There are pop-up art galleries, nightclubs and restaurants.
Why not a pop-up dinner theater?
That’s the plan for The Motley Fools, a loose collaboration of local theater artists who are coming together to raise money for a cause known as “Bring Samantha Home.”
The group is staging three performances of “Blood Relations,” a play about Lizzie Borden, as part of a fine dining experience at the Old Clovis Bistro Hotel. It opens Thursday, Oct. 27, and features a strong cast of veteran local actors: Britt Monahan, Ashley Hyatt, Karan Johnson, Kristin Crase, Brad Myers, Brandon Weis, Russell Noland, and Jeff Tuck.
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Leslie Martin and Miguel Gastelum co-direct. We caught up with Gastelum for an email interview about the show.
Q: This is an interesting way to do a fundraiser: create a pop-up dinner theater. How did the idea come about?
A: As part of the Bring Samantha Home project we are constantly looking for new ways to raise funds, this specific idea was conceived by Haley White. She has been familiar with the script for some time and it was something she actually wanted to hopefully perform in one day. About a month ago a few members of The Motley Fools went out to look for potential performance spaces. We knew that we wanted this to be a site specific piece because the piece naturally lends itself to it and we knew it would be something unique for theatre audiences.
While having lunch at The Old Hotel Bistro, Chef Jim Pacini was talking to the table and while discussing how unique the location was he mentioned people usually use it for special events and even theater performances. He brought this up without us even mentioning what our intentions were for dining at his establishment. After expressing our interest in putting together this site specific piece the plans were arranged to utilize his place at the same initial meeting. It was very serendipitous.
Q: How difficult was it to figure out how to configure a performance space?
A: The restaurant is divided into three separate dining areas that are all open to each other. The way we have decided to configure and stage “Blood Relations” is by utilizing the central dining room as the performance space and using the other two dining rooms on either side as dining and seating areas for the guests. I don’t believe anyone has ever used such a configuration for that space but it gives the play a great feeling of intimacy and makes you feel as though you are just a fly on the wall in the Borden’s home. It wasn’t difficult to make this decision, it seemed almost obvious.
Q: Tell us a little about the plot.
A: “Blood Relations” is a fictionalized telling of the Lizzie Borden story. The author, Sharon Pollock, describes the play as a dream thesis. The play begins in 1902, ten years after the murders of Abigail and Andrew Borden. We meet Lizzie and her actress friend. The question of whether Lizzie actually did commit the murders or not is brought up; she was acquitted of the charges despite all the evidence pointed clearly at her.
Lizzie wants to play a game with the actress. She has told the actress numerous parts of the story but never exactly what happened. The actress assumes the role of Lizzie Borden and has to show Lizzie what she believes happened on that day 10 years prior. At this point the story takes off into its “dream thesis” component. We see the fictionalized events unfold as well as some flashbacks to the courtroom and some intimate moments between Lizzie Borden and the actress.
Q: Do you think folks these days remember Lizzie Borden?
A: It’s honestly mixed. Just from talking to friends and family about the play I would say its about an even 50/50 split on people knowing and not knowing who she is. However, most people do seem to remember the old jump rope rhyme.
Q: Tell us one "scary moment" from the production.
A: Well, I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that one of the creepiest elements of the show is our ability to have actors move in and out of the audience space. It really gives you goosebumps when Ashley Hyatt is standing next to you as Lizzie Borden glaring at the actress trying to piece together the pieces of her story.
Q: For those who aren't familiar with the "Bring Samantha Home" project, give us a brief rundown.
A: The “Bring Samantha Home” project was put together by The Motley Fools, a group of local theatre artists who were responsible for the recent month-long Shakespeare celebration this past April. Haley White has really been the amazing and incredibly generous leader behind this specific project. The goal of the project is to help raise funds for the Martin family through as many varied theatrical events as we can.
The matriarch of the family, Leslie Martin, is a well known local theatre personality; she is a member of the Fresno State theater faculty as well. Her and her beautiful family are trying to adopt a little girl, Samantha, from the Ukraine. The family hosted Samantha for a few months over the summer and she asked the Martins if they could please adopt her. Of course, when a little girl asks to be apart of a family you say yes. So now we are trying to raise as many funds as we possibly can to help the Martins off-set the very high cost of adopting a child from the Ukraine. More information about the Bring Samantha Home project can be found at www.bringsamanthahome.com.
Q: Anything else you'd like to say?
A: This truly is a unique theatrical experience for local audiences and we hope to see as many people at this event as possible. Not only do you get to enjoy some of Fresno’s finest actors creeping you out but you also get to make a difference in a little girl’s life. How cool is that?
- 6:30 p.m. dinner, 7:30 p.m. performance on Thursday, Oct. 27, Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29
- The Old Hotel Bistro, 356 Pollasky Ave., Clovis