Fans of theater who were dismayed to hear that longtime community stalwart the Alley Theater is closing its doors at the end of the summer will be excited to hear that the space — located in the heart of downtown at 633 W. Main St. — will continue to serve a variety of artists and even be a home for performances when it reopens in October under the care of the Alley’s downstairs neighbor, Awesome Opossum Gifts.
Awesome Opossum proprietor Liz Jacobs, along with her Main Street neighbor and Normandy Gallery owner Sharon Marcum, have ambitious plans for the former Alley, and they spoke with Insider about their partnership and ideas for what comes next.
Both women are transplants to Kentucky — Marcum from north Texas and Jacobs from northern Virginia. Marcum was drawn by the University of Louisville, where she received a degree in art history and printmaking. And Jacobs’ move to Louisville also was based on one of Louisville’s most respected pastimes.
“I was up late one night drinking bourbon with a guy and decided to move to Kentucky. Never had been to Kentucky,” said Jacobs.
Both found that they loved the city and decided to stay.
For those unfamiliar, Awesome Opossum is small shop that features a collection of local and regional artists. While there are plenty of Louisville-based works, there also is a healthy portion of pop art, with a heavy accent on the nerdier side of the zeitgeist.
At approximately 530 square feet, Awesome Opossum crams in about as much art as stores two or three times its size. It’s easy to see why the boutique would want more space, but an increased footprint for art and clothing isn’t the only thing they’re dreaming up.
Those dreams were already simmering before the Alley’s closure became public. Having teamed for a number of events, Jacobs and Marcum knew they wanted a big space and were already starting to look for one on Main Street. When they found out the Alley’s spot was soon to be vacant, they pounced.
“We’re very, very sad to see the Alley Theater go,” said Marcum, “but we saw it as an opportunity to keep the place thriving.”
The theater space will remain mostly unchanged and offer a stage to thespians, while also hosting movie nights and other types of events, including drag shows. Jacobs spoke to a particular population she sees as underserved in Louisville’s current queer community.
“One thing I’ve found out is that there is no underaged drag show … everything happens in bars,” said Jacobs.
What a lot of visitors to the Alley might not know is that the company also has run of the space parallel to the theater and its lobby and offices. It’s a space just as big as the company’s public face.
“It’s called ‘the rough side,’ which is where all the set building goes on,” said Marcum. “That’s where the real magic happens. It’s a very big space.”
“The rough side” lives up to its name, a mostly unfinished room. Under Awesome Opossum’s purview, it’s going to get a lot more attention. Marcum and Jacobs envision a space that houses private, public and shared studios, with room for all sorts of workshops, classes and events.
“We going to have ‘Bourbon and Brushstrokes,’ which is our own little version of wine and paint, here on bourbon row,’” explained Marcum. “We’ll have several opportunities to learn a craft. You can come in after work, pay a small fee, and you’re going to not only learn something but take home a tangible item.”
The shared studios will be versatile spaces, able to offer a wide array of opportunities.
“We’ll have, for instance, several sewing machines set up — if you don’t have the space at home, or maybe you don’t have the equipment, or maybe you just need a little bit of education on how to use equipment,” Marcum added. There is a similar plan for a photography studio and eventually a printmaking studio. “It’s about a collaborative space downtown, which is something that’s been sorely lacking.”
For teachers, Jacobs and Marcum plan to draw on the more than 110 artists with whom they already work, artists with a diverse range of media and specialties. They also have a solid multi-part incentive plan to pay artists.
Behind the scenes of your favorite galleries, the owners get a hefty chunk of that money you’re plunking down, whether you’re spending $20 or $2,000. Galleries charge a percentage of the gross for each piece sold.
Marcum brags that Awesome Opossum already charges artists only 30 percent, which she says is the lowest rate in town. Insider can’t confirm that fact, but most galleries we’ve heard figures from run a lot closer to 50 percent.
For artists who teach classes, that percentage will get even smaller, and theoretically even reach zero for an artist who puts in serious time teaching. The teaching artists also will get a cut of any fee the store charges for those classes.
These artists’ forward initiatives key into another big piece of Marcum and Jacobs’ plan — they have begun the process to become a nonprofit.
“It was something we knew we wanted to do, because this is our passion project,” said Marcum. “We all have day jobs. These artists are our friends and chosen family. We’re doing this for the community.”
Something else they are doing for the community is a little more down-to-earth. Both Jacobs and Marcum know all too well that their stretch of West Main Street contains no place to get last-minute essentials. So in addition to all that artistic stuff going on upstairs, Awesome Opossum will have a bodega downstairs.
The current plans is to have a grand re-opening during the Republic Bank First Friday Hop in October. The work on the larger, unfinished space won’t be completed by that time, but the upgrades will continue.
In the meantime, you can check out Awesome Opossum’s current offerings on the bottom floor at 633 W. Main St., swing by Normandy Gallery at 641 W. Main St., or head upstairs back at 633 to watch the Alley’s last two productions.