The One and Only Rogue

“Autumn” is the muse for the 2024 Rogue Festival. Artwork by Elizabeth Castro
“Autumn” is the muse for the 2024 Rogue Festival. Artwork by Elizabeth Castro

You might know a thing or two about typical fringe festivals, but do you know Rogue?

To those who don’t know, there are fringe festivals worldwide, but there is only one Rogue Festival—an iconoclastic fringe festival extraordinaire found only in the heart of the Central Valley in Fresno’s Tower District—an annual two-week live performance festival unique to the Valley for more than 20 years.

Founded in 2002 as a local grassroots event, it’s made a name for itself as one of the oldest and most respected fringe theater festivals in North America, having survived housing bubbles, recessions, pandemics and whatever else that has been thrown its way over the years—but is still going strong.

The Aleño Dance Project will perform “In the Haze of Broken Circles” on March 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 at LAByrinth Art Collective (1470 N. Van Ness Ave.) as part of the Rogue Festival. Photo courtesy of fresnoroguefestival.org
The Aleño Dance Project will perform “In the Haze of Broken Circles” on March 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 at LAByrinth Art Collective (1470 N. Van Ness Ave.) as part of the Rogue Festival. Photo courtesy of fresnoroguefestival.org

And it’s ready for you.

In fact, after Covid, the Rogue Festival is proud to announce that it is in “full recovery mode” with more than 190 scheduled performances and 40 performers at nine venues this year (from March 1 to March 9). You don’t want to miss out on the fun of this once-a-year live theater experience.

What makes the Rogue Festival unique is its absolute commitment to artistic freedom.

“At the Rogue Festival,” explained Jaguar Bennett, festival board president, “our core belief is that in a free society, arts administrators are not the proper judges of which artists should be allowed to perform or which messages audiences should be allowed to hear.

“It’s not our job to tell anyone what to say, who to listen to, what to hear, or what to think.”

“We want to empower artists and audiences and to facilitate a direct connection between the two,” said Bennett, summing up the Rogue’s mission. There is no “middleman” at the Rogue. In fact, all ticket proceeds for each show go directly to the performer(s).

“We don’t curate, we don’t vet, we don’t edit and we don’t censor,” notes Bennett. “We provide artists with a space to perform, and we let audiences decide what it all means—period.”

“We hope you are entertained at the Rogue,” he continued. “But we also want you to get a little upset.

“We want to shake your confidence, unsettle you, horrify you, irritate you, show you the world from a perspective you’ve never dreamed of, and split your mind wide open so you leave the theater wondering what the hell you’ve been doing with your life—because if art simply reminds you what you already think and feel, it’s wasting your time.”

The Rogue is known to challenge your spirit and spark your mind in new ways.

“Unmediated channel—a direct conduit—from the artist to the audience and vice versa,” Bennett emphasized. He explained how the Rogue Festival sees connecting artists and audiences as a last bastion of free speech, something crucial in a free society.

Even the way artists are chosen to perform in the festival is egalitarian. It’s decided by a simple and fair lottery system months before the start. No one has a guaranteed, institutionalized spot on any show.

This year, for example, more than 60 groups applied for the open lottery but only 30 were selected for the main Rogue-managed venues (five additional performing groups were added at affiliated Off-Rogue and Artists Underground venues).

According to a festival press release, the Rogue is an “uncurated, unjuried, uncensored festival—performers are selected through a random lottery and there are no restrictions on what performers can say or do.”

That fact is crucial in light of today’s political agenda against personal liberty. The Rogue recognizes this and is openly proud to represent free speech.

Comic Jaguar Bennet will present “How to Be Wicked” on March 2, 3, 8 and 9 at Dianna’s Studio of Dance (826 N. Fulton St.) as part of the Rogue Festival. Photo courtesy of fresnoroguefestival.org
Comic Jaguar Bennet will present “How to Be Wicked” on March 2, 3, 8 and 9 at Dianna’s Studio of Dance (826 N. Fulton St.) as part of the Rogue Festival. Photo courtesy of fresnoroguefestival.org

“In an age of book bannings and constant threats to free speech,” the press release punctuates, “the Rogue Festival stands firm for unrestricted artistic expression and celebrates the power of outsider art to challenge society.”

The Rogue is leading the way in its fight for freedom of expression in today’s political climate.

Moreover, the Rogue Festival brings quality live performing arts to the Central Valley with performers from all over the world who look forward to sharing their specialized craft with eager audiences.

The Rogue Festival is a real treat for Fresno. And it’s simple to get a seat. Visit the Rogue’s official website (fresnoroguefestival.org) and see “How to Rogue.” The first step is to buy a Rogue wristband (only $6), which gives you entry to any Rogue performance with a purchased ticket (remember: all ticket sales go directly to the performers). It’s a fun time especially when you bring a friend or two along.

Fresno has created something unique and special with its Rogue Festival. And there is something for everyone.

“Listen, the goal and purpose of the festival is to surprise you and help you find art that you may not have found on your own,” Bennett says, capturing the spirit of the Rogue.

Don’t be shy this season; take the time to Rogue out a little. It’s a fun and rewarding space for both you and the performers.

Author

  • I. smiley G. Calderon

    I. smiley G. Calderon is a Gen X Southern California Chicano now living in the Central Valley. A lifelong educator who spent a career in academia, he believes in building individual and collective human capital through the accessible application of education. Contact him at smileygcalderon@gmail.com.

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