by Lorie Lewis Ham
This year the Rogue Performance Festival in Fresno is celebrating its tenth year. Rogue Festivals feature all types of performers from magicians, to theatre, to dancers, singers and more, from the Valley and beyond. If you love the arts, it’s an incredible event not to be missed.
Fresno-based playwright, theater and film producer Marcel Nunis was part of the core group that first put the Festival together. He began attending the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 1995 and over time an idea began to form. “In early 2000 the insane idea was first floated to start some sort of theatre festival.”
Members of his theatre group, Theatre J’Nerique, thought it might be a good model to follow, so in September of 2000 Marcel took a small group up to the Bay Area so they could see for themselves how it worked. Impressed, inspired and energized by that experience, the Rogue Festival was born.
“For me it was an opportunity to be able to create and produce new works and bounce it off a wider audience,” said Marcel. “The irony was that while running the Rogue for the first five years, I had little time or energy to create anything new myself.
“We all also recognized that there were oodles of talent in this area that did not have a safe and affordable environment to showcase their work. If it worked, the Rogue could provide that. All of us wanted to live in a vibrant creative community and perhaps this would plant the seeds towards that.”
The first Festival was in 2002. Original “core” group members were Joel Dyer, Terri Monson, Cindy Schoonmaker, Blake Jones, Jennifer Lathrop, Jodi Ballard, Latitia Hamburger, Paul McCauley, Jaguar Bennett and Marcel. Blake is the only one who is still actively involved.
Put simply Rogue is a fringe festival stated Marcel. (Look for a more in depth description of what Fringe means in next week’s Rogue article) Performers apply, pay a fee, the producers of the festival find venues, schedule, slot the shows and the audience turns up and picks the shows they want to see. Of course there is a lot more that goes into it, but that is the basic form.
The Festival is run entirely by volunteers who do everything from helping put the Festival together to selling tickets. “Most volunteers stay with the festival for two or more years, and some have been involved since the beginning,” stated John Jordan who became involved with the Festival in 2004 and worked as the producer of Rogue from 2006 until 2009.
So far the festival has had four producers, who are the ones ultimately in charge of everything about the festival. “From the beginning, we wanted the leadership to change periodically, continued John. “So the festival was not dependent on any one person, and so that new people could contribute their ideas and energy, keeping the festival fresh and innovative. Volunteers often stick with a particular duty they like and feel comfortable year after year. However some try new jobs.”
“The first two years we worked against incredible skepticism on the part of Fresno’s theatre community and a great deal of media indifference,” said Jaguar Bennett, another of the Festival’s founders and a part of the Fresno theatre community. “But from the third year onwards, the Rogue Festival started to really take off and hasn’t stopped growing since then.”
“I am very pleased with how the Rogue has grown over the years and how it has attracted more and more artists from outside of Fresno,” said John. “Having local artists participate is an important part of the Rogue’s mission. However, there is a thrill in seeing shows by people who aren’t local, who bring their own unique performances to Fresno, which we would otherwise never be able to see here.”
Many local artists have gotten their start with the help of Rogue, according to John, which he feels helps to improve Fresno’s artistic life beyond the Festival. “That is something we are all happy to contribute to.”
The Rogue operates on a shoestring budget, but still relies on advertisers and donors to make the festival possible. Although John is no longer in charge, one thing he hopes will continue to improve is the financial stability of the organization. “I hope that as the festival continues to gain visibility in the community, more donors will step forward to contribute to making the festival economically stable and secure.”
Jaguar took a moment to share some more details about the beginnings of Rogue, and how the Festival works:
KRL: Could you tell us a little more about the purpose and goal of its founders?
Jaguar: There were several:
1. We were all artists ourselves, and we wanted a venue to perform.
2. We wanted to do something that would encourage other artists to be more active in their art, to produce more and perform more.
3. We wanted to set a new set of norms for theatre in Fresno that we hoped other theater venues would follow: latecomers will not be admitted; artists will be paid for their work; and there will be no censorship of any kind.
4. We wanted to encourage Fresno theatre companies to do more ambitious and daring work.
5. We wanted to create a venue where artists could be entrepreneurs.
That last point needs some explaining. At the Rogue Festival, every performing company is its own producer. The Festival provides a venue and markets the Festival as a whole. It’s up to the individual performing companies to market their own shows, in competition with the other companies in the Festival. In turn, the performance companies receive 100% of their own ticket sales.
This is one of the most important components of the Rogue. Many people and organizations working in the fine arts are essentially recipients of charity — they’re dependent on support from donors, patrons, nonprofit organizations and universities. This is terrible for art and artists. First of all, artists are rarely well-paid, largely because they seldom have total control over how their work is marketed.
Second, if you’re dependent on funds outside of your control, you have surrendered creative control to the person who is funding you. I’ve seen good directors pull back from their artistic visions because they’re worried about losing their sponsors. I’ve seen directors of nonprofit arts organizations meddle with artistic decisions simply because they have the power to do so.
Outside money is a corrupting influence, and ultimately it limits what audiences get to see. The Rogue Festival was conceived in a punk rock, do-it-yourself spirit, in order to educate artists that they can be independent and produce exciting quality work by themselves, all year round.
KRL: For Rogue first timers such as myself, can you explain a little more what Rogue is?
Jaguar: The Rogue Performance Festival is an annual two-week-long non-curated, non-juried festival of independently produced theatre, music, dance, performance art, spoken word performances and visual art.
“Non-curated” means that no one selects what shows go into the Rogue Festival; companies that apply to the Rogue are accepted without question on a first-come, first-served basis. “Non-juried” means that no one determines which shows were better or hands out prizes. The goal of the Rogue is to create a direct connection between the performers and the audience. The only people who decide whether a Rogue show is good or bad are the audience.
The Rogue takes place in multiple venues, with every venue presenting shows simultaneously. Depending on the venue, there’s a new show starting every hour or hour-and-a-half. There’s a ceiling on the maximum ticket price a performing company can charge, to encourage audiences to see as many shows as possible.
There’s no way you can see everything at the Rogue — there are too many different shows and too much variety.
KRL: How do performers get involved?
Jaguar: The Rogue accepts online applications during October. To get involved, all you need to do is fill out an application and pay a registration fee. There are no other qualifications. All applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
KRL: Are there any restrictions as to what performers can do?
Jaguar: Absolutely not! The only restrictions are time and the technical limitations of the venues. Other than that, you can do what you like. This is one of the freest venues for theater and performance in the San Joaquin Valley. In most Fresno theatre, there is a lot of formal and informal censorship. At the Rogue, you can do anything.
THIS YEAR’S EVENT:
Renee “Solitaire” Newlove is one of the producers of this year’s Festival and she is excited to see what it will bring. Because they are a non-juried festival Renee stated that they really don’t know who is coming in with a show before applications come in. “We are really blessed to have made a good impression on those performers who travel around to other fringe festivals and they spread the news that we are a great festival to be apart of. The Rogue Festival participants become family to us, we really like to see the same performers bring new show year after year. The local and out of town participants are truly what make our festival one of a kind!”
As to time limit guidelines, Cafe performances are no longer than 45 minutes and Mainstage performances are no longer than 60 minutes. If a show is longer than 60 minutes they offer the BYOV portion of the Festival. This is a “Bring Your Own Venue” aspect where a performer finds a local stage that is not already a Mainstage or Cafe and will produce a show there. “We have a total of 8 BYOV’s in the 2011 Rogue,” continued Renee.
As they turn 10 years old this year, Renee stated that they are trying to bump up their exposure by integrating events in the Downtown area and putting on an independent event on Mardi Gras, which is Tuesday March 8. They are also joining the Inner Ear Poetry Group (the longest running poetry slam in Fresno) to put on a Fresno versus the Rogue beat down slam. “We are really excited to have this collaboration going!”
Last year they had over 9,000 people in the Tower District during the Rogue Festival, something that Renee feels also helps the businesses in the Tower as people come for the Festival who may never have visited the Tower District before. The hope for all those involved in the Festival is continued growth and that more people will learn about it. Renee is still surprised when she meets people in Fresno who have never heard of Rogue. “We are one of the largest independent performance and arts festivals in the United States and people in our own community still are unaware that it even happens.”
This year’s Festival runs from March 3 through 12. To learn more about the performers, tickets, etc. you can visit the Festival website. You can also find even more detailed information about some of the performances/performers on the KRL Rogue Performances Event Page.
More upcoming Rogue related articles: How to Do Rogue-February 26, The Road to Rogue-March 5, and reviews of various Rogue shows throughout the Festival.