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Bowing to the virus, GCP postpones opening ‘King and I’ and puts ‘Enchanted April’ on hold

On Thursday, for the first time in the nearly 50-year history of Fresno’s Good Company Players, opening night at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater won’t feature an opening.

“The King and I” will be postponed to at least April 15 — and it could open later than that, says Dan Pessano, managing director of the stalwart company.

Pictured above: A scene from the 2014 production of GCP’s ‘The King and I.’  Photo: Good Company Players

“We know we’re going to do the show,” he says. “We’re just not going to do it this Thursday.”

Also dark on Thursday will be Good Company’s “Enchanted April” at the 2nd Space Theatre, which is in the middle of its two-month run.

With that, the delicate candle of local, live theater has been snuffed out. Temporarily, one hopes.

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All of this is in response to COVID-19, of course. There are very few parts of everyday life not impacted by the pandemic. For the casual observer, the news of one more canceled show isn’t earth-shattering, especially with other headlines cascading upon us.

But local theater fans steeped in GCP’s illustrious community-theater history know that it isn’t just unusual for the show not to go on — it’s unprecedented. Except for a power outage or two, and one time when a leading lady got sick just before curtain (in the show “My One and Only”), the company has always kept going, Thursdays through Sundays, 52 weeks a year.


Related story: Sunday COVID-19 arts update: No City Jazz, ‘Detroit ’67’ or ‘Trashique,’ while Good Company plays on

The idea of Roger Rocka’s and 2nd Space dark for days (or months) on end isn’t just alarming — it’s unimaginable. If it were up to cast members, people would probably perform together no matter the risk. That’s just part of the theater mindset.

“We’ve never done this,” Pessano says. “This is deus ex machina. The machine of the gods is doing this. It’s not in our control.”

Good Company kept performing up until the last possible moment, with matinee performances of “Something Rotten!” and “Enchanted April” playing Sunday. After “Rotten” played its final scheduled performance, the clockwork-like act of striking the set for the next production took place immediately after the last applause died out. The set for “King and I” went up smoothly, and a full-company technical rehearsal was slated for Monday night.

“People were laughing and having a good time,” Pessano says of Sunday’s show. “If that show is what we’ve gotta sit on until we open again, it left a positive taste in everyone’s mouth.”

Through it all, GCP had followed the various guidelines promulgated by health and government officials, including limiting public gatherings to 250 people and for social distancing to occur in seating configurations.


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However, those changing guidelines were tightened on Sunday, with a recommendation by Gov. Newsom that all activities involving 50 or more people be canceled. President Donald Trump then weighed in Monday afternoon with an even more drastic limit of 10 people gathering together, tops.

“Obviously we would need to perform for more than 10 people,” Pessano says. “Although we wouldn’t have any problem spreading them out.”

He laughs. Pessano’s sardonic humor can’t be leashed, no matter the topic. “That was a nervous laugh,” he clarifies, and laughs again.

He is worried about the financial health of the company and especially concerned about the 25 people who work for GCP in such capacities as the scene shop, costume shop and front office. Fundamentally, no business works without income, he says.

The potential April 15 opening date for “The King and I” was based on the projected opening of local schools, but that could change.

There are a couple of options for dealing with the rest of the 2020 season. (GCP is locked into two-month engagements for each of its productions.) One would be to essentially extend the run of “King and I” to two months after whenever it opens, and then bump the next production, “Freaky Friday,” to fit in after that. At the end of the year, one production could be bumped to the start of the 2021 season.

Good Company Players

‘Something Rotten!’ just closed at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.

The other option would be to abbreviate the “King and I” run, depending upon the possible opening date, and save some money in royalty fees. (The “King” royalties are the most expensive of the season.)

Most important is keeping season-ticket holders happy. For the for-profit company, season ticket sales are a lifeblood.

For “Enchanted April,” the hope is to reopen the show for at least a couple of weeks to give season-ticket holders a chance to see it before it closes for good. The next 2nd Space production, “This Random World,” is scheduled to open April 24.

Pessano knows it’s an unprecedented time and it’s rough out there for many small businesses, but the arts are especially fragile. Many arts organizations are non-profit, but that doesn’t help when there isn’t any cash flow.

“Up and down the line, anyone who is in the arts category is particularly hard-hit,” he says.

For now, the thought of a Fresno without a Pessano worrying about that weekend’s productions just doesn’t seem, well, like a Fresno you’d want to be in.

“Right now it’s like I’m numb,” he says. “You can’t feel how much pain there will be.”


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.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (1)

  • Karan Johnson

    Very sad but the right thing to do.

    reply

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