By Miguel Gastelum
The greater Fresno area boasts a robust arts and culture scene, especially compared to other cities of a similar size. Museums, concerts, art shows, dance concerts, fringe festivals, film festivals, and theatre events fill the calendar nearly every weekend. Some of these artists are Fresno transplants, but a majority of them are home-grown and Bulldog bred. Three such students contributing to the local arts scene are Department of Theatre and Dance alumni Rodolfo Robles Cruz, Alexis Elisa Macedo, and Summer S. Session.
Robles Cruz, who graduated from Fresno State with a B.A. in Theatre Arts – Acting in 2020, was recently selected to serve as an ArteVism fellow with the Pan Valley Institute, a program that emphasizes the intersection of the arts and civic engagement in marginalized communities. He is also currently directing a production of “Oedipus El Rey” by Luis Alfaro at the Selma Arts Center, which opens on Nov. 18.
“It is a show that marries classic Greek theatre with traditional Mexican storytelling,” says Cruz. “It is a bold and daring play that challenges our view of religion and community. Heavy influenced by the East LA cholo culture we are taken through a hilarious and devastating odyssey as we can infer the tragedy of the classic ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles that is to come.”
After graduating from Fresno State with a B.A. in Theatre Arts – Acting in 2021, Macedo has been working as a freelance writer and has had her work produced by various companies. She recently closed a run of her original work, “Chicana Legend” with The Fools Collaborative.
“’Chicana Legend’ was a tremendous success,” says Macedo. “It was my third time being produced, but my first time working with Gina as my director, an all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) creative team and cast, acting in my own piece, and having sold out performances. I felt very fortunate to work among friends and have the overwhelming support from former Fresno State professors, the Fresno theater community; and friends from Sacramento, NYC, and Texas! This piece sent the message the Chicanx theater is necessary and welcomes everyone.”
Session, a 2018 graduate with a B.A. in Theatre Arts – General, recently concluded her MFA Directing program at U.C. Irvine. Most recently she directed a critically-acclaimed production of the musical “Pippin” at the Selma Arts Center. She’ll be moving to southern California for her next directing ventures.
“After Pippin, I’ll be moving on to So-Cal where I will get to assistant direct on South Coast Rep’s production of ‘Appropriate,’” says Session. “I also will be working with the Disney Company on some projects as well. Along with both those opportunities, I am also working with a production company called CAARE and my journey to starting my own theatre company.”
All three students credit their time at Fresno State as having an impact on the work they’ve been doing since graduation.
“Fresno State really gave me the opportunity to explore other outlets or facets of theatre while I was there,” says Session. “Along with that, the opportunity to gain experience and work on so many shows helped prepare me for the field and what I was going to experience while in graduate school.”
“Fresno State taught me how to fight to be seen in a predominantly white, male industry and not take for granted the professors and friends who rooted for me,” says Macedo.
Opportunities outside of the regular coursework were helpful to Robles Cruz in finding a direction for his artistic expression.
“My time at Fresno State allowed me a bevy of resources that I took advantage of,” says Robles Cruz. “Amongst the most influential was with Fresno State’s Experimental Theatre Company. This student run organization allows students to fully design, direct, and act in full length productions with a touch of guidance from our professors. During my time I served as a board member, as the program chair, and as a director where I found the passion to lead a team of actors and designers. These resources and being surrounded by incredibly talented people from the Central Valley fueled my creative drive.
The professors within the Theatre and Dance department had a lasting impact on all three alumni. With many still remaining connected with those professors and even working with them beyond the classroom.
“J. Daniel [Herring] and Gina Sandi-Diaz were the professors who truly went above and beyond to support me and a student and continue to do so as champions of my creative success,” acedo said. “They always send their love every time I have a new project and they’re not just former professors, I consider them collaborators and friends.”
Robles Cruz doesn’t plan on slowing down his creating anytime soon.
“After Oedipus El Rey I plan on directing something else (stay tuned), and doing work to connect the entire Central Valley theatre communities,” Robles Cruz said. “I believe with the talents we all share, collectively we can become a powerhouse hub of theatre on the national level, with time of course.”
One thing is certain, the Central Valley provides ample opportunity to grow and learn.
“I never thought my life could be like this,” Session said. “I never expected such success and happiness. I am so thankful to many and so blessed to have been in such a community. The Central Valley as a whole has a lot to offer, but it also has plenty of space to grow and share. This is a place that has taught me that if I put my mind to it, it can and will happen.”