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Two Local Rogue Performer Previews: Beyond the Backyard/The Line

IN THE February 27 ISSUE

FROM THE 2021 Articles,
andRogue Festival,
andTheatre
SECTIONS

by Marc Gonzalez,
Jonathon Hogan,
Ricardo Temores Jr.,
& Karina Balfour

Rogue Festival is almost here! But just like most things, this year will be different, as it will be virtual. However, KRL will still have performer preview articles, an article about virtual Rogue, reviews (all can be found in our Rogue Festival section), and an event page. So I hope you all check out Rogue this year and all of our articles! You can also learn more on the Rogue Festival website. We also have an article up now about Virtual Rogue.

UR Here Theater’s Beyond the Backyard
by Marc Gonzalez & Jonathon Hogan

UR Here Theater is thrilled to be officially opening as Fresno’s newest theater company at the 2021 Rogue Festival with Beyond the Backyard: UR Here for One-Acts. We are featuring three ten-minute one-act plays: 2B or Nah: Sexting Hamlet written by Donna Latham; Byzantine written by Tlaloc Rivas; and Every Creeping Thing written by David Beardsley.

UR Here adds a new component for theater-goers: a dramaturg! For this show, our dramaturg, Michelle Hill Olson, describes her experience as fulfilling her love for English and History. She admits that just six months ago she hadn’t ever heard the term “dramaturg.” Now that she has experienced what it’s like to fulfill dramaturgical duties for these one acts, her “nerding-out” of literature and human experiences has been accomplished. Michelle is excited about the dialogue and discussion that comes with talk backs and informed prompts. Michelle hopes audiences come away with having seen themselves, finding comfort that we’re all in this together

Up first is 2B or Nah: Sexting Hamlet, directed by Marc Gonzalez. He has found this spoof of one of the Bard’s best works to be a delightful, hilarious project to work on with his cast. Marc feels the funny is balanced with the empowering moments written for the iconic characters of Gertrude and Ophelia. The play gives the right dose of hilarity while giving the audience a few winks to our pandemic and groans to the overall toxic culture when it comes to, well, unwanted sexting!

Byzantine is our second one-act and is directed by Marikah Christine Leal. She describes this process as being a small drop of refreshment in quenching her thirst of directing live theatre again. In fact, it has made her hungry to direct more! She has expressed how great it has been to work with her cast, comprised of two familiar performers whom she has coached and taught prior to directing them for Byzantine. Marikah has found that the draw of Byzantine comes in how it showcases class division in its most simple form.

Nwachukwu Oputa chose and directs our final selection for Rogue Festival—Every Creeping Thing. She explains how cool it has been to direct this piece; it has proven to be an interesting experience in navigating the Zoom format of presenting the play, mainly because Zoom is the format which the playwright intended for digital performance. Nwachukwu has found that the play draws intriguing parallels between the play’s creatures’ (yes, creatures!) perspectives on climate change to modern-day perspectives audiences may have on the divisive topic.

In closing, Michelle Hill Olson quotes Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike,” which drives people to feel empathy when it’s most difficult. All this to say that in just one hour you’ll be entertained with creepers, Shakespearean sexting, cell phones, spoofs, dad-bod, Hamlet, Ophelia, sex tape, LGBTQ, Characters of Color, drama, dark comedy, political satire, climate change, dinosaurs, Clytemnestra, newer works, dramaturgy and talkbacks; we look forward to seeing you at The Rogue!

Performances are Saturday, March 6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

The Line: Rapid Response Documentary Theatre
Written by Ricardo Temores Jr. and Karina Balfour

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new obstacles for theatre artists and performers throughout the field, and yet the creation of art continues to thrive through its ability to evolve and adapt in these extraordinary times. Through the union of creative minds, the virtual stage has been utilized by theatre artists to continue their mission to bring plays of all genres to audiences, and now accessibility extends across the globe through the use of virtual streaming services.

The Fresno City College Theatre Department, in conjunction with the Rogue Festival, joins the mission of bringing new works to audiences through a strikingly relevant production of a new play. One year ago, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen (authors of The Exonerated, Aftermath, and Coal Country) began interviewing frontline healthcare workers in their hometown of New York as part of a 24-hour monologue project. They quickly realized there was a much larger story to tell and The Line was born as a rapid response documentary play.

Cast of “The Line”

Through interwoven monologues, we experience the stories of an EMT, a paramedic, a geriatric nurse, an oncology nurse, an ICU nurse, an ER physician, and a first-year medicine resident. Blank and Jensen present The Line as “a fundamental redefinition of what it means to protect and serve, examining the fault lines in our system through the words of the brave people who show up every day to care for us all.”

For its world premiere in July of 2020, The Line streamed live on The Public Theater’s YouTube Channel and was extended twice, being viewed by over 50,000 people in forty countries during its two month virtual run. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, The Line garnered rave reviews from coast to coast: the New York Times called it “harrowing,” and the Los Angeles Times proclaimed “these words sting with truth, but it’s the human spectrum before us that turns sociological observation into gasping emotion.” The New York Times recently mentioned The Line as a likely contender for 2021’s Pulitzer Prize.

The Fresno City College cast and crew had the privilege of virtually meeting playwright Jessica Blank, who further explained the development of the play and the experiences gathered throughout its creation. When asked about how they are able to draw such raw and heartfelt stories from the people they interview Jessica replied, “We don’t interview people the way journalists do…its about creating a container for people to be vulnerable, creating a container for a human encounter.” This idea is apparent in all of their work, but especially in The Line where we see healthcare professionals who are accustomed to dealing with trauma and processing death, drop their professional mask to speak their truth. We were also grateful to virtually bring in several local physicians to share with us their own personal experiences with the pandemic. This allowed our actors the opportunity for in-depth character studies and provided further research into the realities of our frontline healthcare workers in our very own community.

“This play works incredibly well for the streaming platform,” writes dramaturg Ricardo Temores. “We watch television shows everyday that include confessionals given by cast members, and the way this play is edited is very similar to that structure. You feel immersed in the same way you would be if you were watching a modern documentary.” Temores describes the process of the rehearsals as a completely collaborative effort. “It is what theatre artists do best: collaborate. Even whilst in the midst of these uncertain times, we find a way to create, and bring important stories such as this one to our communities.”

The cast and crew of The Line met every weekend for three weeks to work through the show together, rehearsing with the director individually in between full run-throughs. The actors then created individual spaces in their homes to evoke the lives of their characters, down to the type of furniture and decor they kept in their frame. They then individually recorded their portions before the videos were submitted to Fresno City College film instructor, Steven Chin, for editing.

“It has been an interesting experience creating an ensemble piece while everyone is in isolation,” writes director, Karina Balfour. “When you are in front of your actors on a stage, the process of directing is arguably easier to manage, but we live in unique times, and for the safety of our cast and crew, the virtual setting supports the story we are telling. People’s stories need to be told—art perseveres.”

“If there is one thing this production gets right, it is that it provides naysayers with the blinding, devastating truth,” adds Temores. “Don’t simply wear a mask, fight for our healthcare workers, too.”

The Fresno City College cast is made up of students, alumni and industry professionals including: Vernon Lee Jones III, Adam Khouzam, William MacDonald, Katherine Maitre, Deep Rai, Tony Sanders, Nicole Turpin, and Paige Willis. Other production members include: Alexandra Yolen Chavez (Stage Manager), Emily Garcia (Assistant Stage Manager), Estrella Flores (Assistant Director) and Ricardo Temores Jr. (Dramaturg).

The Line runs March 5-6, 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. and March 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are donation based and can be reserved here: fcc-theatre-box-office.eventbrite.com. Audience members will be invited to a virtual talk back with the director and cast on Sunday March 14 at 2 p.m. A link will be sent out to all who reserved tickets for any performance during the run.
Web-friendly link to virtual program: The Line Virtual Program
Video Trailer YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jcKwjZlhZk&t=6s

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors–many of whom you will have seen on local stages. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play, and also on Podbean. A new Christmas episode went up this week!

Check out more local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

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