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At a postponed 50th reunion, Roosevelt High’s Class of 1970 honored Dan Pessano with the most useful thing ever: money to put on a show

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Robert Vartabedian, a member of the Roosevelt High School Class of 1970. He told me about his 50th high-school reunion, which had to be postponed three times because of the pandemic.

His classmates were finally able to get together on Nov. 20 at the Fort Washington Country Club. And on that night, they honored Dan Pessano, managing director of Good Company Players, who taught theater and directed plays at Roosevelt in the mid-1960s.

Dan Pessano, left, with former theater student Mary Hinrichs Giger, at the Roosevelt High School Class of 1970 reunion.

Vartabedian, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, says that Pessano introduced him and many others in his class to the world of theater “and truly forever changed our lives.”

I’ll let him continue in his own words:

In reference to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I told him not long ago that he was the “George Bailey of Fresno, California.” Were it not for Mr. Pessano, many of us, figuratively speaking, would be wandering aimlessly in Potter Field.

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I also told Mr. Pessano that I recently retired from a 40-year career in higher education. During that time I was privileged to work with numerous excellent theater directors. In retrospect, it was readily apparent to me that the very best theatre director was my high school teacher.

With the wonderful assistance of RHS class of 1969 theater student Armen Derian Bacon, we arrived at a way to honor Mr. Pessano and his legacy.

We quickly raised $10,000 from anonymous RHS ‘70 benefactors so that Mr. Pessano’s Good Company Players (both Jr. and “senior“) and Roger Rocka‘s Dinner Theater could better cope with the pandemic — and continue to enhance the lives of our community.

The Good Company Players (GCP) of the Roger Rocka‘s Dinner Theatre reopened with “Nunsense” on May 20, 2021. In the printed program for this production, it stated that it was “…sponsored by the generous support of the Roosevelt High School class of 1970.”

I checked in with Pessano, who of course is loath to be featured in stories like this (but is also immensely appreciative of the community support), who explained that the Roosevelt donation was the exact amount of the royalty on “Nunsense.” It was all-important seed money, he explained, that gave the company a chance to reopen with live theater at a time when it was struggling to stay afloat.

At the reunion, Vartabedian reminded his classmates about Pessano’s impact on them while they were in school — and his continued impact on the Fresno-area theater scene.

“I know that many of you no longer live in Fresno, including myself. But when you do come to town, please be supportive of his outstanding shows. So, on behalf of the Roosevelt High School class of 1970 — who are proud to be among his very first students — we have already given him a small token of our appreciation. This is in support of Mr. Pessano opening many more doors—and for years to come.”

Vartabedian paraphrased Pessano’s remarks:

He kindly thanked our class members for their gift. He expressed how important it was during the dark days of the pandemic to receive such a kind gift.

He also mentioned how much being at Roosevelt High School early in his career meant to him and will always mean to him.

As a recurring humorous touch, he kept repeating the box office phone number for getting tickets for his shows. Finally, when he was given a standing ovation, he returned to the microphone and stated: “Save it for the funeral.”

He then had to rush off to get back to his current production.

An addendum: One of the attendees was Mary Hinrichs Giger, whose big roles at Roosevelt included a star turn in “Half a Sixpence.” Fifty years later, Pessano still has fond memories of that performance — so much so that he uses one of his beloved baseball metaphors to describe it.

“She knocked it out of the park,” he says.


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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)

  • Jackie Ryle

    This is a wonderful article! Thank you, Donald. Lovely to see this expression of appreciation for Dan and all his great work and dedication!

    reply

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