Julia Reimer has a long and diligent resume as the Theater professor/program director at Fresno Pacific Theater and working as an actor and director on productions at Good Company Players, Woodward Shakespeare Festival and The New Ensemble. After 17 years in the position, she has stepped down and is exploring other opportunities and projects, while continuing to teach as an adjunct at FPU. Julia also directs the Youth Engage Shakespeare summer teen project for Woodward Shakespeare Festival, and has recently been giving her energies to starting a new theater entity in town, Near Far Theatre, committed to telling under-told stories and creating spaces for dialogue, celebration and understanding around the theme “exploring what brings us together and breaks us apart.” Their first production is The Sins of Sor Juana by Karen Zacarías, opening this Friday.
Here is her Drive-Thru Interview
In one word, describe your present condition.
In one sentence, what’s going on in your world?
It’s a threshold time for me–trying to figure out what to chuff off from the past, what to keep and savor, refocusing relationships, recalling my bliss what made me want to make art in the beginning, figuring out why it matters and how to do it in this ever changing digital, attention-diffused era.
With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of your artistic outlook.
“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies.” ~ Emily Dickinson
“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.” ~ James Baldwin
“Perhaps theater is not revolutionary in itself, but it is surely a rehearsal for the revolution.” ~ Augusto Boal
And well, because, The Importance of a Not Taking Oneself Too Seriously–
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” ~ Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest
“Words words words…” ~ Hamlet
Why The Sins of Sor Juana?
I actually had a more contemporary play in mind for the first Near/Far production–a piece out of London’s Royal Court Theatre some years ago, interview-based, celebrating food in the context of Arab-Israeli relations. It fit an ‘East/West’ trajectory we’ll be exploring related to our own time and concerns. But I didn’t have the cast. I did have the cast for Sor Juana. So we’re starting with a ‘North/South’ trajectory, bringing this fascinating 17th century but very modern Spanish-Mexican woman to the stage in a play by a contemporary playwright.
Here in California, our history is actually much more tied to the Spanish colonial story than to the British. But we often don’t feel that because of how we learn US history in school. Sure, we learn about Spanish explorers and the California missions. But we know nothing about the art or literature. Or of how indigenous cultures negotiated the colonial presence, shaping the arts. We definitely see that influence in the songs and poetry of Sor Juana. She knew both Latin/Greek and Nahuatl, the Aztec language.So there’s an “under-told story” here. And that’s part of our mission–to tell under-told stories, like the story of Juana Ines de la Cruz.
Coincidentally, Gina Sandi-Diaz directed Karen Zacarías’ Just Like Us for CSUF’s University Theater last fall, it felt like good timing to bring more Zacarias to our community.
What is your official title for Near/Far productions?
I think of myself as a ‘Collaboration Coordinator.’ Philosophically, I’m committed to de-centering power–which can be challenging when one has a tendency towards bossy-ness! So even though I’m technically “directing” for this first production–as in ultimately responsible for structuring the work and getting things done–in my head, even that role is about creating structures for a healthy collaboration among equals.
What do you hope the audience be thinking in the car as they drive home after this show?
I hope they’ll be thinking about how cool Juana is; I hope they’ve maybe fallen a little in love with her, like I have. And then, make that leap to their own lives. What does it mean to be true to yourself when everyone around you is telling you to change, adjust, conform. And for artists, how do you keep your personal integrity as an artist when the contexts you live and breath in don’t always see the world the way you do.
What does Near/Far Theatre bring to the Fresno theater community?
Fresno has a lot of great theater! When I came back from grad school in 2001, it was exciting to see new groups starting to form, artists getting together and deciding just to do plays. The Rogue Festival creates a sort of annual reunion party every year, which I love. There’s a lot of film activity around. I think what Near/Far adds is another angle, another voice in the mix.
In the current climate we’re in, it felt like Near/Far could be a place to prioritize dialogue as part of the theater-making process–whether that’s dialogue between the artists, dialogue with audiences, or through forum theater events we hope to do as part of the “Near/Far Exchange.” For example, for Sor Juana, we’ll be having Saturday Talk-backs. May 4 is with the cast and Dr. Maria Dolores Morillo, a Fresno State professor with expertise in Spanish Golden Age literature and Sor Juana’s plays. May 11 will focus on the Near/Far theme of “exploring what brings us together and breaks us apart” with a panel of local artists who have been a part of communities (faith is the obvious one relative to Sor Juana) where they’ve felt either nurtured or perhaps silenced/censored in artistic expression.
We’re grateful to Willow Avenue Mennonite Church, who is enabling us to have this honest conversation on the campus of a church, which feels significant.
What makes a great audience for you?
Good question. I can’t lie. Both as an actor and director, there’s always something rich in an audience of a certain size. People do live theater in part because of the joy of a live audience, and there’s something about the synergy in the room when there’s critical mass. That said, I’ve attended plays with small audiences that have been wonderful because of a sense of intimacy. I always love it when other artists are in the room, supporting each other in the arts. Same for family/friends. It grieves me when family/friends don’t show up to see this amazing thing their loved one spent hours of emotional/physical/mental work perfecting.
As a theater artist, what are you better at now than five or ten years ago?
I am probably better at organizing myself and others for the theatrical task. After 17 years of regularly producing plays at an institution with barebones infrastructure for theater, I think I’ve learned how to do juggle a lot of balls simultaneously while mostly keeping my cool. As a director, sometimes I wonder if I’ve become less resourceful, compared to the days when it all felt novel and exciting. I was reading a lot about directing back then and trying out new strategies in the rehearsal room.
What are your top three theatre reads?
I’ve been reading Theater of War lately, about Brian Doerries’ work using Greek tragedies to create spaces for dialogue about trauma of various sorts. Fascinating. Anne Bogart’s A Director Prepares for honest talk about the hopes, fear, insecurity, wonder of directing. Brain Bates’ The Way of the Actor for how acting makes us open and present in a wonderful magical kind of way.
What’s your best sanity-saving theatre shortcut life hack?
What’s sanity?! It’s Tech week for us, so if anything, I’m now wishing I had had more of these theatre shortcut hacks in my toolbox a few weeks ago!
Nothing definite yet. I’d love to do a forum theater event sometime, where we work with a social problem and engage the audience in performative brainstorming of solutions. There are a few plays I’d be interested in directing or producing sometime. I’d love to do a devised show.
THE SINS OF SOR JUANA presented by Near/Far Theatre
May 3-4, 10-11 (Fridays/Saturdays) at 8 pm
May 5 and 12 (Sundays) at 7:30 pmLOCATION: The Hall, at *Willow Avenue Mennonite Church
2529 Willow Ave, Clovis.
TICKETS: $15 General, $12 with Student ID. Order Online.
SATURDAY TALKBACKS: May 4 and 11 after the show – with the cast and invited guests.
May 4 – Discussion with Dr. Maria Dolores Morillo
May 11 – panel discussion on artists and faith communities