Everybody has limits, even Renegade Theatre Festival founder Chad Badgero. Since 2005, Badgero has been organizing the three-day, one-weekend festival, seeking out nontraditional spaces from alleys to abandoned buildings in East Lansing and Old Town for local theater companies and artists to perform works that would not fit in a regular setting or season.
Renegade is back in Old Town for its 13th non-consecutive season this weekend, but Badgero says change was inevitable. “We just very naturally grew out of Old Town because we were having so much participation, which is awesome. But the way that Old Town has grown over the last 10 years since we’ve been there, there just weren’t the available spaces that we once had at the beginning,” says Badgero. “As the festival has grown and spaces have shrunk, our biggest task has always been finding suitable venues for shows.”
Over the years, the Renegade Theatre Festival grew from one weekend in a few venues to two weekends over multiple locations in the city, including storytelling and live music. But this year is back to one weekend, and exclusively focusing on new content. Badgero says one of the main reasons for the festival restructuring was learning about his own personal limitations.
“I think Renegade reached that danger point. We were either going to burn each other out or the festival was just going to completely stop. And none of us want that.”
And so Badgero and fellow festival organizers Melissa Kaplan, Katie Doyle and Paige Dunckel Tufford, along with input from a live community forum, made the conscious effort to scale back certain aspects of the festival this year. But they also expanded others, such as the Renegade N.O.W., or New Original Works. Festival co-producer Melissa Kaplan says the Renegade N.O.W. section is so popular they had to cap the number of script submissions.
“We had such an influx of new play submissions to Renegade N.O.W, well over 400 plays,” says Kaplan. “This year we limited the number of submissions to 250 for manageability. We received 250 submissions really fast. There’s a lot of new work out there.”
The Renegade committee ultimately selected 15 productions including eight 10-minute scripts, five one-acts, and two full-length scripts for performances. While the directors and actors are mostly local, the script submissions came from around the country and the world including the winner of the One-Acts William Whitehurst from Lamma Island in Hong Kong.
The festival added more performance times for the Renegade N.O.W. productions. “In the past we did shows at 7 and 9. This year we’re doing shows at 7, 8 and 9. More opportunities to see more theatre for people who want to go all night,” says Kaplan.
For purely local playwrights and performers, the organizers added a brand-new section called “Renegade Ruckus — a 24-hour free-for-all of play writing and performing madness.” Ruckus organizer Jeff Croff said he put out a call to six writers “who were willing to go without sleep for an evening.” The writers will write for 12 hours, hand off their scripts to six different teams who will have another 12 hours to rehearse before the eventual back-to-back performances Saturday evening starting at 10:30 p.m.
Croff says the Ruckus is meant to be a fun exercise for everyone. “Writers often get a little comfortable. They develop their routine and their ritual and they sit down and they turn on this music and they put on this cup of tea. And this is really one of those flash moments to get going and force themselves to write,” says Croff.
For Badgero, the Ruckus was a way to expand the festival in a more sustainable way. “We learned our lesson, ‘if we’re going to add new stuff, how do we add new people?’ So we really pitched it to Jeff. I don’t think we would have done it if he hadn’t said ‘yes’ because that’s very much in his wheelhouse,” said Badgero.
For future festivals, both Badgero and Kaplan agree that scaling back this year allows them more time to plan and think about the future of the festival and to recruit more staff. “After this year’s done, our first goal is to assemble a much larger board of people and supporters so that we can multiply our efforts. We have been a small but mighty group of four or five forever and that just doesn’t allow us to grow at all,” says Badgero.
It’s also a chance to assess the overall identity of the festival.
“Is the festival an opportunity to give all theater companies a showcase? Or is it a festival that is going to put Lansing on the map as the center of new play development?” Kaplan said. “Are they all compatible? That’s part of the things that we’re considering for the future.”