Though Locally Grown looks an awful lot like a new fringe festival, producing director David Gassner doesn't want you to think of it that way. That territory, he says, has already been claimed—from Edinburgh to Saskatoon to Seattle—by a certain kind of event: lottery-based, open to everyone, and designed for adventurous audiences who are prepared for any given show to be a total disaster.
Not that he's opposed to fringe festivals—"they're absolutely critical," he says—but Gassner is after something else: low-tech and low-budget but locally oriented and carefully curated. They have fringe-style finances, however. Even after a crowd-sourced funding campaign, Locally Grown deducts some money from each show's box office receipts for rent. (That's still superior to our fringe festival of the '90s, which penalized talent and rewarded mediocrity by charging every company an up-front fee and paying them all the same stipend, no matter how successful the show.)
Gassner says he and cocurator Keira McDonald hope to cultivate an audience whose attitude is similar to the regulars at On the Boards: willing to take risks on newer and weirder work, but expecting a certain level of competence when they walk in the door.
The oddly affecting postapocalyptic comedy After All by Mike Mathieu (the taller half of Stranger Genius Award–winning comedy duo the Cody Rivers Show) and Ryan Sanders (of sketch-comedy group Ubiquitous They) is a good example. The two play a variety of soot-covered characters in a settlement called the Nook, where people spend their days looking for things to burn, gossiping about who's "sharing a blanket" with whom, and trying to create a new society based on what scraps of human history have been misremembered over the generations. In their universe, "Rio Speedwagon" is a guru from the "ancient age," people think "phoning" was a kind of telepathy, and even the hippie types have "a little cannibalism" in their past. It's a short, lo-fi, and charmingly loopy piece of work—like something K Records would've made if it made theater. Jennifer Jasper's solo show Bullygirl is a little shakier, a work in progress about the social (and physical) perils of roller-skating and middle school. (Other artists include K. Brian Neel, Sara Porkalob, and José Amador. See radialtheater.org for the full schedule.)
As Gassner points out, Locally Grown is on the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, going to see the recent LBJ plays at Seattle Rep. "You get a different experience being within spitting distance of an artist," he says. "This is like living-room theater or sitting around the fireplace, listening to stories."