The 10-day Fertile Ground Festival of New Works may seem like a formidable heap of 37 Portland-based creative acts from theater, dance, puppetry, circus, stop-motion animation, multidisciplinary art, improv, spoken word, animation, musical, and — last! — came up with theater, but when it comes to digging through it all, do what festival organizer Nicole Lane does.
“If someone really wants to suspend their disbelief and feel like they’re at a festival, it’s entirely conceivable to watch it every night at seven or three,” she suggests. “It really is an on-demand experience. If you can, put it on your television or laptop and lay down on the couch, perhaps with a blanket and your drink of choice. (Naturally locally brewed or roasted.)
A Portland Area Theater Alliance program since 2009. This year’s party is mostly virtual, with a few live events. So while we’ll be together one day (yes, we will), below is the grime on some of Fertile Grounds’ most anticipated projects, the GROW Light selections, chosen for “content that expresses significant representation of underrepresented communities . . . in an artistically remarkable way.”
But don’t forget the rest of the schedule. “Some are dramas, some are funny, some are 15 minutes, some are an hour and a half,” Lane adds. “If you look at the pieces that were not selected for GROW Light, there is an extraordinary amount of fascinating work and an enormous amount of diversity.” There is also new work from acclaimed playwright EM 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 be bored,” promises PDX Playwrights producer Karen Polinsky.
The next 10 performances will be offered virtually at different times Jan 27-Feb. 6. Many events are free or on a donation basis; live events are ticketed. Find details on this and all 37 festival events at fertilegroundpdx.org
Project COCOA: “The knowledge of good and evil”
Valerie Yvette Peterson’s 30-minute film revolves around the family drama between two brothers, played by Royal Harris and Christopher Brackett. “As a playwright and poet, I try to help the silent voices of people who struggle to express themselves. When I think about the impact, I get excited about the content and how important and meaningful this topic is for all races and genders,” said Peterson. “My short film is sure to spark a conversation in one way or another.”
DM & Associates: “Promise: 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 says on his website, “I’ve paid attention to where that hypocrisy is hidden and I’ve spotlighted as many as I can in a story that I hope weaves together the dreams, victories and losses, truths and contradictions into something that I think the public (especially public radio enthusiasts) 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 who assembles her own crew of misfits, sails the world making allies and enemies and seeks revenge.” Filmed entirely at Cafe Delirium in Gresham, this production promises sea shanties.
Fools House Art Collective: “Heart of Stone”
Alisher Khasanov’s theatrical performance, both virtual and live, is a collaboration of artists from Moscow and the Russian and Russian-American communities in Portland. The project originated in a workshop in Portland that brought together a trans dancer/actor, a high school student fluent in Russian, an opera singer, two actors and a visual artist.
Sourdough Dream Dolls: “Alma’s Wish”
Ancient folktales meet our present-day world in this family-friendly premiere (ages 9 and up) featuring Anca Hariton’s artful creations exploring the Czech tradition of socially engaged puppetry.
Polaris Dance Theatre: “Groovin’ Greenhouse”
You can experience Polaris Dance Theater’s premier dance-for-film project live or virtually, with additional live multi-discipline dance performance on specific dates by artists such 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-rich film that shows “a world where everyone can be themselves and speak the languages that belong to them, where no one demands that they all speak English or return to the countries they come from,” says producer Robert Guitron. The dance styles are so vastly diverse that he hopes to “expand everyone’s knowledge, appreciation and love for this incredibly diverse dance community”.
+Street Scenes: “The Enemy of the People”
Michael Streeter directs this reading of RaChelle Schmidt’s play – a re-image of the Ibsen original – about the people of a struggling city waiting for a hot spring resort to open. “What excites me about the project is that I’m showing the audience a play that speaks about what’s happening in the world right now,” Streeter says. “I think everyone will see a little bit of themselves in at least one of the characters. For those who are critical of ‘Don’t Look Up’ because it’s too on-the-nose, this could be the subtle satire they’re looking for.” Full production is expected this summer.
The Vanport mosaic depicting the project: “SOUL’D: The Economy of Our Black Body (The Joy Edition)”
A collective of Portland Black artists, designers and filmmakers contributed to this new performance piece, conceived by Damaris Webb and adapted for film, which explores a wide variety of personal stories of race, from slavery to the world we live in.
Yantra Productions: “Cosmogonos”
Director Ajai Tripathi’s “Cosmogonos” portrays the origin of the universe in two parts, told through puppetry and animation. “Part I: Amoxtli” uses Mesoamerican folklore as inspiration, especially the Nahua tales of Mexico. “Part II: Ananta” draws influences from Indian Sanskrit literature and depicts a dream of the supreme being Vishnu.
Echo Theater Company: “Touch and Go”
This vibrant 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 older performers, perform dance, aerial arts, physical theater, acrobatics, and cameos by locals, some of them on Portland crosswalks.
—Libby Molyneaux, for The Oregonian/OregonLive