As we shelter in Fresno, the arts community survives and thrives

Last night I dreamed I was sitting in the audience for a Good Company Players play. At least, I’m pretty sure it was a GCP production because 1) Dan Pessano was on the stage; and 2) I was in a space that sort of looked like Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, though in typical not-quite-real dream fashion, a woman in a booth in the middle of the audience was giving out Costco samples. I think she was serving taquitos. Anyway, the important thing is that a play was about to start, but Pessano brought everything to a halt to say that the main actor couldn’t get to the theater because of a police blockade, and the show wouldn’t be able to go on unless I — yours truly, with critic’s notebook in hand — could go on in his place. Surely I must know the lines, right?

See more ‘Chronicles’ below

Fresno Philharmonic cancels rest of 2019-20 season

I will spare you the rest, except to say I did not make the most of my big theatrical moment. (Besides, reading about other people’s nightmares is boring, right?) These nights in my nocturnal adventures, I obviously am working out some levels of anxiety, as are many in these times of quarantine. (The night before, I dreamed that my washing machine put ragged holes in all my dress shirts.) But I also think it’s clear that I have some specific worries about the state of the arts in the Age of the Coronavirus.

What is going to happen? When shelter-in-place rules are relaxed, will our local arts organizations be able to rebound? Will audience members be afraid to go to concerts, plays and museums? If social-distancing rules remain in effect — if we have to sit six feet apart from each other in the Saroyan Theatre or Roger Rocka’s — will producers of live events be able to scrape through?

I’ll be tackling some of these bigger-picture issues in the weeks to come in terms of news coverage. There’s still so much we don’t know.

The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.

As for The Munro Review, I have been busy adapting to this (hopefully temporarily) new world of ours:

• A chunk of my time has been in developing and helping produce “Fresno Famoso,” conceived as a real-time arts show that streams live on Facebook and CMAC 1 at 7 p.m. Sundays. The show is devoted during the crisis to the greater Fresno area’s arts scene’s continued vibrancy. My fellow producers (Malcolm Sosa, a co-founder of the original “Fresno Famous” website; Joshua Tehee, writer for the Fresno Bee; and Teresa Flores, an L.A.-based artist originally from Fresno) have done four weekly episodes so far. (Time flies when you’re in quarantine.) All are available on YouTube:


I’m also planning to post individual clips from guests on my produced segments, along with recaps of interviews and related links.

• Another chunk of my time has been spent on my own monthly CMAC TV arts talk show, which is being done virtually (thanks to producer Kyle Lowe) during shelter-in-place. If you haven’t yet seen the April episode, I hope you get a chance. In this episode, I interview Jimmy Haynie and Arium Andrews, who were both headed to the national finals of the American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C., when the virus changed their plans:

• I’m thinking of new ways to connect with artists virtually. I’d like to be able to tell some of the stories of the quarantine and its aftermath.

• Finally, I am introducing a new feature that I am calling “The Quarantine Chronicles.” I see it as a compendium of news tidbits, observations, reader feedback, shout-outs, social media highlights and suggestions on how we can all keep supporting the arts. I’ll offer them as a running feature. Consider this the kickoff to my first “chronicle.”

As always, I welcome your input. Write me an email at Offer a comment, send me an interesting link, share a tip for how to make quarantine work. Let’s keep connected!


Fresno Philharmonic cancels rest of 2019-20 season

This should come as no surprise, but the Fresno Philharmonic has officially canceled the remaining two concerts that were on the 2019-20 season schedule.

The orchestra’s April 25 concert (“The World of Opera”) is canceled, not postponed, says Stephen Wilson, the orchestra’s CEO and executive director. The same applies to the May 9 pops concert (“Broadway Diva.”)

In contrast, the Pink Martini concert and fundraiser — scheduled for March 21 — was postponed, not canceled. No replacement date has been set.

The final two concerts were so close to the end of the season — when planning for next year’s season was already far along — that the only option was to cancel rather than postpone.

“We would hope that at some point we would be able to bring those concerts back in further seasons,” Wilson says.

Also postponed was the official announcement of the 2020-21 season itself.

“We were initially planning to announce next season in March,” he says. “Obviously we put a pause on that. We are reevaluating some of our plans for next season. We are still evaluating our plans for next season in light of statements from federal, state and local authorities regarding restrictions on large gatherings as Covid-19 measures are relaxed.”

He expects to make the announcement soon.

In the meantime, Fresno Philharmonic staff has been busy navigating the complicated world of federal relief efforts. The orchestra applied for a SBA Payroll Protection Program loan under the CARES Act. The loan would fund 2.5 times the Philharmonic’s average monthly payroll, which includes both administrative and musician employees. Under current guidelines, the loan would be forgivable if at least 75% of the funds are used for payroll.

The orchestra’s application had not been approved before the program ran out of money last week, Wilson says.

“We are awaiting further Congressional action to provide additional funding for this program. The Fresno Philharmonic has applied for other relief under the CARES Act as well, but has not received any approval or funding to date.”



The Fresno Community Concert Band has officially canceled its May 24 concert, titled “American Tale.”

Board president Jan Goyette says the band finds itself in the same situation as other arts organizations.

“We are busy planning for next year’s season and hope the threat of the virus in our area ends in the coming weeks,” she says.

The FCCB earlier canceled its March 15 and April 5 concerts.

Here’s a recap of the cancellations I’ve covered since the pandemic began:

Fresno Master Chorale postpones March 29 concert because of Coronavirus concerns

Coronavirus master arts update: Fresno Art Museum temporarily closed, April/May ArtHop canceled

Long arm of the virus: Summer Arts 2020 at Fresno State is canceled

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

More virus disruption: Broadway in Fresno lowers curtain on two upcoming productions

Selma Arts Center suspends remaining mainstage productions for 2020



Janette Erickson, principal flute for the Fresno Philharmonic and professor at Fresno Pacific University, was enraptured by Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert in the Cathedral of Milan.

She wrote to share about the experience:

“He sang four beautiful pieces in the Cathedral.Then, he walked outside of the front of the Duomo and sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in English. They showed the empty streets around the world. There looked to be a black wire on the floor with a slightly raised foot prop at the end. I think that this is how Andrea knew where to stop and sing into the mic. It was an amazing performance, and one that the world needed to hear for Easter.”

Erickson, who is part of the Fresno chamber group Moment Musical, happened upon another video of Bocelli, this one of him singing ‘Con te partiro’ alone in his living room, in a black tux, accompanying himself on the piano.

She continues:

“This song actually means ‘With You, I’ll Leave,’ but it’s referred to in English as ‘Time to Say Goodbye.’ As I researched, its real meaning is saying goodbye to a former life on the eve of a new life (such as a marriage). Interestingly, Andrea placed another performance on his YouTube channel of this piece with full orchestra after his Easter Concert.” If we can survive this virus, and there’s a return to live, classical music (and I think people are thirsting for it), I plan to perform ‘Con Te Partiro’ for Moment Musical in an arrangement that I found last night for woodwind quintet. I think that the audience would be with us and appreciate it, celebrating life. However, I don’t think the piece will get the screams that audiences give when Andrea sings it!”

Thank you, Jan, for this promise. And I promise to be there in the audience when it happens.


Will Bishop landed a role in ‘Jersey Boys’ playing on the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship.


In which we check in with various Fresno-area arts folks (and former ones, too) and ask how they’re sheltering-and-placing. If you have a nominee for this feature, let me know!

The shelterer: Will Bishop.

Where he’s sheltering: With his parents in Fresno.

Why he’s a big deal: This musical-theater star added a buoyant presence to a number of local musical productions, from Selma Arts Center’s and Fresno State’s “Heathers” to StageWorks Fresno’s “Dogfight” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” He left Fresno in the beginning of 2018 to attend the American Musical Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, then transferred to the school’s campus in New York at the end of the year. His New York vocal coach (who sang at the Metropolitan Opera) helped him land an agent.

What he was doing when coronavirus came along: performing in “Jersey Boys” aboard the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship. He got the gig two weeks after he signed with his agent.

His take on the show:  “‘Jersey Boys’ is one of my favorite musicals, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of such an amazing show. I did my first tour with them for most of 2019 (January-August) as a swing, performing 5 different roles. I then was offered to do the tour again this year as the role of Hank, but also understudying Bob Gaudio, who is one of the Four Seasons. We started rehearsing in January and opened the first day of February. We ran for about a month on board the Norwegian Bliss, and then, as the global pandemic got worse, we had to suspend our tour until June.

One secret we might not know about being a cruise entertainer: “When you first board the ship, you have to do about a month and a half of training, which includes flipping life rafts in the water, getting into firefighting gear and doing rescue training, CPR training and also having to do exams of where everything on the ship is. And if you don’t pass any of these exams, you have to keep doing these trainings until you pass.” (Yes, that’s interesting, Will, but I was hoping you’d tell us about raiding the buffet dessert bar or wild parties in the officer’s mess.)

His favorite port: Either Colombia or Victoria, British Columbia. He highly recommends them as vacation spots.

A scene from ‘Jersey Boys’ with Will Bishop, left.

Going viral: “Well, we had no cases of Covid-19 on our boat so we were very fortunate to not have gotten the virus. Our last cruise finished on March 15 and all passengers got off, but all crew had to stay on the boat because it was much safer for us to stay on the boat, and also some people had no choice to stay on because of the lockdowns of their countries. We then stayed on the boat for about a week and half floating under the Brooklyn Bridge and then eventually getting down to Miami, where we were eventually flown home on March 23. It was definitely scary because of the uncertainty and closing of everything happening so fast, and for me personally, it’s hard for me to plan my schedule without knowing when I was going home or if I even was going home.”

Typical day in quarantine: “I wake up, make myself some breakfast, go play with my dogs in my backyard for a while to help wake me up a bit. Then I go for a run/workout at my house and then honestly, I either watch a lot of Netflix or play video games. Honestly, I have no amusing quarantine stories. I helped repair my fence in the backyard which was pretty amusing to my parents watching me get stuck in the bushes and having the dogs taking my tools and running away with them.”

If you could develop a skill, start a new hobby, learn something new or improve yourself in some other way during quarantine, what would you accomplish? “Well, I think I would take on more woodshop opportunities because I have always loved to build things and I wish I could do some more of that during this quarantine.”

Fill in the blank: I would be most thrilled if ____________________ rang my doorbell, stood 6 feet away and said, “Happy quarantine, Will!” His answer: Beyonce or my girlfriend, who lives in Australia.

(Will, some unsolicited advice. A better answer would be: “My girlfriend, who lives in Australia, or my very distant second choice, Beyonce.”)

Below: a quarantine musical performance:



The Fresno Arts Council has help for county artists facing immediate and imminent financial emergencies due to the Covid-19 crisis. The Fresno Artist Safety Net Fund provides one-time, unrestricted cash grants up to $500 for individual artists.

The fund is an emergency initiative organized by the board and staff members of the Fresno Arts Council. Grants will be distributed until funds run out.

“Due to the magnitude of this crisis, we anticipate that the need for relief funding will exceed the funds raised for this effort; therefore, applications demonstrating immediate or imminent need will be prioritized for selection,” the council notes. “If you are able to help us sustain this relief funding effort, please donate today.”

The grant application deadline is May 4.

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.

Leave a Reply