Planning a performing arts festival for a world we cannot predict.

rogue banner 2021

Returning from a long hiatus is your indifferent blogger. To those still curious enough to open this, I thank you for your time and attention. I don’t have any significant revelations for this post. No giant announcement that I’m shutting this down or anything like that. But I have felt the need to process some things by writing them lately, so here we are.

Yesterday, the latest iteration of the Rogue Festival executive team had its first meeting to discuss the many and complex issues that will go into our planning for the 2021 Festival. Our board of directors and board president Jaguar Bennett have given us the mandate to hold a festival with as much consideration of public health as possible. So the Festival will happen in some form, and it definitely won’t look like the last few Rogues, but we do hope to keep in our plans that off-the-beaten-path flavor and that sense of community Rogue is known for.

But the plans. . . .oh, the plans! But first, the questions! Oh, the questions!


What will our finances bear? What can we promise and what can’t we? In what ways are we in a good position and what ways aren’t we? How can we leverage the good stuff? What can we physically accommodate in our performance spaces? What can’t we? What venues can we likely count on given the current business climate? What size audiences are we allowed AND okay within these venues? What should our fees be? How can we utilize outdoor venues? How can we take precautions realistically? How can we prepare performers and audiences for the probability of a plan A (modified festival), plan B (severely modified festival), and plan C (all virtual Festival)?

And, of course, what will spring 2021 look like in terms of public health? (Something we absolutely cannot know.) What resources can we draw on to help us navigate this?

I’ve had the benefit of watching and following some other fringe festivals and arts organizations pivot, some embracing virtual programming immediately. Some are waiting to see what happens down the line. My employer (Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library) have been hammering out contingency planning issues for months and running up against the reality that there is no such thing as the perfect plan.

challenge-and-changeI’ve watched and been involved with some groups who have really evolved through virtual content and presentations. I’ve gotten a lot more experience with hosting and presenting via Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook in the last three months. I’ve seen the good and bad aspects of real-time Zoom performances and streaming live versus prerecording or filming content and rolling it out later. It’s all on the table at this point.

But it isn’t a replacement for live performance. These new online ways of experiencing performance are interesting and I’m fascinated by them in terms of communication, direction, and aesthetic effectiveness. However, while there may be a collective audience during the broadcast, and that audience can experience something wonderful, it will never share the breath of the live experience.

And that breath, literally, is what has to be mitigated in the age of a respiratory pandemic.

We’ve only taken our first steps in putting together the framework for our 2021 Rogue Festival. We must still get our proposed framework approved by the board of directors. But we expect to have it publicly available by September 1, so that those looking to apply can evaluate whether this Rogue Festival will be the right choice for them. It will also give our audiences the chance to see what they might expect in our 2021 festival, should they choose to join us for it.

It is our 20th Festival. It is a significant milestone for any fringe festival. We’re going to be there in March and, we intend, beyond. We were planning some changes for the 20th, but some things you just can’t see coming down the pike. I won’t speak for the full executive team, but I think we have the potential to re-establish the Rogue Festival as something creative, innovative, and culturally relevant in a new age.

Now we get the fun of figuring out what that is!

PS: The 2021 Rogue Executive Team is

Amber Strid, Co-Producer – Operations

Heather Parish, Co-Producer – Administration and Communication

Wendy Berry, Associate Producer

PPS: All opinions and thoughts here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Rogue Festival Board of Directors, my Executive Team colleagues, or my employers. 

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