 comment:

Arlene said...

It is all quite sad! I would love to see the current board look "outside the box" for possible solutions for the theater's survival. They should research what other communities have done to stay afloat.