The Big Easy's Big News: Bryan Batt Among Boosters Behind Reopening of Le Petit Theatre in New Orleans

By Peter Filichia
16 Feb 2013

Batt with Patricia Clarkson

Once he returned to town, Le Petit courted him for its board. "I'd been asked before to serve," says Batt. "But I felt that living in New York and filming in Los Angeles wouldn't make me available on a day-to-day basis. I live a bi-coastal and sometimes tri-coastal life. But with technology being what it is today, it worked out."

So Batt joined the fight. "A really important person too was Cassie Worley," he adds. "She was Cassie Steck when I met her as Louise in our Gypsy. She couldn't bear to see the theatre die, either."

They took to their telephones to see what could be done. "We held a benefit emceed by me and Patricia Clarkson," Batt says, citing his fellow New Orleans native who was Oscar-nominated for "Pieces of April" in 2004. "Although people know her as a serious actress," he says, "she's extremely funny, too, and was a riot that night. For another benefit, we did Love Letters."

What the board decided to do is what much of the nation is doing: downsize. "We were maintaining a great amount of unused space that brought in no revenue," says Batt. "That second building had a green room and dressing rooms that were bigger than anything I'd ever seen on Broadway. It also had a black box theatre that was used for children's shows. But why can't kids' shows be on the mainstage? If we sold half of this property, we could stay in business and in our historic home."

But selling to the right person was of primary importance. That second building couldn't become a T-shirt shop or daiquiri bar, for that would compromise the distinctive look of Jackson Square.

"That's why we approached Dickie Brennan of the famed Brennan restaurant dynasty to help fund-raise and find deep pocketed donors," says Batt. Many on the board were fans of the restaurateur whose steakhouse and Palace Café are much acclaimed in the French Quarter. Says Batt, "After a few brainstorming sessions, we felt that Dickie was someone with whom we might share the space. He understands business and the arts. When he lived in Texas, he was a great help to Houston Opera."

Although there were other offers, none were as financially beneficial for Le Petit or allowed the theatre to retain ownership. Just before the bank could foreclose, Brennan and Le Petit came to an agreement. Soon there will be a new Dickie Brennan restaurant, TABLEAUX, next door to Le Petit Theatre.

"We'll share the courtyard and main lobby with TABLEUX," says Batt. "When we're dark, the restaurant will have exclusive use of it. When we're lit, we will."

The sale of 60 percent of real estate leaves the theatre debt free, enjoying a $1 million renovation as well as a $1 million endowment. So look for Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre to reopen in the near future — perhaps in September with Lombardi, just in time for the new NFL season.