This weekend, occupiers will fill the streets, overrun local businesses and infiltrate the vacant spaces of Old Town. This isn’t a hostile takeover, however — it’s just the seventh annual Renegade Theatre Festival. The free three-day event this year features over 25 performances scattered throughout Old Town, presenting a diverse variety of theater styles.
“What’s so exciting about Renegade is that it’s so varied,” said co-founder and event manager Chad Badgero. “We have everything from a puppet theater all the way to musicals, cabaret-style performances, dramas with really serious content and even improv.”
Badgero said that the ongoing motif of “anything goes” has kept audiences transfixed over the years, under the banner of “no boundaries, no expectations.”
“Some of it is classic stuff, and some is new original works that have never been presented anywhere else,” Badgero said. “One show even involves actual cooking, and at the end of the performance, they’ll share the food with the audience. That’s bound to be one of the most popular shows.”
Each performance will vary in length from 15 minutes to two-and-a-half hours. The venue for each show will contain 50 seats, with locations including outdoor areas, vacant buildings and local businesses that have been transformed into theater spaces. Badgero says that, as in years past, the event hinges upon the cooperation of the Old Town community and businesses.
“One of the reasons we have really succeeded in Old Town is because Old Town is so supportive of artists and creativity,” he said. “If it weren’t for the attitude of enthusiasm for creativity and arts in Old Town, the festival wouldn’t exist.”
Louise Gradwohl, executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association, also sees value in the unique opportunities that Renegade brings to town.
“I think it’s a great event for our arts district,” she said. “It allows for a lot of innovation and brings different minds together. Theater really opens your mind in a different way, just like different types of art, and I also think it highlights Old Town’s cool assets.”
The majority of the shows are intended for audience members 14 and older, and Badgero encourages parents to use good judgment when deciding which performances are appropriate for their children. He also said that if the shows contain adult subject material, there will be a warning before it begins. However, there will be special kids’ shows on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., taking a little guesswork out of the decisions for wary parents.
“We also encourage people to download the program beforehand and plan out their evening so they can get the most out of each night and plan what you want to see, whether it just be one night or all three,” Badgero said. He said that first-timers may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of performances, and that planning ahead can alleviate the pressure. Playwright/performer Fred Engelgau hopes that audiences will be scheduling in his original piece, “The Big Bump,” which stands apart from all the other shows at this year’s festival. Heck, it stands out from most performances in general: It’s a puppet show.
“It’s a takeoff on the ‘70s Blaxploitation movement,” says Engelgau, who has performed at all seven Renegades with his group, The Puppet Theatre. “I worked on it on and off for about seven months and then it finally coalesced. It’s all about that whole stab-you-in-the-back mentality of the streets, and it’s got everything. Drugs, lost love, the mob. It’s a real step out for me.”
The plot revolves around that old movie trope about two friends who split up as kids, and one comes back to clean up the town, facing off with his former ally. He says it has a “bittersweet ending,” and features adult language and themes (sorry kids). Engelgau works for the LCC Theater Department as a stage designer and carpenter. He said he was interested in puppets for years, but Renegade finally gave him his outlet seven years ago. He writes the dialogue, the songs (including melancholy love ballad “I Got A Man,” the showstopper “Double Stacked,” and the title song) and, of course, makes all the puppets and sets.
“I’m really quite pleased with the response I’ve gotten at past Renegade festivals,” he says. “It’s really allowed me to do some things I never would have been able to try otherwise.” That experience could pave the way for a future in puppetry — Engelgau says that he recently secured a sponsor, which allows him to apply for a grant from the Jim Henson Co. next year.
“That could open a lot of doors,” he says.
At last year’s festival, actor/playwright Brad Rutledge directed his original work “Loving Alanis,” and is back this year with another new play — “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.” It will be performed as a concert reading, with actors performing the script from chairs (as opposed to a staged reading, where actors move about on stage with scripts in hand) and afterwards having a talkback session with the audience.
“I look at this as part of the writing process,” Rutledge says. “This is a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from the audience and Renegade draws lots of knowledgeable people from theater community with great ideas.”
“Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” is a one-act play told in three scenes, revolving around three uniquely adult relationships taking place during the titular meals. Breakfast is a monologue from an elderly man feeding his wife who is suffering from dementia; lunch is a middle-aged couple looking to revive their spark; and dinner is a second date for two 20-somethings.
“Two actors (Heather Kluge and Blake Bowen) play all six roles, and they’ve put all their hearts and souls into this,” Rutledge says. “I’ve had interesting conversations with both of them and actually rewritten some of the show based on their input. This has been a process of discovery.”
Rutledge says Renegade is one of the premiere festivals for upcoming local artists, and calls it “ a great shot in the arm for the theater scene.” And he thinks his show fits in perfectly with the no-frills nature of the Renegade Theater Festival.
“This show is theater stripped down to its essence,” he says. “It requires good acting and people to use their imagination. It’s heavy on guts, not so much on glitz.”
Renegade Theatre Festival
August 16, 17 and 18
6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Various locations throughout Old Town