As Rogue 2022 opens, here are 5 Picks to Get You Started at the 20th anniversary of Fresno’s beloved fringe festival
Get thee behind me, Zoom-slash-Satan: Your reign is over. Live performance is where it’s at. And just in time for the 20th anniversary of the Rogue Performance Festival, which kicks off this weekend in the Tower District. The festival features 28 acts for a total of more than 150 performances. And it all takes place through March 12 at six venues.
For those uninitiated in the world of Rogue, where have you been hiding for 20 years? Seriously, though, the premise is simple: The Rogue is on the international fringe festival circuit. It attracts out-of-town performers who specialize in acts that are usually a bit on the fringe (hence the name) of what you’d consider “legitimate,” high-culture arts – original theater and music, magicians, dancers, storytellers, one-person confessionals, etc. Think low-budget and (occasionally) pushing the envelope. Those out-of-towners are joined by local performers and artists as well.
The vibe is experimental and grassroots, and there is a dedicated band of Rogue audience members who keep coming back every year. (Obviously, or we wouldn’t have been blessed with 20 of them.)
I’ll direct you to the newly redesigned Rogue website for the details on how to attend Rogue, but the basics are easy: You pick a performance in the Rogue program. You show up. If it’s your first time at Rogue for the year, you buy a 2022 wristband for a one-time fee of $5. This acts as a sort of admission fee for the rest of the festival and helps pay for the infrastructure; the proceeds from the tickets you buy – which range from $8 to $12 – go directly to the performers.
For more context and background, here’s a video interview I did in 2019 with producer Heather Parish about the festival. Fun fact: I asked my newswriting students to watch this video before Heather spoke to them about the Rogue Fesitval, and one of them suggested we play a drinking game, imbibing a sip of alcohol each time Ms. Parish utters the word “cocktail.”
Now let’s shift to the shows themselves.
I’ve seen some of the following acts perform; others I’m throwing out there because of 1) good advance word-of-mouth; 2) my take on the performers’ credits; or 3) I got suckered in by the title of the show. (That’s good marketing for you.)
Here are my 5 Picks to Get You Started:
1. “txtshow (irl)” (5:30 p.m. March 4, 3:30 p.m. March 5, 5:30 pm. March 10, 5:30 p.m. March 11), at Spectrum Art Gallery. Tickets are $8.
This one’s a no-brainer. I went ga-ga for this show last year at the Rogue’s virtual festival, and I’m sure as heck going to see it in person this year. Brian Feldman becomes a sort of human ventriloquist for the audience. You feed him lines via technology. (I’m not sure how this is going to work with an in-person show, but online, we used the Zoom chat function.) Needless to say, every show is completely different.
2. “Jaguar Is a Liar: What I Saw During the Fight for the Tower Theatre” (8 p.m. March 5, 6:30 p.m. March 6, 7 p.m. March 10, 7 p.m. March 11), at Veni Vidi Vici. Tickets are $8.
Not that Jaguar Bennett needs the publicity to fill seats – he’s been doing that quite nicely over the years with his brand of acerbic, plain-spoken comedy. This year he gives an insider view of the big issue to rock the Tower District – and he’s promised that he’ll get into the weeds on the matter as he chides the audience about zoning laws. Something tells me the Rev. Anthony Flores is not going to be in the front row.
3. “The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen” (6:30 p.m. March 5, 5 p.m. March 6, 7 p.m. March 10, 8:30 p.m. March 11, 2 p.m. March 12), at VISTA Theater. Tickets are $12.
File this under the category of Rogue veteran: Les Kurkendaal-Barrett returns with the true story of a former slave who became the Queen of Drag in the late 1800s. As Kurkendaal-Barrett explains it: “Swann fought racism, homophobia and was actually one of the first LGBTQIA activists. This is a historical trip that you don’t want to miss.” Les is always good for a meticulously researched, heartfelt show.
4. “Born Again in Berkeley,” 8:30 p.m. March 4, 2 p.m. March 5, 6:30 p.m. March 6, 8:30 p.m. March 10, 5 p.m. March 12), at VISTA Theater. Tickets are $10.
Theresa Donahoe has an intriguing premise for a one-person show: Help her come out … as a Christian. In the Bay Area! My first thought: This is some sort of wacky satire that will end with wild sexual shenanigans in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. But as I did some brief internet sleuthing, I’m getting the sense that it’s more nuanced than that. In 2019 Donahoe wrote on her blog:
This has been the most challenging, uncomfortable, and personal experience I have had with solo work-ever. I barely want to advertise for it because it may be seen by some as “controversial” and I do not get off on controversy. I am more part of the “can’t we all just get along” variety. I do not like rocking the boat. “Stirring up the pot” does not energize me. I am not a provocateur. But when my teacher asked me to share my experience about being a Christian in the Bay Area, I agreed to do so – with a bit of trepidation.
A bit of a mystery, this one. Which keeps audiences on their toes.
5. “Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life” (10 p.m. March 4, 5 p.m. March 5, 3:30 p.m. March 6, 5:30 p.m. March 11, 8 p.m. March 12), at Dianna’s Studio of Dance. Tickets are $8.
This one gets points for the unforgettable title (check), but also because of its impeccable pedigree: an international tour, lots of festival awards and a sold-out Off-Broadway run. Canadian Keith Alessi offers his true story of “a corporate executive whose world is turned upside down when a devastating event causes him to follow his passion for playing the banjo and re-evaluate his future.” Hey, he came to Fresno all the way from Vancouver. That’s enough of a reason right there to plunk down eight bucks.