FRESNO’S ROGUE FESTIVAL:
A TREAT FOR AUDIENCE AND PERFORMERS ALIKE
A review by Lynn Ruth Miller (reprinted from forallevents.com)
Every spring for the past seven years, Fresno’s Rogue Performance Festival celebrates independent performance and art in a non-curated, non-juried group of productions that showcase everything from theatre, dance, music, puppetry, storytelling, magic and combination art. The concept for the festival actually started in Marcel Nunis’s backyard where he staged his “Weed-Whacker Theater” productions. Those shows planted the seeds that sprouted into the first Rogue Festival in 2002 and the event has grown every year, adding venues, performers and attendees. Now the Rogue is one of the biggest fringe festivals in the West.
The caliber of most of the performances spans tha scale from one to ten with shows at every level. Some may be ready for the Broadway Stage someday…but for now, they are testing the performance waters in a safe and friendly venue that they can easily afford. Amateur companies who believe they have more to offer than free performances at the high school gym are the majority of the fare at this festival. And that is because the Rogue is what all fringe festivals are meant to be: an opportunity for those who have talent to perform on stage before a paying audience. The shows are reviewed both by critics from The Fresno Bee and by the audience members. Each act has an opportunity to see if their production can withstand the scrutiny of a discriminating public. Even better, these eleven days filled with every variety of performance art offer a kaleidoscope entertainment from barely bearable to explosively grand. Each time you go to a show, you never know if there will be someone performing that you will hear and read about in Hollywood or on Broadway. After you have attended several performances, it becomes obvious that there is amazing talent on these stages that deserves a voice. The only way it can be spotlighted is if there are fringe festivals like this one to give them a chance they can afford and richly deserve.
I have performed in several festivals worldwide and in all but this one, the cost and the immense effort each performer must make to get an audience, promote his show and secure a venue is overwhelming. The resources one needs to attract viewers forces people to hire publicists, pay for media promotion and obligate themselves to venue costs completely disproportionate any possible profit. In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for example, a performer would have to charge immense ticket prices commensurate with a highly touted Broadway production just to break even. This is a terrible loss for audiences eager to see something unique, produced with artistic integrity and dedication but doesn’t want to pay the outrageous tab that goes with a more elaborate world famous production. Gone the thrill of discovering new talent…gone the excitement of seeing a performance first that will soon be a world wide sensation…and even sadder, gone the satisfaction of being given a tiny gem of a show that probably will never go anywhere but into your heart.
The Rogue Festival is very different. John Jordan and his festival team cannot be praised enough for the immense effort they have put into creating this exciting performance arena, promoting it and keeping its cost so low that anyone who can afford gasoline to get to Fresno can manage to pay for the venue and all the extras Jordan and his dedicated staff of volunteers provide. They accept each show on a first come first serve basis and then join together to do everything possible to help the performers place , promote and enrich their performances. The Rogue brochure is a work of art, the pre-events to spark interest and the advice given to every artist makes this festival a win-win situation for everyone. Renee Newlove is in charge of performer relations and it is her job not only to welcome each act and help them acclimate themselves to their venue but to find accommodations for out-of-town performers , and make them feel welcome. She helps performers create interesting promotion ads on the festival my space page and assigns a Fresno resident “buddy” for each out-of-town performer. It simply cannot and does not get any better than that.
The audiences for this festival are enthusiastic and encouraging. The Fresno community comes out to see whatever is on hand and why not? The cost of each performance is, for the most part, less than that of a movie ticket and every cent of ticket revenue goes to the performer. That means that performers can actually combine the heady experience of a full house with the excitement of realizing a profit. Even better, anyone can see three shows in an evening and still have plenty of cash left over for a good dinner with drinks to follow. You won’t spend more than $10 (usually $4 -$7) for any one show.
Rogue performers range from the touring types, who make a living on the fringe festival circuit, to the local person who was just looking for a place to perform. While most performers are from the Fresno/Clovis area, this year’s Rogue featured people from Chicago, New York, Colorado, Oklahoma, Canada and England. Some are local people trying new things (such as local musician Blake Jones doing musical theater in “Sprawzilla vs. Mainstreet”). Some are national names, such as Grammy-winning drummer Steve Mitchell, who has played with Van Morrison and is back in Fresno this year playing with the Benjamin Boone Jazz Quartet.
I brought my storytelling show FAREWELL TO THE TOOTH FAIRY to this festival. The production is solo performance of vignettes that talk about how I found magic in my life. It has some laughs and even a few tears, but every story is a real one. This solo show was the hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years running.
In Fresno, I did not have to compete with 1600 shows for attention. There were only 80 different performances going on both weekends I was there, all within walking distance of one another. I am still in a state of delighted shock over the immense turnout and enthusiastic reception of this show with limited appeal, meant to be sweet and comforting family fare. As one reviewer said, “This is a primarily a nostalgic piece — there are references to Shirley Temple and Eleanor Roosevelt and how a dime could buy you a box of Crackerjacks in the old days. So, if nostalgia is a point of interest for you, then you’ll probably enjoy this stroll with Miller.”
And a lot of people not only took that stroll, they loved it.
Fred Anderson brought his show MAGIC AND MORE WITH FRISCO FRED to the Rogue Festival and he too loved the relaxed atmosphere, the ease of attracting audiences and the enthusiastic reception. Anderson is a seasoned performer who has been in the business for many years and this particular festival captured his heart, as it did mine.
For Rogue patrons, each show is a crap shoot. “The Rogue is all about experimentation,” says Donald Munroe of the Fresno Bee. “You grab a program, read the title and a short description of a show, toss down a few bucks if it sounds interesting, and hope for the best. Sometimes you’ll be thrilled, sometimes underwhelmed. It happens.”
Whether you are a performer or want to discover a great show, the trip to Fresno those first two weekends in March is well worth the cost of gas. If you are from the bay area there will be several performers such as Mia Paschal who will be familiar to you, and many, many innovative art forms and artists for you to discover. The Rogue Performance Festival is a cultural jewel that attracts thousands of people. It is always a bit off the wall and wildly unpredictable and that is what makes it so much fun. It is a California Treasure that is fast becoming a word-wide event filled with wonder and creativity that anyone can afford to enjoy.