by James Garcia Jr.
The E&e Performing Arts Center opened in Kingsburg this past spring with the intent of bringing community theatre to Kingsburg. Founder, Artistic Director and driving force behind the Center, Lissa Engstrom is bringing the musical Guys and Dolls to the Kingsburg High School Little Theater in August with members of the community as well as former students.
Lissa was raised in Bogota, Columbia to missionary parents. After spending her junior year at Kingsburg High School, she left but eventually came back to finish her senior year before heading off to the UCLA theater program. She then transferred to Fresno State University, where she received her teaching credential in English and a Bachelor’s Degree in theater. She also received a wealth of professional experience in all aspects of theater via a summer spent in New York. Lissa has taught at Edison High School for four years, taking the Drama Program from one to four classes, and is currently in a three-year Master’s Program for theater teachers at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon where her focus will be on design and production.
Bringing a passion for everything about the theater, Lissa came back to Kingsburg to not only make a home with her husband, Corey, but try to instill her love for the arts in the community. “I’ve been into theater my entire life, ever since I was a little girl. I love directing and writing things.” In time, the thought occurred to her that she could start something theatrical in town. This past January, Lissa and her sister-in-law, Katie Engstrom, founded the E&e Performing Arts Center. “We launched our first season of classes in March. It was two months. We had fifty kids involved and my goal was to have thirty. It was really successful.”
They held acting and voice classes for ages 9 to 13, which was their original focus. The Center does not yet have adult classes, but one can quickly tell when meeting Lissa that she wants to share her love for the arts with everyone. “I let in college students for free, basically, because they came in and helped me out.” Many had worked for her in previous productions she had directed. “I’ve been directing high school theater for eight years.” She directed at Kingsburg High School from 2003 to 2006, directing at Edison High School ever since with a return to Kingburg during the last school year as Artistic Director for the high school’s production of Little Women: The Musical.
The Performing Arts Center’s mission statement reads: “E&e seeks to enrich the cultural life of Kingsburg through the performing arts — theatre, dance and music — by providing an outlet for creative community involvement. Our goal is not only to enrich the community of Kingsburg, but to facilitate a collaborative way of supporting one another by learning together, performing with one another and bringing an enjoyable theatrical experience to the community. We will do this by creating and presenting quality entertainment and classes suitable for all ages. Through these classes and performances we hope to encourage and inspire a birth of community theatre and give people the tools they need to develop talents in the areas of the performing arts.”
Alongside busily planning for Guys and Dolls, E&e offered the “Village Voices” program through most of June and July. Directed by EJ Hinojosa, this vocal ensemble group studied jazz, classical and R&B genres, culminating in a summer concert. According to their webpage, its members were also educated “in music/jazz theory as a means to help those involved define the difference between a ‘singer’ and a ‘vocal musician’.”
“The Village Voices was an idea that came as a whim but I was excited enough about the idea to run it by Lissa and see what her thoughts were,” said EJ. “There was no hesitation. She and I remained in close contact for a couple of weeks and, before I knew it, I had a group of eight very talented people, excited to sing this summer. It’s been great! We work hard and we have a lot of fun!”When Lissa put out word of her intentions to put on a musical, the response was overwhelming. Ninety percent of those contacted wanted in. Scheduling conflicts eventually lessened that number, but only to seventy percent. She also managed to recruit some local celebrities. Kingsburg High School Athletic Director, Doug Davis, is playing the role of “Big Jule.” Jess Chamber, Executive Director of the Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce, is playing the role of Arvide Abernathy and is very excited to be a part of it. “I like performing.” Having a little background in musical theater as well as the dramatic, he relished the opportunity. “Musical theater is so American, so rich. It’s our heritage.”
Jacob Alvarado, a recent Reedley High School graduate, attended Glee classes this past spring at E&e and is back as a Guys and Dolls cast member. “Being in the Glee club was so much fun. Lissa and Katie really know their stuff. As for being in Guys and Dolls, my character is Liver Lips Louie. Although I don’t talk that much, being in the big production numbers is a lot of fun. I’m so excited to perform with all these talented people.”
Long-term goals for the E&e Performing Arts Center include a lot of summer activites, with two theater shows. Lissa would also like to have their own building. They currently meet at Kingsburg Community Church. At the thought of the future, Lissa really lights up. “I’d love to do dinner theater. I’d like to really start a mission’s drama group that goes abroad, which is very long term.”
Guys and Dolls will run from August 5th through the 7th at the Kingsburg High School Little Theater. The doors will open at 6:30pm with a 7:00 curtain all three nights and there will be a 2:00pm matinee on August 7th. Tickets are available at the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce and at the box office one hour before the show. The cost is $8 for students and seniors, $10 for adults. For more information, call 559-897-5570 or visit E&e’s website.
E&e Performing Arts Center’s fall season will include an introductory music course for children ages 9-13 which will cover basic piano and singing as well as the fundamentals of reading music; an acting course dedicated to teaching Shakespeare that is aimed at teens; and an introduction to acting for ages 9-13. Also, well-timed with the success of Glee the television show, there will be two Glee clubs. Junior Glee will be for ages 9-13, while Glee Club will be for 14 and older.