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Le Chat Noir owner recalls theater's heyday

This July, New Orleans’ beloved cabaret theater Le Chat Noir, located in the Central Business District on St. Charles Avenue, closed its final curtain. The theater’s programming included dramas, comedies, musicals and cabaret. Last week I interviewed owner Barbara Motley about the birth, life and future of Le Chat Noir.

Le Chat Noir closed in July, after more than a decade of theater productions.

How did this unique theater get started?

It started in June 1999 and required 18 months of renovation. I wanted a mature, for-profit business modeled after cabarets in New York. My vision was of high-level entertainment, not art. Eventually, though, producers, directors, and playwrights began approaching me about theater, so we started doing dramas, too.

Why did Le Chat Noir close?

Subsidy is no longer possible. This economic climate is the worst possible time for theater. It’s also challenging because there are so many theaters in New Orleans.

What were the biggest challenges you faced?

Live performance is a difficult financial venture, though in New Orleans there is a wealth of talent. The per capita density of theater here is extraordinary. The artistic challenge was easier than the financial challenge because it is difficult to get people to pay for an experience. Another challenge was controlling those who had had too much to drink during a torch performance by a diva.

What are your funniest or most fond memories of Le Chat Noir?

It is a magical place. There is nothing like live entertainment on a small scale. It is an intimate experience.

Le Chat Noir owner Barbara Motley: 'There is nothing like live theater on a small scale.' (Steve Forster, nola.com photo)

What’s next on the horizon for you?

I am selling the building, but not Le Chat Noir as a business. It might turn into a producing group or an agency for cabaret actors. Visiting actors always want to come back here.

What is the best thing that the media can do for the arts?

There needs to be a commitment to a critical and enlightening message. By critical I mean analytic, not negative. People love arts more when they know how to think about art.