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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Watch This Space: The Alley Theater’s Ongoing Transformation


Text and photos by Keith Waits.

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.



Scott Davis.

Talk to most theatre producers in town and they will tell you that one of the things they desire most is a space to call their own – to cease the continual search for rehearsal and performance space and avoid the attendant rental costs. Scott Davis, Artistic Director of The Alley Theater, is in the enviable position of having such a residence. But his recent experiences might fall under the category: “Be careful what you wish for…”

Since 2009, The Alley has functioned inside The Pointe, formerly a warehouse on East Washington Street in the historic Butchertown district. Operating within a generous relationship with BET Realty, the firm who owns and manages the property, it has produced plays in no less than three separate areas within the expansive L-shaped structure, most recently in the eastern wing of the basement. It is here that Mr. Davis is determined to fashion a flexible yet permanent home for his company and its unorthodox mission. It has proven to be a challenge, as The Alley’s multi-phase development plan has not always coincided with the simultaneous physical development plan of BET Realty. The 2011-12 season took patrons down some rickety stairs one floor below the nearest bathroom, into a subterranean warren of office cubicles and two stages, all defined by a patchwork series of flats and doors that lends  The Alley’s current environment a certain ramshackle, underdog quality.

But as Mr. Davis proceeded with a full season of programming, the landlord fell behind schedule on an aggressive renovation timetable. The theatre had maintained compliance with fire and electrical codes applicable to its “temporary” status but now ran into problems with access once the renovation work cut off the stairs leading to the basement level. It forced them to cut short the 2011-12 season, interrupting a run of Gilligan’s Island: The Musical and cancelling a planned production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist. The question of whether to stay in The Pointe or seek an entirely new space was pondered by the board of directors, who eventually decided to stay put and hope for the best.

“For the first time since moving here, we were in the red,” says Davis. “There was simply no cash flow.” The fiscal challenges followed a difficult season in which Davis was forced to step back from his artistic role and concentrate all of his energies on maintaining a functioning environment. Although the season featured several high points – a remounting of the popular Evil Dead, The Musical; a fascinating production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice that packed the tiny black box space in the basement; and Star Wars: The Original Trilogy in 60 Minutes or Less, that will be returning by popular demand in October – for Davis and his creative team, the 2011-12 season did not live up to their expectations. “I’m not sure if any of us voted for ourselves as Best Local Theatre Troupe in LEO.”


Coming soon:  the new entrance off Franklin Street.


Yet the company is approaching the new season with a sense of determined optimism, and recently Davis took me on a tour of the still-evolving space. Changes that will allow The Alley to once again open for business in the next 30 days include: a new entrance into the building from the Franklin Street side that will allow access down a wide, winding corridor; a public restroom within the theater’s basement space; and an expanded concessions counter. BET’s ongoing renovation will include fuller facilities later in the season, but for now, The Alley Theater is preparing again for a lively line-up of theatre experiences, with plans for a third cabaret-style stage and a fund raiser scheduled for September 29.

Entitled “The Princess Bride Experience,” it is to be a festival of events that will include a staged reading of the classic film’s script, a Renn-style midway with vendors and food, and an ongoing screening of the movie itself. The fund raiser will take place, not at The Alley Theater itself (“Even without the current work taking place, this space isn’t suitable for this type of festival,” says Davis), but at 620 South Third Street, next to the Henry Clay Building.


Although Davis has not yet shaken off the weary mien that last season’s challenges have draped upon him, he will start the new season off with a bang: the Louisville premiere of one of the most talked about New York musicals of recent years, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, which opens October 25. Some of the material scheduled to follow will speak to the core twenty something audience that The Alley has cultivated: Living Dead in Denmark crosses zombies with Hamlet and a host of other Shakespeare characters in a show that promises heady onstage action; while two others, Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers and Commando Cody: Zombies of the Stratosphere, are both drawn from the original movie serial scripts that played in the 1930s.


Backstage of the thrust stage where
 Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson will be performed.


But Davis’s ambitions for The Alley are not limited to the self-referential pop culture constructions that have dominated the schedule of late. He seeks a mix of material that includes classics and the works of contemporary American playwrights such as Stephen Adly Guirgis and Sarah Ruhl. The strategy attempts to draw not only a broader audience but also the best acting talent. “There are very few companies that can offer a wide range of material to the actors they are working with,” states Davis. “It would be great to be able to do that.”

So the company pushes forward in an effort to rediscover the foundation necessary to accomplish all of these estimable goals. First up, after The Princess Bride Experience, The Alley will host the season opener of Looking for Lilith, an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis that will run October 4-13 on the main stage.

The Alley Theater

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