How busy is July's theater scene?
This coming weekend there isn't just one production of the musical "Big River" opening in the Valley. There are two.
Certain times of the year always offer more theater. A lot of this has to do with the arbitrary nature of the calendar. Community theater in particular is dictated by school schedules, and most companies want to avoid holidays.
It's not like theater gluts don't happen in other cities -- just look at how Broadway openings stack up for the annual Tony Award deadline in the spring. Each year The New York Times seems to do a "so many openings, so little time" piece. (I guess this is the local version of that.)
But this year, the Fresno summer theater scene feels particularly abundant.
First there was the Underground@CMT's "Spring Awakening," which opened June 29 for a two-weekend run. Then this past weekend, StageWorks Fresno's "Next to Normal" opened, as well as Woodward Shakespeare Festival's "A Streetcar Named Desire," the Fourth Wall Theatre's "Avenue Q" in Visalia and the River City Theater Company's "Fiddler on the Roof" in Reedley.
This week the titles keep coming: Children's Musical Theaterworks' "Disney's Sleeping Beauty (Kids)." From the E&e Performing Arts Center in Kingsburg, "The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon." An original play titled "Sixteen in 10 Minutes or Less" from Jump Right In Productions at the Broken Leg Stage. The most anticipated Good Company Players production of the year, "Calamity Jane," starring Louise Mandrell.
Plus those two productions of "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" -- one from CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre, the other from the powerhouse Tulare County Office of Education Theatre Company in Visalia.
(I was curious about the two "Big Rivers," and I checked in with Chris Lang, the CenterStage artistic director, to ask about them. Both companies decided on the title independently, making their season announcements within a day of each other. Lang checked in with his Visalia counterpart, Brian Roberts, and they agreed that the performances would be far enough apart geographically not to affect overall ticket sales.)
Looking at the scene overall, I'm impressed by the diversity of the offerings. There's pretty much something for everyone: classic musicals and plays, children's productions, original works, hot new titles just a few years removed from Broadway. "Next to Normal" and "Spring Awakening" are particularly notable because they skipped the usual pattern of swinging through the Saroyan Theatre on national tours before landing at community theaters.
So is all this theater at once a totally positive thing?
On my blog at fresnobeehive.com a few days ago, I noted that on the one hand, the flood of titles contributes to a luxurious, deep-pockets feel. ("Hmmm, I feel like going to the theater tonight. So many options!")
On the other hand, the theater-going audience isn't unlimited. Different productions likely will attract different demographics, and maybe even get more people than ever hooked on live productions, but there's also the cold, hard fact that if people are at one show, they aren't at another. Plus, a chunk of the audience for any show is likely to include actors -- they're very supportive that way -- and if everyone's in a production at the same time, there aren't as many people left to be in the audience.
You also have to take into account the amount of "media oxygen" for local theater. There's only a certain amount of space in the print edition of The Bee (and a finite number of hours in my day) to devote to local shows, and while we try to be flexible when a blizzard of them open at once, there are only so many resources to go around.
The columnist can be reached at email@example.com
or (559) 441-6373. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.