Fred Bologna closed the chapter on a remarkable run last weekend. He directed “New Wrinkles,” the annual senior showcase revue at Fresno City College, for 10 years. His last production, “New Wrinkles Turns Silver,” marked the franchise’s 25th anniversary.
Bologna now lives in Carmel, but he hasn’t forgotten Fresno. After 40 years with Good Company Players, he plans to direct January’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which happened to be the company’s very first show back in 1973.
I caught up with Bologna for an interview before “New Wrinkles” closed, and I wanted to be sure to acknowledge his sustained contribution to Fresno’s cultural scene — not only with “Wrinkles,” but in general.
Question: Were you hesitant at all when you first took on the role of directing “New Wrinkles”?
No. I had taught elementary school for 11 years, third grade. I told the interviewing committee when they asked me why I thought I could direct a troupe of senior citizens that I had taught third graders. Working with a performing group of senior citizens would be about the same. But, I had been artistic director of the fresno balllet, taught and directed and choreographed for Roosevlt School of the Arts, Good Company Players, and many other theater organizations. I felt that I could make this work. I did get a little nervous when I discovered the first rehearsal that Tom Wright (the former director of “New Wrinkles”) and his wife showed up. They stayed for three years.
You have high standards for the show. Was it tougher telling a 75-year-old he or she can’t do a solo, say, compared to a 20-year-old?
Seventy-five or 20, they are both difficult. The difference is the 75 year old may have had a remarkable voice at one time with lots of solos in the past. That is always touchy. I agonize over when I have to take a solo away from a performer because they are unable for whatever reason to make it work. the agony is compounded if the have begun the run singing the solo. I always give them time to figure out how to fix the song…but some time there is no other options.
Use three different words to describe yourself as a director.
Patient, creative, organized.
You worked closely with Dede Nibler over the years on “Wrinkles.” Tell us how that collaboration worked.
It was teamwork. We worked together deciding the theme, and what songs would be in the show, and often the order of the show. We supported each other with our particular talents. I had the privilege and the agony of making the final decision on all matters regarding the show. It was not always easy… there were times we did not agree and times that one of us could not find the time to meet when the other wanted to meet … I was not in the show and Dede was, so it hard to cut a number she was in every once in awhile. One of the ways I work as a director, I always support my production team in front of the cast no matter what they say. Any problems, deal with them privately.
What are a few dominant “Wrinkles” memories that stand out over the years?
The year I decided not to put one-liners in the show … the show was all music from Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hart. I thought we could use the comedy they wrote in the scenes in the musicals. The cast was not happy.
Other memories: Dividing up all the jobs that needed to be done to get the show on stage (publicity, costumes, thank you letters etc) and giving them to cast members to do and then staying out of their way and let them do their job. The friendships I made in “New Wrinkles.” Making the cast members stretch and grow and trying things out of their comfort zones. The way “New Wrinkles” gives energy, joy, a chance to perform and 2nd life to so many of the cast members.
You’ve moved to Carmel and “commuted” to Fresno. Was this a factor in your decision to end your “Wrinkles” run?
Yes. It is the only reason I’m leaving. Last year it cost me $2,538.00 in gas money. This year it is already over $3,000. Then there all the times that I have almost been killed by crazy drivers!!
Over the years, you’ve witnessed the impact of “New Wrinkles.” How do you think it has changed the lives of your cast members?
It provided many of these seniors with something to do, to make new friends. They are able to come out of their shells. Gives them a reason to keep living. They love sharing their talent with the audiences. They prove to their grandchildren that they still can do something that matters. There is life after grandchildren.
Have you ever given thought to performing in a show like this?
As long as I am not the director. I feel that if I’m going to cut numbers, change casting after we open, etc., I can’t be in the show. There is so much I have to pay attention to regarding the production. I don’t really have time to perform. I would love to dance in a show like this.
Any last reflections you’d like to share?
Thank you for all your support for the “New Wrinkles” productions. I always took your suggestions seriously and did what I could to work them into the show’s concept. I really have tried to shorten the show. But it is a tough battle to win.