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Renegade Theatre Festival preserves originality

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For a 14-year-old project that has bounced between multiple towns and venues over the years and was discontinued in 2007 only to later be revitalized, Renegade Theatre Festival is in pretty good shape. This year, founder Chad Swan-Badgero and his small, tenacious team will bring 14 freshly made scripts from around the country to Old Town.

Since its inception in 2005, the free theater festival brought classic and original plays outside of a traditional theater and into the daily social scene. Badgero said that in the past the festival “had two arms.” One portion was a showcase by local theater companies, the second highlighting original works. After collecting community feedback, coordinators decided to go all in this year with the Renegade NOW, or New Original Works, programming.

“In some ways, it’s almost like starting anew because we are putting an emphasis on new work,” said Badgero, who is also co-artistic director.

Renegade NOW started in 2010 as a call to writers for original scripts to be judged and staged in the festival. Badgero said that in past years, the winning plays got “lost in the mix.” As a solution, the schedule has been split in half. This week the 11 runners-up will be produced at Red Cedar Friends Meeting Hall in Old Town. Next week will feature the three winning plays each day.

Last year, the festival received over 400 plays, said co-artistic director Melissa Kaplan, who noted the “appetite for new material” seems to have grown in the past five to eight years in the local and national theater scene.

The woman behind NOW productions is Paige Tufford, who has overseen the submissions and selection process since she first pitched the idea to Renegade more than nine years ago. Especially with this year’s theme of “Breaking Barriers,” the plays will range in content from romantic, dark comedies to sociopolitical.

“We made the call at the beginning of January,” Tufford said. “We gave people a month to submit and hit the 250 limit in two weeks.”

Jenny Crakes, an MSU alum, is the only Michigan writer who made the final 14. The rest come from playwrights based in major cities, including Boston and Los Angeles.

Local writers will have a chance to show their prowess in the Renegade Ruckus contest on at 10:30 p.m. Aug. 17. Kaplan said last year’s launch of the Renegade Ruckus contest was a hit with the audience and participants. Spearheaded by Ixion Theatre’s Jeff Croff, the 24-hour original production contest puts six playwrights and actors to the test of conceiving a 10-minute play.

“It adds excitement,” Kaplan said. “The limitations can produce something extraordinary. I think that is the spirit of Renegade.”

After receiving community feedback on last year’s Renegade Ruckus, the performance will be housed in Old Town at Urban Beat. Badgero said that last year’s audience missed “that festival feel” of having many people in the same place as opposed to being scattered at different venues in town.

Over the years, Badgero and Kaplan have demonstrated their commitment to getting the festival formula down by hosting community forums and attending out-of-state theater festivals to generate inspiration. In the future, Kaplan hopes to involve more of the community to introduce more layers to the event such as writing workshops led by local playwrights.

“One of the things that I love about Renegade is that it’s a continual rebirth,” she said. “For us as organizers, it’s important for us to experiment and recognize what people like, but also what we have seen elsewhere.”

Renegade Theatre Festival 

Week one

Thursday, Aug. 8 - Saturday, Aug. 10

7-9 p.m., Free

Red Cedar Friends Meeting Hall

1400 Turner Road, Lansing

Week two

Thursday, Aug. 15 - Saturday, Aug. 17

7- 10:30 p.m., Free

UrbanBeat Events Center

1213 Turner Road, Lansing

renegadetheatrefestival.org

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