Roger Rocka's Diner Theatre in Fresno Offers Filling Entertainment
Jan 27, 2016 01:00PM ● Published by Ronda Alvey
Dinner and A Show
By Fache Desroches
Although he made his name on the silver screen, it was Charlie Chaplin who said this. Most people would say that Chaplin was dead wrong – that if he could see us today with our armies of multiplexes, the lines that stretch around them, and everything else that stems from our juggernaut culture of film, he would concede that movies are by no means a fad. Far from lapsing in popularity, films have long outstripped stage productions in popularity, and this trend shows no signs of changing.
However, in a certain way, Chaplin was absolutely right. Although the medium of theater is one of the oldest art forms, it has managed to evolve and remain relevant over continents, centuries and major cultural shifts. Movies are not a trend, but it turns out that they really can’t replace live actors on a stage. Just ask the Good Company Players at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater in Fresno. They ought to know: It’s in their blood. “The whole thing started with my dad’s love of performing,” says Emily Pessano. “He had some costumes and some theater friends initially, and he just wanted to put on a show. Well, they’ve been putting on a show for more than 40 years now.”
Pessano has been performing, directing and running the two family theaters alongside her parents since she was carried onstage for her first scene at seven months old. Now as a young adult with talents honed by years of higher education and performance experience in LA, she and her husband are back to tread the boards, and help delight a new generation of audiences.
But Pessano’s entrance in this story is very much Act II, as Roger Rocka’s was in full swing for years before her arrival. Things first took shape in the summer of 1973, when her father Dan and a few friends decided to form a troupe – the Good Company Players - and begin performing at hotels in downtown Fresno. After five years of this challengingly nomadic existence, Dan met local restaurateur Roger Rocka, and the two decided to combine their talents and open Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, the venue that is still their home today.
But the Pessanos and their Players were not slowing down, and the summer of 1982 saw the opening of The Good Company Players Second Space Theater: a smaller, more traditional space which would enable the actors to stage the more dramatic, experimental shows that give the theater its wonderful range of performances. “It’s kind of a different audience than for the musicals,” explains Pessano. “Musicals generally cater to a wider audience, so Second Space was an opportunity to do the deeper, more unique plays in a smaller, more intimate venue.”
The Second Space Theater is essential for the Players to maintain their range and volume of shows, but it has always been the flagship of Roger Rocka’s that wins the community’s delight decade after decade. What is a more universal crowdpleaser than dinner and a show? Particularly when you have a chef and staff that are as dedicated to their craft as the actors are to theirs. An experience at Roger Rocka’s is much like an evening at a great restaurant. You arrive, are seated, and begin to be attentively served by an elegant crew. Depending on the night of your visit, you will either order from the artisan menu or select from the chef’s buffet. A full bar is on hand to provide the libation of your choice, but great drinks, sumptuous food and excellent service are where the similarities with a fine restaurant end, as when you dine at Roger Rocka’s, your dinner companions are the Good Company Players and the spectacular, song-filled fantasy that they create around you. “It evokes a different emotion than almost any other entertainment experience,” Pessano says. “It’s engaging both because it’s live theater and because you get to be so close.”
Between their two theaters, the Good Company Players do 12 shows a year, and February features “9 to 5” with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton at Roger Rocka’s, while “Moonlight and Magnolias” and “The Glass Menagerie” are featured at Second Space.
If you’re looking for a uniquely captivating date night idea this month, consider letting the Good Company Players do the heavy lifting for you, and transport you and your companion to a truly special place. After all, they’re the professionals at this kind of hocus-pocus. “I don’t often get to sit out in the audience, but when I do, it’s so special to watch people laugh, react and enjoy themselves,” says Pessano. “It’s just magic.”
Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater
(559) 785-0733 • www.rogerrockas.com
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