News Column

The Fresno Bee, Donald Munro column

August 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 10--For someone who probably interviews 500 people a year, it's a little strange for me when the tables get turned. It helps when I'm sitting across from an interviewer as passionate about her subject as Kate McKnight. Her weekly public affairs show on KFSR (90.7 FM), "The Art of 'No," is an intriguing look at the local arts scene.

It helps that McKnight's program is an expansive half-hour on one subject, which in terms of radio real estate is practically as wide as the sky. No two-minute stories or simplified sound bites needed here. McKnight has time for leisurely conversations about a subject, which is perfect for her Sunday morning air time.

I taped an interview with McKnight a couple of weeks ago about my recent e-book, "The Company We Keep," which focuses on Good Company Players. The episode airs at 9:30 this morning. (You can also listen to it online at kfsr.org.) In it, we discuss not only my book and GCP but the Fresno theater scene in general.

To mark the occasion, I decided to interview the interviewer.

Question: How long have you been hosting "The Art of 'No"?

Answer: Since November 2012. There have been 39 episodes.

What are recent episodes you've particularly liked?

I've been fortunate that all of my guests have been enthusiastic and articulate. Some standout recent interviews were with poet/educator Megan Bohigian; Pub Quiz hosts Carrie Kuffel, Ed Stewart and Adam Wall (the first time I had three guests at once); local band The Sleepover Disaster (which we recorded off-campus at bassist Eric Peter's home recording studio); my interview with you. (It's true!)

Does KFSR have other in-depth, magazine-style shows like yours?

The two other public affairs shows with a similar format to mine are "San Joaquin Spotlight" and "Flavors of the Valley." The station airs public affairs shows because of some of its funding requirements.

What are your thoughts about the Fresno theater scene?

The number of new companies astonishes and pleases me. As I know most of the artistic directors, I feel especially proud of their bravery and ability to make a dream a reality. Heather Parish, founding director of The New Ensemble Theatre, was a guest, and we got to hear about her incredible organizational skills and business sense, which are just as important as creative talents when you're building a new performing arts company.

What do you think is the art form that's strongest right now in Fresno, and which is in most perilous shape?

It's a toss-up between music and the visual arts for the strongest. On just about every night of the week there are multiple venues with live music, and it should be pointed out that these are most often paid gigs for our outstanding local vocalists and instrumentalists. JazzHop has created a large audience of jazz lovers. ArtHop has certainly brought a wider appreciation for our amazing painters, sculptors, etc. I suppose the big question is: Are they selling much of their art?

Theater appears to be gaining a foothold with new companies and newer audiences. Good Company Players is celebrating their 40th.

Dance is a rare art form in town. Dance companies can sadly be counted on one hand. Thankfully, we've got the indefatigable NOCO Dance Founding Director Amy Querin (another previous guest). We're fortunate to have a few dance studios with gifted choreographer/instructors at the helm. The dance departments at FCC and CSUF still produce excellent work. There's the annual Danzantes Unidos Festival held locally, which highlights Valley folklorico companies as well as those from Mexico.

What do you estimate your listenership to be? What kind of feedback do you get from listeners?

I've joked on air about my five loyal listeners. I may be up to a couple dozen -- it's really hard to say. People will tune in or listen online if I use social media to remind them or if they know my guest for that particular week. I've had such positive comments -- some listen because they like my voice, which my ego loves. Many thank me for focusing on the most positive attribute of Fresno: its creative residents.

Tell us a little about yourself and your own background with the Fresno arts scene.

I grew up in Fresno and attended Fresno Unified schools. Along the way, my interest in classical piano was replaced with a passion for acting, and by high school, I wanted to be either a teacher or an actor. I received a BA in acting at UC Santa Cruz. After I returned to Fresno, I started performing again, landing several good roles with Good Company Players. Over the years, I've performed on just about every local theatrical stage as well as directed for CenterStage and for the Rogue Festival.

I wrote a solo performance piece for Rogue 2013, and have been playing the piano again, mostly jazz improvisation with my fiance, guitarist Andre Bush. I received my teaching credential from CSUF in the early '90s and taught high school English and drama for seven years before sliding into administration, first as the assistant director of Roosevelt School of the Arts, then for seven years as FUSD's visual and performing arts coordinator. I'm returning to the classroom after living two years in San Diego (and 13 years total working in school administration), and will teach middle school English and drama in Central Unified.

What have you learned about yourself hosting this show?

I've learned that I'm a good interviewer. I'm sincerely interested in my guests and want to show them off, because by and large, they're my friends and arts colleagues. I don't stick to an interview format, so my guests and I have the most wonderful conversations about what we're passionate: our art. I think that's the key for me doing this show; I get to talk with my arts comrades and share their creative spirit with listeners.

Is there a Fresno-area artistic experience that stands out for you above all others from the past few years?

Oh, that is going to be hard to answer with just one! Certainly performing my Rogue Festival solo theatre work and music with Andre as part of his Rogue show were life-changing experiences. As both a volunteer and audience member, FUSE Fest and Catacomb Party blew me away. The art exhibit "Breakthrough" at the Fresno Art Museum this past spring moved me immensely. Terry Lewis in StageWorks Fresno's "I Am My Own Wife" was truly sublime and superior to Jefferson Mays, who originated the role, in my humble opinion. There are many more, but I'm sure you don't have the space.

Anything else you'd like to say?

I hope people will listen to "The Art of 'No" as it's always an inspirational 30 minutes. Fresno is home to some truly innovative change makers!

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373 and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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