The Renegade Theatre Festival is retiring after almost 20 years of providing a Lansing area festival full of theatrical variety for everyone to enjoy each summer. The Renegade Theatre Festival board voted to retire the festival, making way for new endeavors and opportunities.
Since its founding by Chad Swan-Badgero and Louis DiNolfi in 2005 in East Lansing, Renegade has been an inclusive and free festival open to independent theatre artists and to existing theatres seeking a space to experiment. With the promise of a place to perform, 50 chairs and publicity, the Festival put few limits on what an artist could bring, and theatre-goers only knew to expect the unexpected.
The Renegade Theatre Festival moved to Old Town in 2008, and Melissa Kaplan joined Swan-Badgero as co-artistic director. Here, plays inhabited vacant storefronts, street corners and shops with three nights of performances and Saturday daytime children’s programming every August. Katie Doyle joined the coordinating team, and all types of performances hit the Music Stage alternating with plays.
In 2010, the Festival committed to presenting New Original Works (N.O.W.). Led by Paige Tufford, Renegade N.O.W. became a proving ground for playwrights from around the world. Over the years, approximately 3,000 scripts were submitted and close to 200 received staged readings.
As theatre artists experimented, so, too, did the organizers, adding such elements as Spoken Word and Experimental stages, hosting the City Pulse’s Pulsar Awards in 2013, and taking Renegade around town in 2017 with festival sites in REO Town, downtown Lansing, the Eastside and East Lansing as well as in Old Town. In 2018, Renegade Ruckus was born when jeff croff joined the team and led a 24-hour play challenge bringing mad creation to life on the final night of the festival.
In 2015, the Renegade Theatre Festival was recognized with the Robert Busby Award from the Lansing State Journal “For extraordinary overall contribution to theatre in the Greater Lansing Area.”
The history of the all-volunteer Renegade Theatre Festival is rich with participants, supporters, sponsors, volunteers and donors, and it reflects a community deeply committed to the theatre arts.
Presenting companies over the years included All-of-us-Express Children’s Theatre, Audio Airforce, Blue Light Players, Capital Theatreworks, Generations, LCC Theatre, MSU Theatre, Mid-Michigan Family Theatre, Peppermint Creek Theatre Co., Riverwalk Theatre, Ruhala Performing Arts Center, Shakespeare on the Grand, Skildtrade Cabaret, Stormfield Theatre, Super Christy Players, The American Shakespeare Collective, The Puppet Theatre, Williamston Theatre, Young Artisans Workshop, and numerous independent theatre artists and collectives.
The many Old Town locations that served as Festival locations included Absolute Gallery, Old Town General Store, MICA Gallery, Urban Beat, The Red Cedar Friends Meeting House, Mother and Earth Baby Boutique, and Zoobie’s, as well as other spaces such as Creole Gallery, Perspective2/The Marquee and the former Chrome Cat now occupied by different thriving businesses. The Robin Theatre and Blue Owl Coffee (REO Town), Lansing Art Gallery and Impression 5 Science Museum (downtown), Allen Neighborhood Center and Happendance Exchange (Eastside), and (SCENE) Metrospace and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (East Lansing) hosted performances during the 2017 Festival.
Renegade Theatre Festival was supported by sponsors Ciesa Design, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing City Pulse, Lansing Community College, the Old Town Commercial Association, Message Makers, Jackson National Life, Piper and Gold Public Relations, reZüberant Incorporated and Bibbee Creative, and by the many individuals who dropped coins, bills or checks into the ever-present donation baskets.
The organizers are grateful to be retiring the Festival on such a high note and with a plethora of theatrical memories. They hope everyone will celebrate the Renegade Theatre Festival by sharing their own memories on the Festival’s Facebook page. The organizers will be doing the same and recognizing the many contributors who made Renegade Theatre Festival possible.
Jane note: In the pre COVID days I have traditionally devised a photocopied full-season GLUT calendar of live theatre to be distributed during Renegade, as it celebrated all theatres… and I’m planning to re-do such a calendar for 22-23 season as theatre re-emerges — and hope to have it available in the Riverwalk Theatre lobby rack for RWT’s August show. Renegade may be gone but theatre is ba-a-a-ck!