by Mallory Moad
The Rogue is headed this way, look out! This annual nine-day, fringe-style festival showcases the work of independent artists from around the world, and Fresno’s Tower District becomes a hub of theater, dance, music, spoken word, puppetry and just about anything else you can think of.
From a performer’s standpoint, the Rogue Festival has as many meanings as the genres it represents. For some, it’s a source of income. Others appreciate the opportunity it provides to try something new. Then there’s that small group for whom the Rogue Festival has become an unbreakable tradition, who firmly believe not performing in the Rogue would be akin to canceling Christmas or forgetting your significant other’s birthday.
I was a Rogue frequent-flier until 2013. That year, my experience was fraught with a string of unfortunate circumstances that began before the show even opened. None of my fellow performers were the cause of this turmoil; they suffered the slings and arrows as much as I did. It was just a no good, very bad journey, one that caused enough botheration for me to swear off participating in the festival for a long, long time (maybe even forever).
However, I hadn’t become altogether anti-Rogue. I’d simply embraced self-preservation. I became a full-time audience member and discovered that seeing shows was as enjoyable as staging them, and a whole lot less stressful. Then a conversation with writer/performer/Rogue Festival founder Marcel Nunis messed with my head in a way I hadn’t expected. It began with a message: “Come on over. I want to pick your brain.”
Marcel was ready to return to the Rogue Festival stage. Although he wrote and directed last year’s The Dish, he has been absent as a performer since 2008. This has nothing to do with things having gone awry. He’s just smart enough to pace himself. His plan was to re-stage his storytelling show Lies My Father Told Me, a collection of tales from his childhood. Only this time around it would have, as he put it, “enhancements.”
Time spent with Marcel is always time well spent, and I was more than happy to listen to his ideas. He talked about imagery. He talked about sounds. He talked about alternative performance spaces. Marcel’s a good communicator, and the more he had to say, the more exciting his concept became. Eventually, he asked what I thought about everything he’d just expounded on, and I had only one response, “I want to be part of this!!” And wouldn’t you know, he said yes.
What in the world had I just done?
OK, I have a secret. Occasionally, during my hiatus from the Rogue, I would think it might be kind of fun to be in someone else’s show. You know, be directed instead of being the director and not have the responsibility of being the one in charge. And Marcel’s enthusiasm was infectious. Lies My Father Told Me is at the top of my list of all-time Rogue Festival favorites, and it was impossible for me not to have visions of participating in something I recalled so fondly, with someone whose work I admire and respect. In January, I joined fellow Rogue returnees, John Masier and Dorian Margaret, in what Marcel calls “our show.”
His work method is different than mine and not what I expected but it’s all good. “I work in a swirl,” he says, while I’m armed with pencil and paper, furiously taking notes. He isn’t the boss, he’s a collaborator: “This show is developed by all of us.” All four of us participate in twice-weekly production meetings where we watch music videos and short animated films for inspiration and consume home-made spicy tea (Marcel calls it “elixir”) to banish the effects of colds. We’ve had discussions about Beckett, Bernstein, Brecht, and traditional Asian music as well as such mundane topics as the technical challenges of the show. Occasionally, our meetings are attended by Opal the cat, always a plus. Out of the ordinary? You bet, but also motivating and refreshing.
Because all of us subscribe to the notion that what isn’t revealed is as important as what is, we have chosen to maintain an air of mystery concerning the details of this production. I can tell you it’s a Rogue Underground show (artists choose their own venue, pay a $200 fee and avoid the restrictions and higher costs of the regular festival-sponsored locations) and will be presented in an enclosed tent, dubbed the Tent of Tales, in Marcel’s back yard. The stories take place in Malaysia, Marcel’s homeland. Although John, Dorian and I play crucial roles, none of us will be visible to the audience in a conventional sense. If you’re getting curious, our technique is working.
We open in five weeks, but the process is as valuable as the final product. All of us are bringing something unique to the mix. Earlier, Marcel told us the “varying interests between us would bring a wider canvas to create from,” and I’m seeing that in action. I’ve been given the opportunity to use skills that have been in storage for some time. I’m working with, and learning from, people I know but have never worked with. There are no egos in the room, just lots and lots of outside-the-box thinking and positive energy. Opening night is just another step of many.
Will this be enough to lure me back to participating in the Rogue Festival as a performer on a regular basis? No way. I’m not that crazy. I’m glad I gave myself permission to break that five-year spell and return, though. The experience has been worth the wait. Now, let’s put on a show!
The Tent of Tales is located in the back yard of 416 E. Brown, between Palm and Wilson (best parking will be available on Wilson). All performances of Lies My Father Told Me will take at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 2; Sunday, March 3; Wednesday, March 6; Thursday, March 7; Friday, March 8. This show is rated PG-13.
Visit the Rogue Festival website (which is still in process so keep checking back) for information on all festival performances, including others that will take place at this unique venue.
Watch for many more Rogue Festival articles coming soon!