Theater buff sets the stage

July 3, 2014 8:45 AM

Mary Cross

Richard Mayer as The Riddler, The Shadowbox Theatre

Richard Mayer, owner of The Shadowbox Theatre, plays the part of The Riddler in a Batman-themed burlesque spoof. (Photo from Richard Mayer)

New Orleanians practice a local method of metamorphosis when renovating buildings: respecting a structure’s history while repurposing it for a promising future. Richard Mayer, who studied theater performance at Tulane University, gained firsthand experience in this transformative tradition when he converted an 85-year-old building on St. Claude Ave. into The Shadowbox Theatre.  

A glimmering symbol of the building’s past life as a neighborhood pharmacy, the original blue neon sign remains perched atop the building. It still boasts “Marquer Drugs Candy Soda” to passing patrons. Inside, Mayer has constructed a black box venue, versatile enough to host provocative plays as well as scintillating burlesque spoofs of pop culture. 

Mayer discovered his affinity for acting when he was 12 years old — he chose theater as an elective course in school. 

“As soon as I got on that stage, I thought this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” says Mayer. “I took to it instantly, and I haven’t stopped since.”

Mayer’s friend, Tulane graduate Heather Lane, first drew his attention to the former pharmacy’s hidden potential as a new theatre in 2009. Mayer says Lane had just opened Byrdie’s (a coffee shop, ceramics studio and art gallery) in the Marigny neighborhood and encouraged him to adapt the adjacent building into an updated playhouse.

Mayer’s current mission is to present an eclectic mix of shows, encouraging audiences to support local theatre troupes by broadening their horizons. 

“This venue provides a way for these different audiences with different interests to come together,” says Mayer. 

Audiences can catch a production of Christopher Shinn’s eerie drama Dying City from July 10 through Aug. 2. The play runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m.  

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000