Welcome home, Audra

Along with other Fresno-area fans of Broadway star Audra McDonald, I let her know how I feel

Audra’s home. This time it’s going to be extra special.

The Broadway star (and winner of more Tony awards than anyone) today (Saturday, May 26) will get a key to the city and a street named after her. How cool is that? To top things off, she will sing for the first time with the Fresno Philharmonic in one of the highlight cultural events of the year.

audra street

(For those who haven’t figured out by now, I’m talking about none other than Good Company Players and Roosevelt High alum Audra McDonald, known with a first-name simplicity as “Audra” to this blog and a large number of fans throughout the area.)

To mark the occasion, I wanted to do something special, too, as a welcome.

The result is “Dear Audra.” I asked my readers to write brief recollections and appreciation letters.

Stage door

Dear Audra,

I’m completely an Audra girl. I’ve seen you live three times (“Lady Day,” “Shuffle Along,” and your Modesto show) and I’ve been lucky enough to meet you when my mom and I stage-doored “Lady Day” in 2014.

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Will two-thirds of Fresnans agree to pay a little extra for arts and parks?

Campaign to put a sales-tax increase on the November ballot is in full swing

Imagine a wonderland in which arts organizations get to divvy up $4.5 million annually in public funds to make their city a better place. What’s that, you say? You can’t quite dare to dream that big?

Go ahead. It’s possible.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 3.45.45 PM

If community supporters have their way, a sales-tax-increase on the November ballot will fund parks, recreation and arts programs for 30 years in the city of Fresno. Voters will have to approve it — and by a whopping 66.7 percent margin, which is a steep hill to climb. But it’s possible with a lot of organizing and hard work.

I dropped by an organizing meeting on Tuesday evening to learn more:

The scene: The meeting room at the Central Valley Community Foundation, which is helping to organize the ballot measure, was crowded with the biggest concentration of arts movers-and-shakers (and just plain enthusiasts) that I’ve ever seen.

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Rogue 2018: This millennial says, ‘Keep me engaged, keep me happy’

As the Rogue Festival comes to a close, here are some thoughts from a younger audience member. Could shorter performances be the wave of the future for more than just fringe festivals? Here’s a view from one of my students in the Fresno State journalism class I’m teaching. He originally wrote this piece for a class assignment:

By Nugesse Ghebrendrias


As a millennial, going to a two-hour movie or show just doesn’t appeal to me. I might be engaged to the halfway point, but by the time intermission or the end of the film rolls around, I’m already contemplating my hasty exit. I’m not saying long films or productions are bad. I sat through all of the “Lord of the Rings” films, which, by the way, average at least three hours.

Still, I’m 24. People my age prefer more options in a shorter amount of time. We need to be stimulated, but quickly. We need to be able to experience multiple avenues to see what we like.

Luckily, the Rogue Festival offers all those things, plus beer.

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Rogue 2018: I review ‘S’will,’ ‘The Dish,’ ‘Flower Tome’ and ‘ASS’

Fun stuff: I don’t work at The Bee anymore and can use ‘ASS’ in a headline

Once you’ve seen a show at Fresno’s Rogue Festival (which continues through Saturday, March 10), it’s become something of a tradition for audience members to offer their own quick reviews. The Rogue website makes it easy for you to do just that. There are a couple of hard-working websites that have already posted a number of their own reviews, too: Kings River Life and Marc Gonzalez’s “The Road to 1,000.”

UPDATE: I’ve added my review of “The Dish.”

Casey Ballard performs in “The Dish” in Marcel Nunis’ backyard. Photo / The Munro Review

‘The Dish’

The performer and concept: In this one-person show, Casey Ballard plays Coco, a free-spirited foodie (though the character loathes that term) who shares her remarkable story of traveling the world in search of the “perfect dish.” What follows is part travelogue, part culinary school history class and part bizarro gourmet episode of “Black Mirror.” All the while Ballard performs in writer/director Marcel Nunis’ backyard surrounded by a bounty of ingredients and kitchen implements. As she talks, she cooks, which is pretty cool.

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Rogue 2018: Whether on the street or inside a theater, these magicians just want to entertain

In some communities such as San Francisco, there’s a divide between those who work their magic inside and those who do it on the street

By William Ramirez

Kyle Elder and Chase Martin have loved magic since they were children. Magic has always seemed to love them, too, but in very different ways.

The Rogue Festival this year is hosting five magic acts. Among those acts you’ll find magicians with different performance styles. Martin is a street magician who relies on people walking by for his audiences. Elder is more a traditional magician who offers ticketed shows inside established venues.

At top, Chase the Entertainer performs his magic show on the streets of San Francisco. (Photos via chasetheentertainer.com.) Above, Kyle Elder is president of the Fresno Magic Club.

While their styles differ, both came to magic as a refuge. Martin found it to be a way to work for himself, something he desperately needed due to his fatigue and pain caused by his congenital myasthenic syndrome, a neuromuscular transmission disorder. Elder fell in love with the art when his grandfather, who was sick with cancer, bought him a simple coin trick from a magic shop in San Francisco.

They come from different magic worlds.

Martin mastered his craft in the magic community of San Francisco, which he said has a “divided” magic scene.

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Rogue 2018: For this Super Fan, there are never too many shows

Lori Williams got hooked on Fresno’s Rogue Festival almost a decade ago, and every year she makes the most of the experience

By Paige Gibbs

Some people zip over to the beach for a rest. Others fancy a quaint cabin in the woods. For Lori Williams, attending the Rogue Festival in Fresno’s Tower District every year is her version of a vacation.

After the show: Lori Williams, right, gets to hang out at the 2018 Rogue Festival with Les Kurkendaal, her favorite performer.

Williams, locally known by many as the Rogue Festival’s “Super Fan,” has attended for nine years.

Her first Rogue experience was to see her son, Jacob Williams, perform when he was in high school. Two years in a row, Jacob and a group of his classmates created an act.

“After a couple years of seeing shows, I did more and more and more,” Williams says. “And now I’m totally addicted. Rogue Festival for me is like two weeks in Hawaii. It’s fun. It’s lively. It’s alive. It’s different. You can run the gamut from heart-wrenching drama to hilarity to clowns.”

And that’s just one day.

Williams typically sees 34 or 35 shows during the run of the festival. Her record was 36 performances one year.

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5 things to know about Fresno’s newest piece of public art

“Acero Picado” will be unveiled in a Monday ceremony

The City of Fresno will officially unveil its newest piece of public art in a ceremony at Mariposa Plaza at noon Monday, Feb. 26. Here are five things to know about “Acero Picado,” a beautiful addition to the downtown arts scene:

Olga Bergstrom enjoys the new “Acero Picado” art installation at Mariposa Plaza downtown. Photo / The Munro Review


It’s substantial.

“Acero Picado” consists of three designs, each consisting of two parts. The larger pieces are 10 feet by feet. The smaller pieces are 3 feet by 8 feet. Each piece is made of inch-thick steel that has been waterjet cut in very intricate patterns, then powder-coated with distinctive colors. Benches are part of the design.


The artist is a big deal.

Gordon Huether, a Napa sculptor, has created public art installations for universities, hospitals, recreation centers, civic buildings, libraries, museums, airports, transportation centers, parking garages, and private corporations throughout the world, according to his bio. In his biggest project to date, he’s working with the Salt Lake City International Airport Department of Airports in designing, fabricating and installing multi-million dollar installations for its Terminal Redevelopment Program, which will be completed in 2020.

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KVPR family stunned by Mariam Stepanian’s death

Mariam Stepanian. Photo / Valley Public Radio

There’s sad news today for employees and supporters of Valley Public Radio: General manager Mariam Stepanian, whose name became synonymous with KVPR, died Thursday, Jan. 18, following complications from an illness. It’s no exaggeration to say she was a pillar of the central San Joaquin Valley’s cultural scene.

The radio station’s staff was informed Friday morning.

Stepanian had worked at the station since 1980, first serving as development director. She soon became general manager. You can learn more about her storied career on the KVPR website:

Under Stepanian’s leadership, Valley Public Radio became one the region’s leading providers of news and cultural arts media. With NPR and classical music programming, Valley Public Radio’s audience grew and eventually encompassed two stations, serving both the Fresno and Bakersfield markets.

Most recently, Stepanian led the effort to raise funds for the construction of a new state-of-the-art broadcast center in Clovis. The 10,000 square foot facility opened in mid-2016, and is a lasting reminder of her vision for the station and the community.

I’m planning to write a follow-up appreciation of Stepanian. If anyone has memories or other details to share, please email me at donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com, or leave a comment below.

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