She’s old on the inside.

Summer, the slow season for Seattle theater, is drawing to a close—sorry, everybody—and shows will begin opening frantically in the next few weeks. Among the promising ships on the horizon: new absurdist-comedy group Le Frenchword at Annex Theatre, Inherit the Wind by Strawberry Theatre Workshop starring Todd Jefferson Moore, MilkMilk Lemonade at Washington Ensemble Theatre, and SuttonBeresCuller at On the Boards.

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But the main event last week was the annual Western Arts Alliance Conference, where theaters across the continent send representatives to gossip, talk shop, and attend artist showcases. "The whole thing is basically a trade show," said one theater representative while he waited for a showcase at ACT Theatre to begin. "The artists are the contractors, and we're the clients."

In ACT's main lobby, a hopeful-looking producer asked passersby, "Are you a presenter?" while proffering colored folders with his acts' technical information and riders. (One of the riders, for UMO Ensemble's Red Tiger Tales, asks for one loaf of gluten-free bread for each rehearsal and performance, access to ice "in case of emergency," and a stage that is "clear of all debris, splinters, nails, and screws"—which makes one wonder what, exactly, led to such stipulations.)

Down below, in ACT's cabaret theater, conference attendees leaned into each other, talking in low voices, holding bottles of beer and plastic cups of wine. They were there to see seven excerpts from local artists. Most were low-tech pieces for one or two people—theater these days seems broke at best. (The exception was UMO, whose collection of Zen- and Sufi-influenced fairy tales requires four actors and acrobats and one musician.)

K. Brian Neel emceed the event as his bow-tie-and-ukulele vaudeville character from Vaud Rats, playing up his showbiz jokes: "There's no rehearsal in love—just opening night and then the really long run!" (Wocka wocka!) Llysa Holland and Andrew Litzky of theater simple did some bits from their 52 Card Pick Up, in which they jump-cut through scenes from a relationship using a deck of cards they toss in the air. Whichever card the other picks up determines the next scene. Their romance follows all the clichés of a love story—from the awkward first encounter to the I-don't-know-how-it-all-went-wrong monologues—but the way the play chops and shuffles the arc of time gives each moment a fresh urgency. At one point, Holland picked up a card and said, "Queen of Spades: the 12-step program." When she launched into a litany of dos and don'ts for a woman fresh out of a breakup—"get a new haircut, rearrange the furniture, smoke"—a woman in the audience shouted: "That's right! Yes!"

Erin Leddy of Portland's Hand2Mouth Theatre flipped time in a more elegant and troubling way with My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow, a poetic, abstract homage to her grandmother. Leddy wore a blue nightgown, drew spider veins on her legs, played a song on a synthesizer, and recited excerpts from interviews she had conducted: "That's the way you should age, like a tree ages... Why do we say the tree is so old and beautiful? Why, if we see an old person's arms, do we say ugh?" And: "By the time you reach the weight of old flesh, you've had so many good ideas—and they just keep on coming." Watching Leddy's young, fresh face reciting the wisdom of age was simultaneously an affirmation of life and a memento mori. I can't wait to see the whole thing.

That night, presenters also saw an a capella duo called He Said, She Said; an excerpt from Maria Glanz's solo mediation on nudity, See Me Naked; and the ballet-modern fusion of dance company Whim W'him. Llysa Holland, who helped organize the showcase, says she was buttonholed by presenters who wanted more information and that within 25 minutes of stepping behind her convention booth the next morning, she talked to three presenters about 52 Pick Up and handed out information for UMO, Glanz, and Neel. "And," she added, "I got hugs from locals who were happy to see a night of greatest hits from several groups."

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Perhaps Seattle theater-makers should stage these showcases more often—and not just when the clients come to town. recommended

The Live! Arts! Mash! Up! was on Wed Aug 31.