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Wednesday, August 17,2011

What’s with all the drama?

Old Town turns into a miniature Broadway once more during the fourth annual Renegade Theatre Festival

by Paul Wozniak

According to founder and co-coordinator
Chad Badgero, the Renegade Theater Festival began as a “na´ve attempt to
try to create (more) theater” in Lansing.


“I was just like, ‘Well, there’s no theater festival in Lansing. So I guess I’ll just make one,’” Badgero says.


Working under the loosely encompassing
mission statement of providing “as much theater as possible in a short
amount of time” for free, Badgero says Renegade answered a persistent
question among theater people: Where can you perform pieces that don’t
fit anywhere else?


“People would come to me, ‘Oh my gosh, I
have this really great play. I don’t know where to do it. Maybe
Peppermint Creek wants to do it.’” Badgero says. “Before that, it was
either too short (or) needed work, or just couldn’t work in our season.
Renegade’s been so awesome because so much can happen and work in
Renegade.” 


The loaves and fishes miracle of it is that everything does
happen at Renegade. All seven venues in Old Town donate their space. As
a result, patrons can sample anything from concert readings to almost
full-scale productions performed by community, collegiate and
professional theater companies.


As expected, “original” in the context of
Renegade often implies dark and edgy content that provokes audiences to
ask questions. For theater on the fringe, look no further than the
offerings by Lansing Community College and Michigan State University.


Deborah Keller, LCC adjunct professor of
theater, directs “Sarah Kane: An Experiment in Life,” in which,
according to the show description, the characters “fight for the truth
behind the fog (and) explore the fears or traumas that may obscure our
desires.”


MSU theater Rob Roznowski directs “Good
Boys and True,” a drama about class and social identity set in an
all-boys private prep school. 


But co-coordinator Melissa Kaplan insists
much of the festival is family-friendly. “There’s a lot of color and
activity kids will enjoy,” Kaplan says, pointing out Renegade Kids,
featuring pieces from companies like All-of-us Express, Mid-Michigan
Family Theatre and Kellie Stonebrook, who will perform a puppet play
created by Bruce Bennett called “The Adventures of Wanda and Wendel.” 


Puppets are not just for kids, as
Renegade Theater regular Fred Engelgau continually proves. He’s
presenting his fourth incarnation of Puppet Theater, which Kaplan
describes: “There’s a live host that runs the Puppet Theater, played by
Brian de Vries, who walks a fine line between what is human and what is
the puppet world.” 


Badgero says Puppet Theater embodies the spirit of Renegade.


“Renegade really kind of gave (producers
like Engelgau) the opportunity to try whatever, because the stakes,
specifically monetarily, are so low. If it bombs and no one likes it,
that doesn’t matter. You’re not out anything.” 


The Renegade spirit expanded last year
with the addition of Renegade Now, an entity organized by co-coordinator
Paige Dunckel that is devoted to fostering new playwrights.


“Originally, I had come up with this idea of starting a Great Lakes playwright festival,” Dunckel says.


“I had gotten ahold of all of these area
theaters to see if they would be interested. Then Chad said, ’This would
really be a great fit for Renegade and it would also give Renegade an
opportunity to expand outside the local community.’ I couldn’t have
asked for anything better.”


Performing in the Red Cedar Friends
Meeting House, Renegade Now scripts are selected by Dunckel, who then
“funnels” them to directors to interpret. The goal is to nurture all of
the talent involved: New playwrights receive audience feedback and
audiences witness budding talent.


Dunckel says that all six of the scripts in this year’s series are very good, but one that stood out was “Fugue” by Audra Lord.


“What she’s done is used music notes
within the script to get a rhythm of the silences, and also the rhythm
of actors’ voices. She’s just done a very interesting approach to this,
and the story itself is intriguing.”


With Dunckel running Renegade Now, that
leaves Badgero, Kaplan and Katie Doyle in charge of coordinating
everything else. Musical acts such as Cathy McElroy, Cuatro Sur and
Wisaal serenade patrons in the Turner Mini Park.


The plays are organized according to
performer needs, tone and content and running times, with shorter pieces
(less than 90 minutes) starting at 7 p.m. and longer pieces starting at
9 p.m. The deliberate scheduling allows for audience feedback and
travel time to other locations. It also allows actors to “turn their
sets,” or in one instance, clean up the paint. 


Badgero says that although there are no
content boundaries for Renegade pieces, Paul Bourne’s original piece
“Finger Paint” presented a unique situation this year. In the play, one
of the actors is literally painted by another actor on a stage that
includes a “splatter zone.”


“I was like, ‘you can do whatever you
want as long as there is no paint on anything when it’s done,’ because
naturally the extent is that the venue stays safe and that no one is
getting hurt.” 


Beyond that, Badgero encourages all participants to “try whatever (and) go big.”


Both Badgero and Kaplan sound pleased with the results
from prior years and look forward to further growth. “If we got 50
(plays) submitted or 50 groups, we’ll just find 50 places to put them,”
Badgero says.


“In that regard, Renegade is completely what I want it to
be. It’s just a festival that brings us all together in one location and
celebrates theater.”


For updates and more information, visit www.renegadetheatrefestival.org

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