New Orleans audiences eat up live soap opera’s ‘Debauchery’

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Southern Rep and Mid-City Theatre are preparing to celebrate the third anniversary of the aptly named “Debauchery,” which, every month, sends a devoted audience into fits of uproarious laughter. It’s a live soap opera by local writer Pat Bourgeois, and there’s nothing else quite like it in New Orleans.

“Way back when we started, we figured ‘Debauchery’ would last two or three months, tops,” Bourgeois said. “It was a new concept. We didn’t know if people would know what to make of it, and we weren’t sure it would catch on.”

But it did, with fans drawn via word of mouth that began to spread after the show began at Le Chat Noir.

“I sat down with the folks at Le Chat to work on the concept,” Bourgeois said. “It ended up being about a mother from ‘Da Parish’ who had two daughters, living Uptown, who were absolutely humiliated by her.”

The story — and the number of characters — grew fast. But the lasting success of ‘Debauchery’ wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Southern Rep, which co-produced the show at first and then took that role solely after Le Chat Noir closed its doors in 2011.

When Southern Rep lost the lease on its own space, Mid-City Theatre offered to house the show, and ‘Debauchery’ has been staged there, on Toulouse Street near Bayou St John, ever since.

“This is not typical theater,” Bourgeois said. “I was a big fan of ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ and ‘Debauchery’ reminds me a bit of that. Even a mistake in the reading can become a part of the show, and often the audience will interact with the performers.”

“Every month I find out who among the regular actors is available first, then I build the story around them,” Bourgeois said. “Next month, because it’s the third anniversary celebration, there will be a whole bunch of special guests.”

Next month’s anniversary, on July 17, follows the hilarity of “Debauchery’s” recent musical episode and its big Mardi Gras and Christmas specials. But there’s fun to be had every month.

“We’ve grown,” Bourgeois said, “But it’s always been about having fun and delivering a good time. People like ‘Debauchery,’ so we just keep on doing it.”