‘Janka’ returns to Fresno

A few weeks ago I told you about an opportunity to attend the one-woman show “Janka” in Visalia. Now’s your chance to see it in Fresno. The show, starring Janice Noga and written by her husband, Oscar Speace, will be performed 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the 2nd Space Theatre.

Janka-Janice NY Production

New York production: Janice Noga plays the title role in “Janka.”

As I wrote in that earlier post, Noga for more than a decade has been perfecting her role in the one-woman show about her mother-in-law, Janka Festinger Speace, who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Speace wrote the play about his mother using original source materials, and the pair have toured with it across the nation and around the world. In 2015, I got the opportunity to follow “Janka” to New York City, where Noga and Speace fulfilled a lifelong dream of having the play produced in the nation’s theater capital with a professional director and designers. Many Fresno-area supporters contributed financially to send the show to New York through the Fresno Arts Council, which acts as The Janka Project’s fiscal sponsor.

You can win a pair of tickets to the Feb. 7 performance of “Janka” at the 2nd Space Theatre. To enter, leave a comment on this post saying why you’d like to attend. The winner will be selected at random and notified by email. Deadline to enter is 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5. 

Many people in years past have seen “Janka” locally, but few got to see the show in New York, where it was revamped. Those New York changes have been incorporated into the production. Proceeds from the performances will benefit GCP’s Junior Company, United Cerebral Palsy of Central California and the Fresno Arts Council.

I caught up with Noga to learn more about the Fresno performance:


Q: When you took “Janka” to New York, how did director James Phillip Gates help make it better?

A: We had performed “Janka” for 13 years without formal direction. James had done extensive research on the Holocaust and Janka’s story and envisioned a young and stronger woman in the Holocaust scenes. He created the blocking in her living room that helped clarify the telling of her story.

Q: In years past, you had the “Janka” script in front of you when you performed. In New York, you had it memorized. How will you do it in your Fresno performance?

A: I will do the New York version with a set, lighting and sound effects cues. The movement on stage will be similar.

Q: How long does it take you to prepare to play Janka after an extended absence from the character?

A: It takes me two months of daily rehearsal to relearn the lines.

Q: Some actors get tired of playing a role many times during a career. Do you think you could ever get tired of playing Janka?

A: I don’t believe I will tire of telling her story. For each performance the connection with the audiences is different. I try to bring more joy during the happy moments and emotion during the darkest moments.

Q: What is the most touching or memorable thing an audience member has ever told you after seeing a performance of “Janka”?

A: An older man told me that he saw his mother on stage for the entire play. And he thanked me for bringing her back into his life with such loving authenticity.

Q: Do you think the real Janka would be surprised that her memory lives on in a piece of theater?

A: I believe she would be surprised but she would be so very proud of her son taking her words and blending them with his to tell her story to the world.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

A: It has been an incredible honor to portray Janka on stage. I believe that her story must be told over and over with my whole heart so the world will never forget. I thank the many audience members that give their precious time to witness this extraordinary woman’s story.

Show info

“Janka,” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. Tickets are $30.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (11)

  • Burrola Gloria

    I would love to attend this as I unfortunately missed it before. I will not miss it this time. Love Janice. I met her at Centerpoint long ago.

  • Karan Johnson

    Everyone should see this play. It is a remarkable achievement.

  • Valerie

    Great review.

  • Christian David

    Janice Noga was one of my elementary school teachers at Easterby Elementary school!! I haven’t seen her since way back then. That’s where I first learned “Do Re Mi” from Sound Of Music! I would love to see this and see her again!!

  • Ani Ketabgian

    I would love to attend this show. This topic is so important to experience and near to my heart.

  • Anita Morris

    I missed it the first time around through no fault but my own fear that it might be more than I could handle emotionally. I have regretted it ever since; so glad for another opportunity to see this moving piece of history and theatre…..

  • I’ve known Janice for years. Would love to see show.

  • Kathy Scofield

    This will bring alive a part of history we must never forget!

  • Amanda Thornell

    I believe it was 2004 or 2005 when I was a student at Fresno State. Oscar brought the first incarnation of the show to the Communications Department and my class was asked to come and watch and participate in a Q&A/feedback session after the performance. It was so powerful and I was so excited to see what would happen with the piece. I would love to see it on stage.

  • Bryan

    Thank you for the thoughtful review. I will attend

  • Margie Vogt

    I already have my tickets, but want to comment. We met Ms Noga this past spring when she & Oscar attended “Gypsy” at Selma Arts Center. My daughter, Brianne Vogt, played Gypsy Rose Lee, & Janice was extremely complimentary of her performance. It meant so much that she was so kind & generous, as we learned this was one of her signature roles. We have never seen her perform, and are so looking forward to seeing her in this powerful, personal piece of historical theater.


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