Feature Exclusive: AJ Allegra, Artistic Director of Le Petit Theatre

Allegra steps into top role of "the crown jewel theatre" of Nola

By: Sep. 22, 2023
Feature Exclusive: AJ Allegra, Artistic Director of Le Petit Theatre

Feature Exclusive: AJ Allegra, Artistic Director of Le Petit Theatre

Le Petit Theatre recently announced the appointment of AJ Allegra as its new artistic director. Allegra was selected after a national search by Management Consultants for the Arts and has been in the position since August 1.

“Getting to lead this theatre, which I consider kind of the crown jewel theatre of New Orleans given its history and location, I feel very humbled, and I will do my absolute darndest to be the best possible leader the theatre can have,” Allegra said.

Allegra has shared his creative expertise with the community as an original founding member of the independent theatre company The NOLA Project and served as its artistic director since 2008. Before stepping down from The NOLA Project, Allegra thought about the next steps in his artistic career and letting someone take the reins with the theatre company. But when the pandemic hit, Allegra had a different goal.

“The pandemic was a universal struggle across the arts sector and humanity at large,” Allegra said. “My new goal eventually became to ensure that The NOLA Project got through the pandemic successfully so that we could emerge from the other side.”

After seeing the company through the pandemic, Allegra knew the time had come for him to step down from his leadership position with The NOLA Project. Around the same time, Le Petit began their national search for an artistic director. From January through May, Allegra went through the vetting process and was appointed to the position by the search committee after giving a final presentation, which included his three-year plan of what he envisioned for Le Petit. Having been in the position for over a month now, Allegra is excited by everything Le Petit has in the works one month into his tenure.

“Our season has officially kicked off with rehearsals for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and I have been very busy planning a new play reading series, restarting our Young Conservatory education program, and interviewing area students for our brand-new Teen Council,” Allegra said. “My fellow team members on staff have been so welcoming and warm, and I look forward to collaborating with them for a great long while to come.”

While he plans to continue the theatre’s strength of bringing in regional premieres, Allegra has said the future scope will also include developing new works.

“One thing that I think Le Petit is going to put a greater focus on is new works,” Allegra said. “We want to be a place in which Le Petit is presenting world premiere plays…that hopefully get national recognition and ideally are performed after their lifetime at Le Petit. What I have a good history of with The NOLA Project is developing plays that are regionally specific to our area. I love producing plays about New Orleans and different facets of New Orleans, like life and community.”

Allegra is no stranger to producing new works. In addition to his work at The NOLA Project as artistic director, Allegra had two of his shows produced, “TREASURE ISLAND” and “OREGON TRAIL: THE PLAY.” Dubbing himself more as “a theatre maker who can write a script” rather than a playwright, obtaining local writers is important to Allegra because he knows the literary talent in the Crescent City that could use more exposure.

“I think Le Petit is a great platform to give to those writers,” Allegra said.

Along with developing new works, education will also be focused. Allegra came from a world of education, having 16 years of experience working as a teacher. He was the head of the theatre program at the Willow School from 2014 to 2023 and taught musical theatre at NOCCA from 2007 to 2014.

“Education is a major, major point of interest and focus for me, and I know that it is as well for the Le Petit board,” Allegra said, who explained the pandemic paused the theatre’s educational programming. “My goal is to restart and reinvigorate things such as the youth conservatory; they had a program about technical job force development, which I’d like to get restarted. And then programming that is specifically for kids. Maybe not necessarily kids on stage performing, which we would like to do during the Young Conservatory, but also programming that exists on the stage as performed by professionals for kids and their families.”

According to Allegra, the best way to develop a patron and donor base is to have early exposure.

“The earlier and the more regularly children are exposed to the arts, the more a part of their lives it automatically becomes,” Allegra said. “We in America do so well in sports in that regard; we start kids playing sports so young. Ninety-nine percent of the world isn’t a professional athlete, but I’d say well over fifty percent of people enjoy watching sports and making sports a part of their lives somehow. We’re just trying to do the same with the arts, and I think it’s about early exposure both as a participant and a viewer.”

In addition to instilling early exposure to the arts, Allegra also wants to focus on areas of inclusion to expand the theatre’s mission, which has a strong history spanning over a hundred years of providing theatre to the city.

“Theatre largely, like a lot of the arts, has somewhat of an era of exclusivity. There tend to be older, richer, whiter, more educated audiences that gravitate toward it because the humanities are a privilege,” Allegra said. “As an artistic director in 2023, it is my job to recognize the demographics of our city…of those who haven’t been through our doors or up on our stage. How can we get them involved in a way that’s fun and inclusive and they feel welcomed to participate and attend the theatre and do so regularly?”

As he navigates his path as artistic director and understands how shows are produced at Le Petit, Allegra will sit in the director’s seat next June with “THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST” to close the 2023-24 season. As a lover of English accents, parasols, gloves, and fancy costumes, Allegra is excited to direct one of the world’s most beloved satires.

“[It’s] still so bitingly funny today,” Allegra said.

In addition to “The Importance of Being Ernest,” the theater will produce “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN” in October, “WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf?" in January, “BEAUTIFUL: THE Carole King MUSICAL” in March and “BORN WITH TEETH” in April. 

“I think [this season] demonstrates a good deal of bold vision on Le Petit’s part, especially the season opener LET THE RIGHT ONE IN,” Allegra said. “That is an exciting play. I don’t think a lot of people might have expected Le Petit to produce it.”

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, an edgy, dark vampire story has only seen a few productions in the United States besides the theatre that originally commissioned the work, The National Theatre of Scotland.

“Le Petit’s production is one of the first that is going to be an original production of that play that is not The National Theatre of Scotland’s production,” Allegra said.

There are great things ahead for Le Petit with Allegra now at the helm, and Allegra knows to honor the legacy of Le Petit, which remains a vital part of Nola’s artistic identity.

“When you take over a 100-year-old institution, you’re pretty certain it will be around before you, and it’s going to be around after you,” Allegra said. “So, my job is to make sure my stewardship is as effective as it can be so that I can leave it better than I got it.”


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