Good Company Players Celebrate 50th Anniversary!

Jun 17, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Lorie Lewis Ham, Theatre

by Lorie Lewis Ham

KRL has been covering Good Company Players (GCP) shows ever since we began thirteen years ago. It has been a privilege and joy! This year GCP is celebrating its 50th anniversary and we took a moment to chat with GCP Creative Director Laurie Pessano, who also happens to be the wife of GCP’s owner Dan Pessano.

KRL: What spurred the idea of starting your own theatre company?

Laurie: Dan and a group of fellow theatre majors at Fresno State thought it would be great to get something going in the summer when the theatre community was pretty quiet. The first idea was to do an outdoor summer barbeque theatre, but one of Dan’s students at Roosevelt High talked to her father, who happened to be opening the Hilton Hotel right at the same time, and through that connection, GCP wound up opening in the Hilton instead!

KRL: When did your first show open? What was it?

Laurie: GCP’s first show, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, opened on June 26th, 1973 at the Fresno Hilton.

KRL: How did the connection with Roger Rocka’s come about?

Laurie: After five years of rotating through various venues in the summer, Roger Rocka asked Dan about going year-round in a venue in which GCP would produce the shows and Roger’s team would produce the food. Four years later, GCP opened the 2nd Space Theatre as well — and here we are. Roger joined GCP’s performing troupe in the summer of 1975. He was in the ensemble of Bye, Bye Birdie, and went on to perform in a number of shows for GCP after that.

KRL: How did you come up with the name?

Laurie: There were all sorts of suggestions from the original gang, including “Chew & Show” (we think that was Melinda Keller’s idea) and “Fresno Stage & Storm Door Company” (Dan’s idea). In the end, someone said, “Well, you’re going to have a good time when you come,” and since Dan felt that the most important aspect that he wanted in the title was “company,” and the traditional name for actors is “players” the name “Good Company Players” was eventually agreed upon. In the very first monologue of our very first show, Dan played Pseudolus who introduces the cast with, “And now, the entire Company.” That’s how we started and that’s how we’ve grown. We are a company of players, and our players are good.

KRL: They are indeed! Any idea how many shows you have produced in 50 years?

Laurie: We have produced 546 mainstage shows since we opened as well as about 25 educational productions for schools. That doesn’t include any of our junior Company pre-shows, workshops, or cabarets.

KRL: Wow! I know surviving through the early years of the pandemic was difficult, but other than that what has been your biggest struggle through the years?

Laurie: It’s a miracle we’re still here after COVID, and we have the support of our community and the extreme generosity of several dear friends to thank for that. We also are grateful for the local, state, and federal government grants and loans that helped enormously.

Next to COVID, our most difficult time was when the economy nearly flatlined in 2008 and 2009. That was indeed a battle, and it took a long time for a lot of companies to recover from it.

KRL: What is it you love the most about what you all do?

Laurie: The people. Our main staff, performers, techies, musicians, production teams, the authors, the composers, and the audience. The communion with humanity. And the Junior Company and young performers, as a subset, are particularly dear to us. They are our kids forever.

KRL: Why do you feel it’s important?

From the 1981 GCP production of “Damn Yankees”-Dan Pessano in the middle and Laurie on the right

Laurie: Theatre teaches compassion, and right now, that’s perhaps the single most precious commodity the human race is in need of. It also teaches you to listen, think outside the box, problem solve, communicate clearly, and work as a team. While working on shows you learn history, literature, psychology, music and art appreciation, social sciences and often some science and math. Theatre makes you smart.

KRL: What have been some of the biggest changes through the years?

Laurie: Deciding to move and go year-round. We were no longer able to feel like an artistic success was enough; the pressure became about surviving in the long run and that meant that things had to be commercially successful. Dan’s mantra has always been “know your audience.” But the audience changes. So, living by that mantra has sometimes saved us and sometimes confused us even more! And times change. Plays become dated and lose their appeal. And sometimes they become more relevant with time. It’s important to stay on top of that.

KRL: How do you pick what shows you do?

Laurie: Our inner staff gather weekly for months and read scripts and put together seasons we’d like to produce only to find time and again that certain titles are not available yet or no longer available or just too prohibitively expensive. It takes a long time and often, just when we think we have it all set, the rights to something will be yanked and it’s back to the drawing board!

KRL: I know Audra is performing for your 50th anniversary celebration-how does it feel to know that GCP has been the early training ground for so many now professional performers such as Audra?

1983 GCP production of “Annie”- Grace Farrell (Lauria) and Daddy Warbucks (Dan)

Laurie: Gosh! So many are working in the business, now, it’s hard to count! Our alumni occupations encompass writing, directing, producing, stage managing, conducting, dancing, choreographing, modeling, costuming, photography, scenic design, lighting design, fine art, performing on ships, in cabarets, improv teams, and of course a string of Broadway and professional performers.

Besides Audra, a very incomplete list of those who are performing or have performed professionally includes Jacqueline Antaramian, Robert Beuth, Heidi Blickenstaff, Duane Boutté, Andrea Chamberlain, Chris Colfer, Christopher Gorham, Tracy Hostmyer, Sharon Leal, Miranda Mayo, Ken Parks, Jeff Siebert, Salisha Thomas Weiss, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Bob Westenberg, Michael J. Willett, Rena Wilson, Betsy Wolfe (who was also nominated for a Tony this year for & Juliet). As I said, this list is incomplete.

We are so proud of all our company, whether they continue performing or not. We have been so lucky to work with so many decent, talented, caring, hard-working, life-long friends.

KRL: What is your favorite memory about when Audra performed with GCP as a child?

Laurie: She was just a kid like all kids. She was funny, smart, loving, warm, dramatic, and a bit mischievous. She did her kid thing and then she sang and brought the house down. And went home and did her homework. She hasn’t changed much, that we can see. She’s a good person first, and an extraordinary talent second.

Dan and Laurie-an “Our Town” call back

KRL: What are your future goals with GCP?

Laurie: We would like to try to make time for more original plays and expand our theatre education programs.

KRL: If this is public yet, what are the shows for your next season?

Laurie: We are so, so close, but just had one of those surprise, “Nope, that’s not available, after all” moments. Stay tuned!

KRL: How do people purchase a ticket for the anniversary concert? And where is it taking place?

Laurie: Audra’s concert is on
Sunday, June 25 at 2:00 pm.
at Warnor’s Theatre
1400 Fulton Street
Fresno, CA 93721

To buy tickets for Audra’s Concert go to: They can also call the Box Office at 559-266-9494.

You can purchase tickets to all of GCP’s shows on their website or by calling the box office. Keep an eye on KRL for GCP show reviews!

Check out more local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. And don’t miss out on Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast where we feature mystery stories read by local actors!

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet. Lorie’s latest mystery novel, One of Us, is set in the Tower District of Fresno and the world of community theatre!<


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