Seattle’s Radial Theater Project launched new festival of Northwest talent last night. Artistic director David Gassner helped to establish Radial Theater Project in 2011 and he calls “Locally Grown” a way to encourage Seattle artists to perform for their hometown fans. There’s five world premieres, repeats of some local favorites like “El Hijo Prodigo” by José Amador, and a new episode in “A Zombie Odyssey” as well as a repeat of part one. Over five weekends, the festival will present nine productions and 32 performances.
In a city where a shrinking number of venues are available for limited runs and where affordability is always an issue, Gassner sees “Locally Grown” as a way for audiences to see old favorites and discover new artists. Recently, he talked about how Radial Theater Project set out to create a locavore version of theater consumption.
What inspired Radial Theater Project to start its own theater festival?
Radial Theater Project’s mission from the start has been to support creation of original theatrical works by Seattle theater artists. Each of our projects has been launched in Seattle, and has had the opportunity to tour (regionally, nationally or internationally). Our goal is to “radiate” art, from Puget Sound to the world.
Where does Locally Grown fit into your regular work?
Locally Grown is the next step in our evolution. Our mission is to support the creation of exciting new theater created by local artists. Our first five projects, starting with “Karaoke Suicide is Painless” at the Seattle Solo Performance Festival (SPF) and most recently with “PROFILE” at the Seattle Fringe Festival, have all been built around collaborations between local playwrights, performers, directors and designers. We put together the partnerships, create the work from scratch, and mount full productions. The festival lets us do more, expanding the number of projects and artists we’re able to support. All of the shows in the “Locally Grown” festival are original work by local artists, and most of them are brand new pieces, never before seen.
Why does Seattle need another theater festival?
We’ve identified and invited theater artists with a proven track record, and we’ve said: “Create something.” We haven’t filtered or auditioned the specific projects. We’re trusting them to present something astonishing. All of these artists regularly create inspiring, entertaining shows, and they know how to produce and market the work with the support of a presenting organization (such as a fringe festival). But presenting the work on their own, in their own home town, is expensive and financially risky, and so they only do it infrequently. “Locally Grown” offers artists that essential support. Then Seattle audiences get to see the work first, before it starts to travel the world. We think it’s a great deal for everyone.
What’s the power behind solo performances and why go with this format for so many of the shows in “Locally Grown”?
We didn’t originally intend to focus this much on solo work. But we were looking for theater makers who had a track record in creating their own work and taking it on tour. In practice, most of the artists who matched that description were soloists. Also Solo shows are perfect for a festival of low-tech rotating repertory. They’re portable, since they’re built around a single charismatic performer and don’t need a lot of production support. They’re personal, whether they’re based on biographical material or are inspired by deeply held convictions or idiosyncratic observations. And they take us back to the roots of theater as a story telling medium. Great solo performers can make you feel like you’re all sitting around a campfire, hearing tales of past adventures. It’s just that one person and the community, coming together to share a story.
Who or what are you most excited about in this festival?
I’m excited about all of it! We have old hat touring artists: K. Brian Neel, Yana Kesala, Jennifer Jasper and Amontaine Aurore. We have Stranger Genius Mike Mathieu (“The Cody Rivers Show”) and his performing partner Ryan Sanders (“Ubiquitous They”). We have highly personal memoirs from Sara Porkalob (who I’ve worked with most recently on “Hair” at ArtsWest) and from José Amador (who I first worked with on “The American Pilot” at Theater Schmeater). There’s comedy, drama, science fiction, and diversity that reflects the makeup of the Seattle arts community. We have a bunch of world premieres.
We’re showing off some of Seattle’s best performers. Many of them work mostly out of town, on the fringe festival circuit or through presenters in other cities. At this festival, Seattle audiences have a chance to see the work here, before it hits the road. And all of the tickets are affordable.
Locally Grown opened last night (Jan. 30) and will run through Feb. 28. Performances are held Thursday through Saturday evenings at New City Theater, 1404 18th Street. Shows start at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, see Radial Theater Project’s website.