The 10-day Fertile Ground Festival of New Works may look like a formidable heap of 37 Portland-based creative acts of theater, dance, puppetry, circus, stop-motion animation, multidisciplinary arts, improv, spoken word, animation, musical and — last one!— devised theater, but when it comes to sifting through it all, do what festival organizer Nicole Lane does.
“If a person wants to really suspend disbelief and feel like they’re at a festival, it would be very conceivable to watch two or three every night at 7 o’clock,” she suggests. “It’s really an on-demand experience. If you can, set it up on your television or laptop and lay down on the couch, maybe with a blanket and your beverage of choice.” (Locally brewed or roasted, of course.)
A program of the Portland Area Theatre Alliance since 2009, this year’s fest is mainly virtual, with a few live events. So, while one day we’ll be together (yes, we will), below is the dirt on some of Fertile Grounds’ most-anticipated projects, the GROW Light selections, chosen for “content that express significant representation of underrepresented communities . . . in an artistically notable manner.”
But don’t overlook the rest of the schedule. “Some are dramas, some are funny, some are 15 minutes, some are an hour-and a half,” Lane adds. “When you look at the pieces that were not selected for the GROW Light, there is an extraordinary amount of fascinating work and a huge amount of diversity.” There’s also new work by acclaimed playwright E.M. Lewis; and PDX Playwrights’ “PDXP Short Plays: Love Over Everything” and the “PDXP ZOOM Instant 48-Hour Play Festival,” which are mini-festivals within the festival. “You’ll never get bored,” promises PDX Playwrights producer Karen Polinsky.
The following 10 performances are offered virtually at various times Jan. 27-Feb. 6. Many events are free or donation-based; live events are ticketed. Find details on these and all 37 festival events at fertilegroundpdx.org
Project C.O.C.O.A.: “The Knowledge of Good and Evil”
Valerie Yvette Peterson’s 30-minute film centers on the family drama between two brothers played by Royal Harris and Christopher Brackett. “As a playwright and poet, I seek to help the quiet voices of those that may have difficulties expressing themselves. As I think about the impact, I get excited about the content and how important and meaningful this subject is for all races and genders,” says Peterson. “My short film will definitely in some way, spark conversation.”
DM & Associates: “Pledge: The Musical”
Don Merrill’s musical, with music composed by Melody Beck, is based on his 2019 book “Pledge: The Public Radio Fund Drive.” As former journalist Merrill states on his website, “I have paid attention to where those hypocrisies are hidden and spotlighted as many of them as I can in a story that I hope weaves the dreams, wins and losses, truths and contradictions into something I think audiences (especially the public radio faithful) will recognize.”
Do It for Mead Production: “The Misadventures of Missy Black: A Pirate Play”
Maddie Nguyen directs Riley Anna’s filmed play about the rise of a “globally feared and renowned pirate queen gathering her own crew of misfits, sailing around the world making allies and enemies and seeking vengeance.” Filmed entirely at Cafe Delirium in Gresham, this production promises sea shanties.
Fools House Art Collective: “Heart of Stone”
Presented both virtually and live, Alisher Khasanov’s theatrical performance is a collaboration by artists from Moscow and Portland’s Russian and Russian American communities. The project has its roots in a Portland workshop that brought together a trans dancer/actor, а high school student fluent in Russian, an opera singer, two actors and a visual artist.
Leaven Dream Puppets: “Alma’s Wish”
Ancient folk tales meet our current world in this family-friendly (for ages 9 and up) premiere featuring Anca Hariton’s artful creations exploring the Czech tradition of socially engaged puppetry.
Polaris Dance Theatre: “Groovin’ Greenhouse”
You can experience Polaris Dance Theatre’s premier dance for film project either live or virtually, with additional live multi-discipline dance performance on specific dates by such performers as Sweta Ravisankar’s East Indian Dance, Uly Gonzalez, Jordan Kriston, No Nonsense Dance and Isaiah Tillman, among others. The centerpiece is “Grains,” a gluten-full film that “displays a world where everyone can be themselves and speak the languages that are theirs, where no one demands that they all speak English or return to the countries they came from,” says producer Robert Guitron. The dance styles are so wildly diverse that he hopes to expand “everyone’s knowledge, appreciation and love for this incredibly diverse community of dance.”
+Street Scenes: “The Enemy of the People”
Michael Streeter directs this reading of RaChelle Schmidt’s play — a re-imaging of the Ibsen original — about the people of a struggling town awaiting the opening of a hot springs resort. “What excites me about the project is giving the audience a play that speaks to what’s happening in the world right now,” says Streeter. “I think everyone will see a little of themselves in at least one of the characters. For those critical of ‘Don’t Look Up’ because it’s too on-the-nose, this might be the subtle satire they’re looking for.” A full production is due this summer.
The Vanport Mosaic with the Project: “SOUL’D: the economics of our Black body (the joy edition)”
A collective of Portland Black performers, designers and filmmakers contributed to this new performance piece conceived by Damaris Webb and adapted for film exploring a wide range of personal stories about race, from slavery to the world we live in.
Yantra Productions: “Cosmogonos”
Director Ajai Tripathi’s “Cosmogonos” portrays the origins of the universe in two parts told through puppetry and animation. “Part I: Amoxtli” uses Mesoamerican folklore as inspiration, specifically the Nahua tales of Mexico. “Part II: Ananta” draws influences from Indian Sanskrit literature and imagines a dream of supreme being Vishnu.
Echo Theater Company: “Touch and Go”
This lively collection of digital short films is something we could all use: a “care package” full of surprises to inspire human connection. Echo Theater staff, students and alumni, including queer, trans and elder artists, perform dance, aerial arts, physical theater, acrobatics and cameos by locals, some performed in Portland crosswalks.
—Libby Molyneaux, for The Oregonian/OregonLive