ST. MARTINVILLE, LA (WVUE) - Before there were movie theaters, people relied on live music and theater for entertainment. And in the 1800s, some small Louisiana towns even had their own opera houses. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to a fully-restored, 170-year old opera house in the Cajun town of St. Martinville in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.
The town of St. Martinville is known for its strong ties to some of the earliest Acadian settlers. You find the Mother Church of the Acadians on Main Street with its Evangeline Statue, and nearby, the Evangeline oak. But beyond its Cajun culture, the town was once known as Louisiana's Little Paris. And that's due in large part to the Duchamp Opera House.
Built in the 1830s, the second floor theater hosted performances by the New Orleans opera and other traveling shows.
In the early 1900s, this building was sold and it became the Bienvenue Brothers Department Store. You could buy men's, women's, and children's clothing here for most of the 20th century. It closed in 1994 when Walmart came to town.
Now the restored opera house is owned by the City of St. Martinville. There is shopping on the ground floor, and live theater upstairs.
"The only way for us to know who we are and where we are going in the future is for us to really know our past and honor our past," said playwright and actress Lian Cheramie.
Cheramie is half of a two-woman show called "Cajun face," an original show on the Duchamp stage. The play is co-written by Sarah Brown.
"Cajun Face is a series of vignettes, mostly humorous, sometimes poignant, and it's us expressing what it means to us to be young and Cajun living here in this area," Brown said.
Through dance, acting and multi-media, the actresses poke fun at themselves and explore the generational differences in their Cajun culture.
"What people have said is that it made them see their culture in a way that they never thought of it before," Brown said. "It made them want to cherish it more and made them want to go visit their grandparents."
"I want them to start a conversation, and that's what the main thing that has come out of this is the conversations that are happening, with the audience members to us talking about their own family or their own way that they identify," Cheramie said.
"Cajun Face" played to sold-out audiences who clearly enjoy exploring what it means to be Cajun, on a stage that had a big part in the early history of this town Acadian town. The next performance will be on the stage of the historic Liberty Theater in Eunice on Oct. 3.