Is theater back? Good Company Players returns to live performance at Roger Rocka’s
Dan Pessano of Good Company Players can’t quite hear the “Naked and Afraid” helicopter coming in the distance.
But if things go according to plan — if COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates decrease, and new cases fall, and the color-coded tiers cooperate — and, most important, if people do the rational thing and get their damn vaccinations — a magical moment will take place the evening of Friday, April 23:
Live actors will sing live songs to a live audience at a very alive Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.
Pictured above: Elizabeth Fiester will return in ‘Nunsense’ on May 20 at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Photo: Good Company Players
To Pessano, managing director of Fresno’s most prominent theater company, that moment will be like the chuf-chuf-chuf of approaching helicopter blades heard by certain unclothed contestants on a certain reality show when they’re on the beach waiting their return to civilization.
“They have to go 21 days before it’s over,” Pessano says of the “Naked and Afraid” participants. “We’ve had to go 390.”
The live performance will come on April 23 — and subsequent Fridays through Sundays — as GCP revs up to a full reopening on May 20 with a production of “Nunsense.” (Again, that’s if coronavirus statistics cooperate.)
Roger Rocka’s will reopen under the county’s “Red” tier, which allows restaurants to operate indoors at 25% capacity if everyone in the audience has proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Along with dinner, the “In the Meantime” program will include a video highlight reel that includes greatest-hits clips from past GCP productions. That will be followed by a cabaret-style performance featuring a rotating cast of GCP performers.
No for-profit theater company in the land is going to be able to operate at 25% capacity, says Dan’s wife, Laurie, the GCP creative director.
“Not for very long,” she says. “But it’s important to get started.”
Dan adds: “We really do feel a responsibility to start. I feel the fact that we are a partnership with Roger Rocka’s means we want to be as supportive as we can.”
Meanwhile, at GCP’s 2nd Space Theatre, which doesn’t have dinner service, the regulations to start up live performance are actually a bit more cumbersome than at Roger Rocka’s. (Restaurants fall into a different category than live theater.) However, occupancy limits might change depending on tier, and state regulations regarding capacity are scheduled to change June 15. Vaccine verification and masks will still be likely.)
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The company tentatively plans to open the 2nd Space on June 2 with a special two-week engagement of the two-person show “Love Letters” starring Tessa Cavalletto and Gordon Moore.
The audience capacity for the theater while in the “Red ” tier will be 37.5 people, Dan notes with a bit of glee, allowing him to sell a ticket to a “half-ass” audience member.
All joking aside, the Pessanos are seriously overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support to keep the theater going for the year-plus downtime of the pandemic. The company was assisted by two rounds of government Paycheck Protection Program loans, state assistance in the form of a California Relief Grant, a City of Fresno CARES Act grant, and more.
Community members rallied with a GoFundMe page that has raised nearly $46,000 to date, along with individual contributions..
An important help was Tyler Mackey of the Tower District Marketing Committee, who helped Tower businesses navigate the thicket of government loan and relief programs.
“You really need a cheerleader to get through the alphabet soup,” Dan says.
But the most important key was the company’s thousands of season-ticket holders, most of whom didn’t request refunds when the rest of the 2020 season had to be canceled.
“The secret of survival was the fact that season-ticket holders held on,” Dan says.
Looking ahead (if only tentatively), “Nunsense” — directed by Laurie Pessano and starring GCP stalwarts Elizabeth Fiester, Emily Pessano, Camille Gaston, Janet Glaude and Dorie Hamby — will be followed by “The Addams Family” and the holiday show “Elf: The Musical.”
At the 2nd Space, the plan is to open “This Random World,” which was originally on last season’s schedule, on June 18. It will run through Aug. 8. Dan Pessano will direct. Following “This Random World” will be a title to be announced and then an original Christmas show.
Again, all this could change. But both Pessanos have more pep in their voices than I’ve heard in months. April 23 promises to be an emotional night.
“God willing and the numbers don’t rise,” Laurie says.
The copter is coming, Dan. Just wait for the sound. It’s time to put bandages on your bug bites, shower up and get back to that stage.