TMR Playbook November: GCP takes center stage at CMAC special ‘We’re Still Here,’ Fresno Art Museum closes doors again, COVID arts grants and more

A monthly compilation of news, notes, links, last-minute picks and general musings about the arts scene and Fresno life. Some briefs link to longer stories. Check back for updates.

In this edition of TMR Playbook:

A star-studded episode of ‘The Munro Review’ pays tribute to Good Company’s resilience NEW
•  Fresno Art Museum closes doors again because of increased COVID-19 numbers NEW
Two more performances: Fresno State’s innovative ‘Darkside’
Bitwise returns with the 2nd edition of No Place Like Home
Fresno Pacific’s annual ‘Festival of Lessons and Carols’ returns, this time virtually
Deadline for artist relief grants is Nov. 20
Arts Bits: Fresno Art Museum has unplanned closure; Regal closes Manchester theater; Children’s Musical Theaterworks season tickets on sale


A star-studded episode of ‘The Munro Review’ pays tribute to Good Company’s resilience

Afew weeks ago I had the privilege of putting on a tux and celebrating Good Company Players in a special production we’re calling “We’re Still Here.” The show features eight powerhouse singers offering solo performances and personal reflections on what Fresno’s most storied theater company means to them. Update: Here’s the full episode:

Singers are Emma DenBesten, Christian David, Peter Allwine, Sara Price, Ed Burke, Camille Gaston, Jim Irvine and Ashley Hand. In addition to offering such tunes as “How Are Things in Glocca Mora?” and “Corner of the Sky,” the performers read tributes to GCP written by fans on social media.

Special thanks to producer Kyle Lowe and CMAC crew members Ethan Eskin and Maricela Hernandez.


Plus, I did mention that I wear a tux, right? And Dan Pessano (the company’s managing director) does, too!

Pictured at top: Dan Pessano, left, and Donald Munro introduce ‘We’re Still Here.’ Photo: Kyle Lowe.

(Posted Nov. 16)


Fresno Art Museum closes doors again because of increased COVID-19 numbers

Because Fresno County (and much of the state) was pushed back on Monday into the Purple Tier, the most restrictive of COVID-19 categories, the Fresno Art Museum has to shut down again.

The details: “The museum is closed for the next 21 days,” says Michele Ellis Pracy, the museum’s executive director and chief curator. On Dec. 8, museum officials will learn if the Fresno Art Museum can reopen on Dec. 10 under the less restrictive Red Tier rules (reduced capacity, timed tickets, social distancing) it has been following since it reopened Oct. 22 on a Thursdays-Sundays schedule. Patrons can call the museum at that time for updates and to make reservations (if that is possible).

The disappointment: It’s keen for museum fans, who had hoped that reopening with a pair of big, bold exhibitions would be a sign of an improving cultural outlook in the city.

(Posted Nov. 16)

Fresno State

‘Darkside’ uses socially distanced actors and original artwork by Elizabeth Payne.

Two more performances: Fresno State’s innovative ‘Darkside’

Fresno State theater director Kathleen McKinley could have played it safe with “Darkside,” the filmed production subbing in for one of the live theater presentations we’d normally get in non-COVID times during the fall university season.

Pictured above: Left, top to bottom: Teya Juarez, Krishan Joshi and Andrew Trevino. Bottom right, R. L. Preheim. Photo: Fresno State

Many theater companies across the country are approaching pandemic productions by emphasizing the live-theater aspect: They’re setting up cameras in an empty hall and filming actors doing their thing on stage. Some of these productions use blocking that keeps actors 6 feet away from each other at all times. Some require actors to wear masks. A few initiate a full-scale bubble in which performers and crew quarantine together. Many are quite successful. (For a local example, read about Selma Arts Center’s “Captain Louie”; for a national offering, San Francisco Playhouse became the first theater company in the nation to debut an Actors’ Equity Association-approved performance of an on-demand, fully-staged, filmed production. It streams through Nov. 21.)

But McKinley wasn’t interested in a mere filmed stage performance. She wanted to make something new, innovative and memorable.

She succeeded.

McKinley and video director Candace Egan (a professor in Fresno State’s Media, Communications and Journalism Department) have put together a hybrid performance that they like to call a “live-action-theater-graphic-novel video.” It will be streamed two more times (7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday). My take: Aspects of the production are highly effective. And there are some things that don’t quite work — for me. One thing is for sure: A lot of hard work, creativity and thought went into the project, and Fresno State should be proud of the pedagogical opportunities it provided during a time when most students are locked down on Zoom.

A rundown:

The logistics: Actors rehearsed with masks for several weeks. During filming sessions they stood individually, unmasked, on socially distanced platforms in the John Wright Theatre while using a direct-address method to the camera. Those clips then became components — think Zoom squares that can move — in a graphic-novel-inspired visual product that included original illustrations by costume designer Elizabeth Payne.

The plot: It’s a cerebrally intense outing. An angsty college student named Emily (played with aplomb by Julia Prieto) is enrolled in a philosophy class. Her curiosity piqued by her manic professor (R.L. Preheim, in a lively performance), Emily gets caught up in a weird netherworld that is based on the wreckage of some of the discipline’s vaunted philosophical thought experiments, including the one where you have to choose whether to save a train full of people or one unlucky boy (a sturdy, compelling Andrew Mickelson) standing on the track. The boy and other similar sacrificial lambs from a variety of philosophical morality exercises inhabit this strange place, it seems, and as Emily and her new friend explore the environs, the line between thinking and reality begins to blur.

Fresno State

Andrew Mickelson, left, and Julia Prieto in ‘Darkside.’

The playwright: Tom Stoppard is author of “Arcadia,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and other brainy offerings. Best brush up on your Kant.

The trippy factor: On a scale of 1 to 10, this one is stretching a 9. You have to embrace the psychedelic randomness of the plot. Also, the entire outing is extremely philosophical and a cerebral heavy lift. If you can’t quite recall the significance of Utilitarian consequentialism, Nietzsche, Hobbes and game theory, best dig up those old PHIL 101 lecture notes.

The backstory: Stoppard was asked by the BBC to write a radio play marking the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s seminal album “Dark Side of the Moon.” The result is an inspiration, not adaptation. A story by National Public Radio explains:

Stoppard has written a strangely compelling radio drama based on and inspired by the album’s multi-layered, existential meditations on fear, madness, greed, and the elusive passage of time. ‘Darkside,’ as Stoppard calls the play, isn’t a musical, with actors performing the songs. It’s an abstract interpretation of the music and its possible meanings, dramatized by a small cast of recurring characters, with the album’s songs woven throughout the piece as a soundtrack.

However, the Pink Floyd connection is underplayed in the Fresno State production, both in the marketing material and the play itself. Music from the album isn’t featured. (I understand this is because the rights did not come with the script.) This was a loss. The Floyd imprimatur for the original production no doubt smoothed some of the philosophical rough spots for those listeners who aren’t well versed in such concepts; it’s easier to appreciate a psychedelic vibe accompanied by hard-rock guitar riffs. Without the nostalgic warmth of that music, there’s an emotional coldness to the script that can be hard to overcome.

The acting: The ensemble cast is focused and memorable. Along with the leading performances, there are standout supporting performances by Tyler Murphy as a Bill Clinton-inspired politician, Anthony teNyenhuis as a robber-baron banker and Nicolas Cherry as a plus-size balloon passenger who gets tossed overboard in another of those philosophical morality exercises.


The design: Payne’s illustrations are wonderful. They create a sort of action-hero-graphic-novel-meets-medieval monastery feel, while Regina Harris’s sound design creates an intriguing aural landscape. Liz Crifasi’s lighting design distracted me; it feels too bright and intense. The actors’ eyes reflect back in an odd way, and even more unflattering is what the lights do to people’s teeth, which glint with a haunted-house vibe. The piece is smoothly edited (by Egan and McKinley, with help from MCJ students) and intriguingly presented. I especially like how the solo performances of the actors blend into an ensemble feel. The tech vibe feels fresh and the delivery inspired.

The takeaway: Thoughtful and meticulously crafted, this “Darkside” is a testament to the way that theater people can continue to make things happen no matter the circumstances. If you’d told me last year at this time that I’d be watching a Fresno State theater production from my couch — and that it would consist of actors filmed individually and presented in squares floating through a vast, kaleidoscopic video landscape — I would have said you were nuttier than a Tom Stoppard character. But life is full of surprises. And life is, as the play eloquently reminds us, “not a drill.” You work with what you’re given. Kudos to Fresno State for doing just that.

(Posted Nov. 13)


Bitwise returns with the 2nd edition of No Place Like Home

The event: How do you bring the community together when the pandemic is still a (big) thing? Bitwise Industries is bringing back the popular No Place Like Home festival to Fresno on Saturday, Nov. 14. This digital gathering includes three virtual “stages” featuring headliner entertainers, speakers and DJs. Food trucks and eateries will be offering sustenance (some of them deliver), and local artisans are offering their wares. A bonus: Thanks to Bitwise’s move into Bakersfield, you get the best of both cities.

The star headliner: Enrique Chi of Kansas City Latinx rock band Making Movies. From his bio:

He melds reinterpretations of cumbia, mambo, son, and salsa with blues and rock’n’roll, as well as traditional Mexican and Panamanian folclór, while singing in Spanish and English. The band was nominated in 2019 for the Latin Grammy Album of the Year for their collaboration with Ruben Blades on the song “No Te Calles,” which was also featured on NPR’s Best Songs of 2019.

Other highlights: Musical groups include the Eva Scow and Tom Scott Duo, pop-punk band A Dollar Underwater, alternative rock group Artesia, and Central Valley fixture The Jay Smith Group. Speakers/workshops include virtual yoga with Christine Rose; a brunch drink-making seminar with mixologists from Modernist Fresno, The Padre Hotel Bakersfield, and Lux Pub and Club Oakland; and a Homebuyers’ Worship with Sandra Wilkinson. The DJ lineup includes Andi Mac, Cheeks, and Richard Deval.

Event that caught my eye: As a card-carrying Ultimate Public Library Fan, I’m intrigued by the workshop “Library Hacks with Fresno and Kern Libraries,” which promises tips on how to better use online library resources. I caught up with featured speaker Annika Janzen, a community librarian for Fresno County Public Library. You can read my quickie interview with her here.

How it works: First event starts at 9 a.m. (with yoga, naturally), and the last event (Enrique Chi of Making Movies) begins at 9:45 p.m. Admission is free, but you need to register beforehand at the Bitwise NPLH site. Plan ahead: Last year’s event “sold out.”

Take a look at the last NPLH event: Jackie Ryle, one of The Munro Review’s stalwart supporters, in May gave us a first-person account of her whirlwind encounter with the festival. She knows how to pack in a full Saturday.

(Posted Nov. 13)


Fresno Pacific’s annual ‘Festival of Lessons and Carols’ returns, this time virtually

The Fresno Pacific University Music Department has reimagined its ‘Festival of Lessons and Carols,’ a program of Scripture passages and seasonal carols woven together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Due to COVID-19, this year’s Lessons and Carols will be a virtual presentation people can watch free in the comfort of their own homes.

The dates: The virtual presentation will run from Nov. 27-Dec. 27,

The lineup: Eight FPU music ensembles will perform a wide range of historic and contemporary musical selections, including traditional Christmas carols and a newly commissioned choral work by Walter Saul, D.M.A., emeritus
music professor at FPU.

The ensembles: Chamber Winds, Concert Choir, Men’s Chorus, Women’s Chorale, Crosswind, Pacific Bronze Handbells, Pacific Brass Symphonic Band.

How to watch: Register for your free ticket here.

(Posted Nov. 13)


Deadline for artist relief grants is Nov. 20

Attention all individual artists, arts organizations and institutions in Fresno: Don’t miss the opportunity to apply for a Fresno Arts and Culture Emergency Relief Grant. The Fresno Arts Council is administering the program, which is funded entirely by the City of Fresno’s Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation under the CARES Act. From the council:

DON’T MISS OUT! This $1.5 million fund is intended to aid individual artists, performing arts organizations and venues, and museums and cultural institutions located within the City of Fresno that have been negatively impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Note: If you have already received a Save Our Small Businesses CARES Grant this year, you are ineligible to apply for the FAC Cares Grant.)

I spoke to Bruce Kalkowski, president of the Fresno Arts Council board, and he asked me to relay this information to my readers. He wants to make sure that everyone who is eligible hears about the program and that no money is left on the table. Deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m. Nov. 20.

Here’s some of the fine print:

This fund is limited only to applicants with verifiable personal and/or business addresses located within Fresno city limits and is intended to help cover the expenses of “basic obligations” such as rent, operational utilities, and lost salaries. It is not intended to sustain new or ongoing creative arts projects, special presentations and/or stand-alone exhibitions and performances. All applications will be reviewed by the Fresno Arts Council, selected awardees will be notified by mid-December 2020.

The Fresno Arts and Culture Emergency Relief Grant is 100% funded through the City of Fresno’s Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation under the CARES Act. These grants do not affect the City of Fresno’s general operating budget and/or local taxes.

You can begin the application process here.

Here’s a video walking you through it:

(Posted Nov. 13)


FRESNO ART MUSEUM UNPLANNED CLOSURE: Talk about rotten timing. Just as the Fresno Art Museum was prepared to open its doors to non-members on a timed-entry, socially distant basis, the museum was hit with an unexpected maintenance issue. It will be closed through Sunday, Nov. 15.

A reopening is planned for 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19. If you had a reservation for this weekend, call 559-441-4221 to reschedule. You can also make a reservation for Nov. 19 or later.

•  •  •

REGAL MANCHESTER CLOSES: ABC-30 reports that Regal Cinemas closed its Manchester location on Thursday:

ABC-30 reports:

Regal Cinemas closed the 18 movie theaters the chain left open, including Fresno’s Manchester Center location.

Despite most of its theaters closing last month, Regal kept certain locations open in California and New York. The general manager at the Manchester theater said there are no details from corporate when it might reopen. In October, Regal closed more than 500 theaters. The company said it was temporarily shuttering its theaters due to a lack of blockbusters on the calendar.

For movie buffs in Fresno, there’s still Maya Cinemas.

•  •  •

SEASON TICKETS: 2021 season tickets for Children’s Musical Theaterworks can be purchased for a special promotional price of four shows for the price of three.

The season tentatively opens Feb. 5 with a socially distanced rehearsed and performed production of “Matilda: The Musical.” (The opening date is subject to change due to the pandemic, of course.) Director Julie Lucido has some exciting things planned for the show.

As the holidays approach, we all need to remember that in these uncertain times, never have season ticket purchases meant more. They can be a way for financially wobbly arts organization stay afloat and plan for the future. Consider it an investment in our community’s arts future.

You can purchase season tickets here.

(Posted Nov. 12)

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.

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.

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