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Curtains Up for Cuckoo
This could be the year for theatre.
Not even six months into 2006, two new theatre companies have emerged to produce daring, edgy performances for neglected theatre-lovers. Epic Theatre staged its first performance earlier this year, and this weekend Artists' Repertory Theatre will debut with the Dale Wasserman adaptation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Artists' Repertory Theatre (or ART) formed as an offshoot of another nascent theatre group, the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, which debuted last summer. The six core members of ART met and got to know one another while working on the Shakespeare performances last year, according to Mike Petersen, a founding member and also assistant director of the Cuckoo production.
"We all kind of had a common shared interest in doing more challenging and compemorary style theatre," he explained. There hadn't been a real home for challenging theatre in Fresno since the closure of Theatre 3 late last year (longtime Theatre 3 director Gordon Goode retired to Florida). Peterson and his wife Jennifer Hurd-Peterson, another founding member of ART, actually met while performing with Theatre 3 in the mid-1990's. ART looks to continue the Theatre 3 tradition of more edgy material, and there was no better play to start off with than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
"We were all kicking around a whole variety of ideas what show would you want to do," begins Peterson. "At some point somebody said, 'What about Cuckoo's Nest?' and we were like, 'Yeah! We should do Cuckoo's Nest!'"
The production stars Adam Meredith (also of Epic Theatre) as McMurphy, and is directed by S. Eric Day.
ART is unique in that it's one of the few performance groups in town to have its own venue. Founding members Chris and Julie Ann Campbell, who have both worked with the Cynthia Merrill School of Performing Arts, purchased and plan to rehabilitate the Severance Building in the Tower District. A 1920's Art Deco two-story building, the Severance has a large performance space the group has outfitted with folding chairs and theatre lights.
Peterson says working in the building has been "challenging," with the types of problems you'd expect from an 85 year-old building. "Nothing dangerous, but we lost half of our lighting circuits during last nights' rehearsal."
During Wednesday night's dress rehearsal, the Severance performance space was transformed from a retro ballroom to a mental institution. Chairs are arranged in avenue seating- two long rows on either wall with the stage in the middle. The theatre can seat around 120 people.
ART's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week and next. As for future plans, Peterson is tight-lipped but says
"Shows that we have discussed include Edward Albee's Three Tall Women and Arcadia by Tom Stoppard." The group hopes to produce four plays a year.
And while theatre is an extracurricular activity for many, the group is excited by the momentum in the arts community.
"Right now in Fresno is a really exciting time- almost an artistic renaissance going on."
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest opens Thursday, April 27th at the Severance Building. The play runs Friday and Saturday, and May 5th, 6th, and 7th. Doors open at 7:00pm, house opens at 7:30 pm, and show begins at 8pm. Tickets are $13 in advance or $15 the day of the show. For more information, visit http://www.myspace.com/artfresno.