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More memories of GCP’s 40th anniversary

Brighton Beach Memoirs Good Company Players 07/22/05

In the days following the publication last week of my new e-book, “The Company We Keep,” about the 40th anniversary of Good Company Players, I’ve been receiving lots of comments and memories from readers. It’s quite sweet, actually — it turns out when you become a cultural institution, as GCP has, you become bound up in people’s lives.

Part of me wishes I could add even more to the book — and in the series we excerpted in the print edition of the paper — in terms of the stories I’m hearing.

Karan Johnson was one of the GCP veterans there at the inception of the company:

I’ve been a part of Good Company Players since the very beginning, and have fond memories of the early days. We were performing at The Fresno Hilton, in the ballroom, and had to not only take down the set each night but also the stage, and cart it down the hall to some empty hotel rooms. Opening night on June 26, 1973 was thrilling…because it was all new and exciting. The show, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was a terrific production, with wonderful costumes, sets, and performances…and the audience response was everything we could have wished for.

The following year was one of my all-time favorite GCP shows, and certainly one of our best productions, “Guys and Dolls.” It’s a fabulous musical anyway (FYI, the best-reviewed musical in theatre history) and was superbly cast and directed by Chris Moad. Fred Perry was a perfect Sky Masterson, handsome, sexy, with a wonderful voice; and Jan Pessano was a delight as Sarah Brown – her transition from uptight Salvation Army worker to swinger was a hoot, and I can still remember her singing “I’ll know,” and “If I were a Bell.” Dan Pessano was a very funny Nathan Detroit and Ann T. Sullivan was an equally funny Adelaide.The production was both comic and touching, and every role was done to perfection.

Another show I remember fondly is 1977′s “Dames At Sea” — it’s a very fun show and the intimate nature of the piece worked well at The Fresno TowneHouse, where GCP was doing shows at that time. “Dames at Sea” featured Shirley Grace and Manuel Alvarado and was a show that made everyone feel good.

And, of course, 1978 brought us our own home with the opening of The Music Hall and “Gypsy.” That was thrilling, not least because of all of the difficulties we had in getting the space ready – we literally did not know, until HOURS before showtime, whether we would be able to open. But the show went on – with slit-open tennis balls covering the unfinished railing heads. And what a show it was – Janice Noga as Mama Rose and Kim Williams as Gypsy were electrifying. Everything somehow came together – a magic night in the theater.

You can buy “The Company We Keep” for $2.99 on Kindle, Apple’s iBookstore, and at Vook.com. (Vook offers a┬ádesktop version if you don’t have a mobile reading device, along with ePub versions that can be transferred to devices.)The book is still not available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook device, but it should be soon.

And don’t forget the Fresno Bee videos and photo galleries (including shots from all 436 Good Company productions) online.

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Pictured: Elizabeth Fiester, left, and Karan Johnson in the 2005 GCP production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

Responses to "More memories of GCP’s 40th anniversary"

Amelia Ryan says:

I’m not a member of the GCP immediate family; I’m more like the crazy aunt who shows up once in a while. We moved to Fresno in December of ’96. The first GCP shows I took the kids to were Life with Father — when we first succumbed to the double charm offensive of Paddy Myers and Tessa Cavalletto — and H.M.S. Pinafore, which was unexpectedly and delightfully set on a cruise ship. (The kids were thrilled to be invited on stage for the conga line.) I knew then that I would someday audition for GCP, but I was naturally afraid that it would be too clique-ish, that a middle-aged outsider like myself would never break in.
My first audition seemed to bear this out; I was there for hours and only got to read one line. (I never auditioned for that director again.) I’ve since heard actors moan about the “thanks-but-no-thanks” form letter that GCP sends to actors who aren’t cast. (I recently received one myself.) But I didn’t get one after that first, frustrating audition. Instead, I received a personal letter from Dan Pessano. He must have looked at my resume, which had some interesting professional experience on it, and he wrote a kind, thoughtful note encouraging me to audition again sometime. It made all the difference in my attitude toward doing theatre in Fresno, which has since become home. And I did audition again, this time for Karan Johnson, who cast me in Dancing at Lughnasa. (Since Irish accents were required, I figured there’d be a lot less competition, and I was right.)
I’ve only done four shows at Second Space (not counting two understudy assignments), but they were all rewarding experiences. I’ve had the privilege of being directed by Dan, by Biz Fiester, and by Karan (twice), and I’ve gotten to perform with (among others) Valerie Munoz, Leigh Ratliffe, Patrick Tromborg, G.J. Thelin, Henry Montolongo, and the one-and-only Gordon Moore (three times). Maybe someday I’ll even play the Music Hall. But in one of my favorite memories of GCP, I never even went on stage. I understudied Biz the second time she did Shirley Valentine, with Dan directing. Although I never got to go on for a performance (and I never seriously thought that I would), I did get to do a complete run-through, in a role I’ve always loved, for a very select audience — Biz and Dan. We also serve who only understudy!
Speaking for my family, GCP has enriched our lives as audience members, and I was proud to be able to stand up along with many others in the audience last week and be acknowledged as part of GCP’s extended family — crazy aunt division.

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