PITTSBURG -- Drama students at Los Medanos College are headed to Boise, Idaho, later this month to perform at a regional festival sponsored by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The school's drama department will be performing "Fences," a Pulitzer Prize-winning play penned by playwright August Wilson that depicts late-1950s life in that other Pittsburgh, the one in Pennsylvania, through the eyes Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker and former Negro Leagues baseball star, and his family members.

Before leaving for Boise, a free performance of the play will take place at the California Theatre at 7 p.m. Feb. 12.

"It's one of the premiere African-American shows," said Nick Garcia, chair of Los Medano's drama department and director of "Fences," which was first performed last October at the college.

Los Medanos was the only community college among the four other colleges from Northern California, Northern Nevada and seven other western states invited to perform at the regional festival, which is Feb. 18 through 22 at Boise State University. The four schools were selected from among 21 eligible productions from the region.

"For us, it's massive, it's huge. Four years ago we we're such a small department. We didn't think we would be in this position a long time," Garcia said.


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Not only that, but Los Medanos was competing with larger four-year colleges and universities that have bigger budgets for their theater departments. "We are the new kid on the block," he said

After Garcia became head of the drama department in 2009, he increased the number of productions each season, revamped the curriculum and added a two-year Associate Arts degree in acting and an Associate Degree for Transfer in Theater Arts. Garcia took up the mantle to improve the department from Joanna Perry-Folino, who headed it from 1994 through 2008. During those years, she helped reinvigorate what had become a dormant program with the help of colleagues, administrators and friends.

A total of 27 students, including seven cast members, are going to the Boise festival.

"We had to raise about $40,000 to get there," Garcia said. "Our community has really supported us."

It is one of eight regional festivals. The festivals provide a venue for not only learning from performing, but include educational presentations by theater professionals and opportunities for students to apply for various scholarships. At last year's festival, 10 Los Medanos students transferred to four-year university programs and earned scholarships valued at least $10,000.

Individual award-winners and representatives from selected productions from each of the eight regional festivals will be invited to the national festival, which takes place April 14-19 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. There, several national awards will be handed out, including ones for outstanding production of a play and outstanding performances by an actress and actor.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.

IF YOU GO
What: "Fences"
Where: California Theatre, 351 Railroad Ave., Pittsburg
When: 7 p.m. Feb .12; Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Admission: Free
Info: 925-427-1047 or http://www.pittsburgcaliforniatheatre.com/event/august-wilsons-fences/