The Red Rag Andy Band (from left: Barry Shultz, Terry Barrett, Barb LaRae and Andy Brown) Friday, March 5, at City Arts Gallery. Photo by Franorama World.
Fresno will never be mistaken for anyone’s cultural Mecca — especially for someone coming from New Haven, home of the Shubert (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s old tryout house), Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Rep, and national music venues Toad’s Place and Cafe Nine, and living within two hours of New York my whole life until seven years ago.
But it would be absolutely unfair to paint the hometown of William Saroyan, his cousin Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville of The Chipmunks), Mike “Mannix” Connors and Audra McDonald as a total cultural backwater. To a large extent, yes — on the whole, I’ve never been in a less intellectually curious city in my life. But in this cowtown of half a million, there certainly are solid blasts of intelligent — and creative — life.
Case in Point No. 1: Some usually excellent local theater productions that include a cadre of extremely talented performers who would shine in a much bigger city but choose to stay home. I’m talking about the Good Company Players’ current production of “The Crucible” at 2nd Space Theatre, here in the Tower District, as an example. Or just about anything involving Jaguar Bennett, one of the most brilliant and funny humans I’ve ever met.
Case in Point No. 2: The big event going on right now: the 10th annual Rogue Festival. It’s an absolutely organic event — grown from a performance in Marcel Nunis’ backyard into one of the country’s largest fringe/performance art festivals, and if I’m not mistaken, still the biggest one west of the Mississippi. It draws actors and musicians from all over the country and beyond, many of whom include the Rogue as part of their annual fringe circuit through the States and Canada.
(For you New Haveners in the bloggening audience: Steve Bellwood performed at last year’s Rogue — five shows, five totally different monologues. I caught one of them. Most of Steve’s infrequent performances are back at the Neverending Bookstore on State Street. I had run his calendar listings — and occasionally his photos — in the New Haven Register’s Weekend section for years, but damned if I didn’t meet him until a year ago, and in Fresno.)
I’ve only been attending for three years now, but I’ve been sucked very deeply into this wonderful, incestuous little scene of biographical monologues and occasional musical performances. (This year, I’m volunteering for four shifts on the box-office end — my way of being able to afford much of the fest on the bum …)
I’m not one of those people who uses the word as a verb (“I’m Roguing”), but I appreciate the festival, most of the shows and the work behind them. And if I was half as smart as I give myself credit for, I’d be working on my own one-woman show.
The fest continues through this Saturday (March 12); check the website or one of the kazillion copies of the Rogue Map, the festival booklet. Anyway, I went to five shows this opening weekend, and here are my two cents on what I saw: