Welcome back, Rogue! Fresno’s famous fringe festival returns with 40 performing arts groups in 8 venues
You never know what you’re gonna get with the Rogue Festival. It’s uncurated, unjuried and uncensored, all of which should be enough to strike terror in the hearts of one-half of polarized America. This year will be the 21st time for me to write about the festival, which means that it’s now become 1) one of the oldest and most respected fringe festivals in North America; and 2) it can now legally drink a beer. Or is it that now I can legally drink a beer?
As always, I first like to fill unfamiliar readers in on the premise: Here’s my Rogue spiel, compiled through years of experience:
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. Performers are selected through a random lottery. Word of mouth drives audiences, not high-fallutin theater critics.
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 21 of them.)
I’ll direct you to the 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 2023 wristband for a one-time fee of $6. 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 $15 – go directly to the performers.
A great way to get a live preview is the Rogue Teaser Show (7 p.m. Thursday, March 2) at Goldstein’s Mortuary & Delicatessen.
For a lot more about this year’s festival, don’t miss this following clip from the latest episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC.” I interviewed performers Jaguar Bennett (“We’re Doomed: A Very Short Guide to the Future”), Kate McKnight (“Ashes to Ashes: A Tragicomedy”), Tony Imperatrice (“This Music is Making Me Thirsty”) and Kyle Elder (“The Magic of Kyle Elder”). Plus: McKnight and Elder offer sneak-peek in-studio performances:
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.) Last year I struck gold by recommending (and attending) a show with the wacky title of “Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life.” (A banjo-groupie friend dragged me along.) The show ended up on my Top 20 list for 2022.
Here are my 5 Picks to Get You Started:
1. “Jon Bennett: AmeriCAN’T” (8 p.m. Sunday, March 5; 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 10; 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11), at Spectrum Art Gallery. Tickets are $8.
Take a roguish world traveler from Australia whose last storytelling performance before Covid was at — you guessed it — the Rogue Festival in Fresno. Then he was forced back to his childhood home in the Australian Outback, there to cohabitate for a year and a half with his conservative, religious family. Can you say “idea for a reality series”? Bennett’s new show, however, is more about his new adopted country — and what happens when he was arrested and detained at the airport upon returning to the United States. His list of credits and glowing reviews is longer than the line for those first Covid tests.
2. “Who is Janice Noga?” (6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4; 5 p.m. Sunday, March 5; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9; 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 10; 2 p.m. Saturday, March 11), at Vista Theater. Tickets are $12.
Full disclosure: Janice Noga, a veteran local actress known for her work at Good Company Players and her one-woman Holocaust show “Janka,” is a dear friend and patron of The Munro Review. So it is terribly biased of me to put her on this list. But if you haven’t experienced Janice in person, you owe yourself that experience. She doesn’t just light up a theater (or, for that matter, any room she walks into) with a few thousand watts of energy; if Janice were a power plant, she’d be a dual-reactor, gigawatt-producing nuclear model. This autobiographical musical journey takes us from her childhood to singing on a gurney while being rolled into brain surgery. At the keyboard is Fresno piano man Terry Lewis, whose own stage charisma is sure to offer sizzle as well.
3. “Anatomica” (7 p.m. Friday, March 3; 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 4; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5; 10 p.m. Friday, March 10; and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11), at Dianna’s Studio of Dance, 826 N. Fulton St. Tickets are $12.
Some theatrical endeavors aspire for the mainstream glossiness of Broadway. Others belong to what Rogue producer (or whatever his head-poobah title is this year) Jaguar Bennett deems “only at the Rogue/indescribably weird.” We’ll just go with artist Amica Hunter’s description: “‘Anatomica’ is an absolutely unhinged investigation of the inadequacies of our rigid systems of categorization, and a celebration of the absurdity of being trapped in a body that is limited by pain, fatigue, and ultimately decay. Through stand up, storytelling, and physical comedy, Amica reviews the three skeletal systems found in earthly organisms, and the limitations of each one. We’ve heard about breaking the binary,’ but what about the TRINARY? Come along on this deranged tour of one artist’s brain to find out!”
4. “the Curve,” 10 p.m. Friday, March 3; 5 p.m. Saturday, March 4; 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 5; 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 10; and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at Dianna’s Studio of Dance. Tickets are $12.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a circus performer? Genie Cartier combines acrobatics, dance, storytelling, physical comedy and spoken word to portray the life of an occupation that would most likely get a nonplussed reaction from your high-school career counselor. From the program description: “Ranging from absurd performing experiences to the tragic hazards of a dangerous sport, the show is both an examination of circus as an art form and a personal reflection.” As for me, I want to know how much a circus acrobat’s insurance deductible is.
5. “Rising Mountain” by M the Myth,
5:30 p.m. Friday, March 3; 8 p.m. Saturday, March 4; 8 p.m. Sunday, March 5; (FIRST WEEKEND CANCELED) 7 p.m. Friday, March 10; 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at Dianna’s Studio of Dance. Tickets are $12.
This one gets points for most ambitious concept (check): It’s a Hmong pop opera providing a queer interpretation of the author’s grandmother’s immigration story and escape from communist Laos. Are you fuzzy on Hmong history? This production promises to enlighten and entertain.
Bonus pick: “Fresno Writers Live,” 5 p.m. Saturday, March 4; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9; and 2 p.m. Saturday, March 11. The Fresno State Collegian (of which I am the faculty adviser, so this is another bias notification) has a nice piece on the annual “Fresno Writers Live” Rogue production by students in the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing. There are different student voices at each of the four performances.