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Backyard Renaissance Closes Out Its Seventh Season With Its Next World Premiere

THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO opens in previews November 17th and runs through Saturday, December 10th.

Backyard Renaissance Closes Out Its Seventh Season With Its Next World Premiere

Over the last seven years, Backyard Renaissance (BYR) has proudly accepted the monikers "edgy," "scrappy," and "gutsy," all bequeathed by local media. Creative playing spaces, purposefully bad B-movie readings, a La Jolla Playhouse Residency, teeny-tiny musicals, a 5-camera filmed production and several world premieres have all been part of BYR's short but lively history.

Now, Backyard Renaissance returns to the stage with another gutsy offering, the World Premiere of THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO by its very own artistic director Francis Gercke. The suspenseful dramedy is part true crime, part paranormal adventure, and part family tragedy, and for its playwright more than partially true. The show is directed by Richard Baird (who directed BYR's An Experiment with an Air Pump and played Teach in BYR's American Buffalo) and features Marcel Ferrin (BYR's Witchland and American Buffalo), Geoffrey Ulysses Geissinger (BYR debut) and Jessica John (BYR's Abigail's Party, Dry Powder, The Dazzle, An Experiment with an Air Pump - Critic's Circle Award, Smokefall, Abundance, The Elephant Man and Parlour Song). THE OCTOBER NIGHT OF JOHNNY ZERO opens in previews November 17th and runs through Saturday, December 10th.

Backyard Renaissance's final show of 2022 is just the sort of Fall offering regular Backyardians have come to anticipate. The theatre company (headed by executive director Jessica John, artistic director Francis Gercke and producing director Anthony Methvin) has focused on developing unique seasons that provide its audiences with a bit of artistic whiplash including something edgy, something classical, and something magical. This year's offerings included the edgy cringe comedy Abigail's Party, followed by the beloved classic Steel Magnolias and this November, The October Night of Johnny Zero rounds out the company's season formula with an unlikely family dramedy that provides just a touch of dark magic.

Those who relished BYR's past world premieres (Tarrytown in 2017 and Witchland in 2021) may identify the company's appreciation for the mysterious and fantastical. The October Night of Johnny Zero, however, is neither a musical or an immersive haunt experience. Instead, the story introduces audiences to a world both outlandish and oddly familiar. On a late October afternoon in the early 1980s, local legend and high school superstar Johnny Grimes is on a mission - to get back to his house, finish his book report, and compete in the Conference Basketball Finals the following day. Schoolmate Franky Pinnolini has a similar ambition - to make it all happen. Armed with a relentless adoration for Johnny and a BMX bike with a basket, Franky takes Johnny on a journey through the strange and peculiar backdrop of a place called home. Set in the wilds of Delaware Valley in the mid-Atlantic region of the eastern seaboard, The October Night of Johnny Zero is a world premiere based on events - both real and imaginary. Part true crime, part science fiction, the play slips down the rabbit hole of small-town suburban life and comes face to face with the myths and monsters that might lurk just below the surface.

October Night playwright Francis Gercke has been an actor, director and producer in San Diego for the past 20 years. He is currently the artistic director of Backyard Renaissance which he co-founded with his wife Jessica John in 2015. He is a graduate of The Actors Studio Drama School. Recent roles include: Noises Off, Camping with Henry and Tom, The Explorers Club, Equivocation, Freud's Last Session (Lambs Players); Stupid F***ing Bird, True West, Fool for Love (Cygnet Theatre); Abigail's Party, The Dazzle, American Buffalo, An Experiment with an Air Pump, Smokefall, The Zoo Story, Abundance, The Elephant Man, Parlour Song (Backyard Renaissance); The Behavior of Broadus (Capital Stage Company); In the Next Room, Honky (San Diego Rep); Accomplice, Suzette Who Set to Sea (La Jolla Playhouse WOW and POP Tour); A Life in the Theatre, Time Stands Still (NCRT); The Pride (Diversionary Theatre). He is a resident artist with Cygnet Theatre and recipient of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award for acting and directing. He teaches at Palomar College and privately through ActorsApproach. He is a graduate of The Actors Studio Drama School. The October Night of Johnny Zero is his first produced play.

Asked about his inspiration behind The October Night of Johnny Zero, Gercke responded:

"When I was 10, I went through my first 'family tragedy.' Not the kind of thing you live through. The kind of thing you learn to live with. The aftermath of that moment was so freakishly normal and irretrievably screwed up. It was a sunny summer day. WFIL, an AM radio station out of Philadelphia, was getting piped in over the sound system of Erlton Swim Club where me and my family were spending the whole day. And then, all of a sudden and slowly at the same time, everything changed. Then, the very next moment, everybody started paying attention to me and treating me really nice. Which was creepy. Because it had NEVER happened before. People had always been nice. But not like that. And from that moment on, it was like my life got fractured. There was me 'before that moment,' and then there was me 'after that moment.' I felt it, but I wasn't really aware of it. Or maybe I was aware of it, but I couldn't really feel it. Flash forward about six months, I'm riding around on my brother's bike (it was so much cooler than mine), and I end up down the street from my house in the school parking lot. And there's this kid a grade ahead and a year older than me just standing outside the school gymnasium after basketball practice. He's waiting for his mom to pick him up after practice. She's really late. It's already dark. Weather's starting to turn. So, I practically beg him to come over to my house - it's just down the street - so he can call his mom. And I tell him he can have dinner with me and my family, I actually set a place of honor for him at the kitchen table - right next to my dad, I almost force him to let me help with his book report on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and I proceed to completely freak him out. I just wouldn't leave him alone. The entire ordeal, he was quiet, kind, without a doubt the coolest guy I'd ever met, and when his mom finally showed up at our house to pick him up, he wasted no time grabbing all this stuff and getting the hell out."

The October Night of Johnny Zero will be performed at Tenth Avenue Arts Center. The show runs November 17th through December 10th (Thursdays through Sundays) with previews offered Thursday, November 17th through Friday, November 25th, Press Opening Saturday, November 26th and a special Industry Night Performance on Monday, December 5th, 2022.

For more information regarding Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.backyardrenaissance.com.




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