With ‘New Play Palooza,’ UR Here Theatre offers an entire day of free staged readings

UR Here Theatre, one of the Fresno area’s promising young theater companies, is wrapping up its first official season with two exciting upcoming events.

Pictured above: A scene from UR Here Theatre’s staged reading of ‘Fairview.’

First comes “New Play Palooza,” a one-day festival of staged readings featuring a lineup of five never-performed plays with local connections. If you like to gorge on theater, the event is like an all-you-can eat buffet. (And every performance is free!) Starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, the plays will run through the evening. All will be held in the Sierra Vista Mall at the Children’s Musical Theaterworks black-box rehearsal hall. (Enter the mall by the Kohls’ entrance.)

Nearly 30 local actors will participate.

Following closely on the heels of the festival is URHere Theatre’s first fully staged production, Clare Barron’s provocative “Dance Nation.” Directed by Fresno State dance professor Ruth Griffin, it runs Sept. 16-24 at Cal Arts Severance Building.

This Valley – and quite possibly state – premiere of Clare Barron’s play is about a group of 13-year-old girls clawing their way to the top at a dance competition. (The girls are all played by adults.) With no-holds-barred dialogue and frank themes, it’s not a children’s show.


“We’re really focused on the work, on the words,” says Julie Lucido, one of the company members and its board president. The group grew out of the Backyard Readers Theatre Lab, a pandemic experiment that began in Lucido’s backyard (and helped fill Covid down time for dozens of local thespians).

The company has presented a robust series of staged readings. The most recent, of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Fairview,” with themes of race and surveillance, was controversial for the audience, just as it was when it played on Broadway in 2018.

Staged readings are a special kind of theatrical experience – and one that actually can bring audiences closer to a playwright’s intentions. Without the trappings of a production (sets, lights, costumes), it’s possible to focus on the real core of a show: its ideas. Just as at a radio drama, the audience member is forced to use more of his or her imagination. The focus isn’t so much on the performance as the material. UR Here Theatre’s goal is thought-provoking theater.

“For me the staged reading is just stripped-down storytelling,” Lucido says.

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The company’s vision is to produce a series of staged readings each season along with a fully staged production.

The best known playwright at Sunday’s festival is Gary Goldstein, who wrote the feature-film romantic comedy “If You Only Knew.” (The local connection is director and local actor Diego Sosa, the playwright’s nephew.)

Here’s the schedule for Sunday’s festival:

10 a.m.: “April, May, & June,” by Gary Goldstein (Rating-PG-13). Directed by Diego Sosa.

A dramedy about three sisters in their late forties born a year apart, named April, May, and June, who meet up to finish cleaning out their late mother’s house – the house they all grew up in decades ago. The eldest, April, is a divorced, leader-type; May is the peacekeeping, classic middle child; and June is the youngest: a brash, free-spirited lesbian. But when they discover a major surprise about their mother tucked away among her remaining things, it makes them rethink their lifelong feelings about the mom they thought they knew – as well as their feelings about each other.

12:15 p.m.: “The Wedding Gift,” by Anjali Kapoor-Davis (Rating-PG). Directed by Carly Oliver.

Samira and Leo are waiting for their wedding party and family to arrive for their rehearsal dinner. Samira’s Mom Olivia and Leo’s Mom Liz have a special gift for the couple that answers questions they’ve both had about their families but may have unintended consequences.

2 p.m.: “The End” by Brenna Jared (Rating PG-13). Directed by Christine Myers.

The play revolves around two people who both have ADHD. They play a game of Uno and they end up breaking up.

4 p.m.: “Thursday’s Child,” written and directed by Leigh Ratliff (Rating-PG-13).

This is an Appalachian ballad opera that will incorporate vignettes written by Leigh with old folk songs, mostly versions of British ballads collected jn Appalachia, and songs by early American composers.

6:30 p.m.: “The Butterfly,” by Benjamin David Geddert (Rating-PG). Directed by Marc Gonzalez.

“The Butterfly” is a family play centered around the strained life of the Graham family following each of their struggles to find a sense of meaning, of purpose, and of belonging. Trapped in the prison of their life, can the visitors to their small world help set them free?


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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