With a festive kickoff event, UR Here Theater announces its inaugural Fresno season
The setting: a beautiful patio at the Clovis home of Jonathon Hogan and Barbara Coy-Hogan, supporters of the newly founded URHere, a Fresno-based, nonprofit arts collaborative committed to “creating opportunities for under-represented populations to share their stories on stage and beyond.”
The event: a Tuesday evening invitational gathering aimed at patrons and first season investors. It takes money to get a new company up and running. But this is more than just a fundraiser; it’s a gathering to bring together actors and creative staff with the company’s future supporters.
The coverage: I was on the scene and broadcast the season announcements live on Facebook:
The color scheme: black and yellow, the company’s signature look. I especially liked Marc Gonzalez’s shirt-vest combo.
The back story: URHere Theater is a continuation of the non-profit Visalia-based Fourth Wall Theatre, founded in 1985, which featured compelling productions in the South Valley. Chris Mangels, a veteran area actor and College of the Sequoias theater professor, is a thread of continuity from the old company to the new. The president is Julie Ludico and vice president is Jonathon Hogan. Many of the people involved took part in the Backyard Readers Theater Lab, a private group formed during the pandemic to keep theatrical juices flowing.
The big news, Part 1: URHere Theater will kick off with a staged-reading series, and the titles were announced at the Tuesday event. The company’s first production will be Robert Askins’ “The Squirrels,” which will be performed 2 p.m. Saturday, July 10, at the 2nd Space Theatre. A description: “Scurius, the patriarch of a family of gray squirrels, has collected enough nuts to last 10 winters. When a group of starving fox squirrels begs him to share his hoard of food, animosity erupts into a ferocious war. Boundary-pushing, darkly satirical, a look at wealth inequality in which no creature comes out unscathed.”
Hogan is directing the reading. Tickets are already available online. They’re $10 in advance and $15 at the door. You can also buy the full series: five plays for $45.
Subsequent titles in the series will be:
• “The Last Best Small Town,” by John Guerra. A modern-day retelling of “Our Town.” Gina Sandi-Diaz will direct. 2 p.m. Aug. 14, 2nd Space Theatre.
• “Pass Over,” by Antoinette Nwandu. A provocative riff on “Waiting for Godot.” 2 p.m. Sept. 11, 2nd Space Theatre.
• “The Cake,” by Bekah Brunstetter. A wedding-cake baker is forced to reexamine her deeply held Christian beliefs when she realizes there are two brides involved. 2 p.m. Oct. 9, 2nd Space Theatre.
• An Irish surprise: Title to be announced. 2 p.m. Nov. 13, 2nd Space Theatre.
The big news, Part 2: One of the hallmarks of URHere will be patron involvement in season selection. At the event, participants got to vote among a selection of titles for the company’s first fully staged production. (Date and venue TBD, and this also depends on securing the necessary rights.)
And the winner, also announced at the event, is Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat,” the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama. It’s about a meeting between a parole officer and two ex-convicts, and three women who were childhood friends and had worked in the same factory.
The mission: You’ll be hearing a lot more about URHere Theatre in the months to come. The group’s mission statement notes that one of the goals is to produce work of social and human importance that highlights topical issues (pandemics, immigration, mental health crises, etc.) and timeless issues (racism, classism, socio-economic disparities, intolerance, etc.)
The work cultivated will expose the Central Valley to experiences intended to spark conversation, encourage positive action, and motivate constructive change.
The takeaway: “The plays we are producing,” Lucido says, “are things that need to be seen and talked about.”
You can learn more about URHere Theater on its Facebook page.