10 Things To See at Fertile Ground 2020
Fertile Ground 2020 starts on Jan. 30
This is my favorite time of year in Portland -- no, not because I'm loving the rain, but because Fertile Ground brings together theatre producers from all over the area to showcase their new acts of creation. This year's festival has more than 75 shows, ranging from short workshops to readings to fully-staged productions.
There's a lot to see and no way to see it all, but here are 10 shows at the top of my list.
1. Blind (fully staged world premiere)
About the show: It's 1967: Harold Stein travels from his home on Long Island to his small shoe store in a predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhood. Fearful of being robbed, or worse, Stein operates his store behind a locked door while his wife, Sylvia, remains trapped at home by her own demons and a culture that denies her dreams. Millie True is a teacher and her son, Jimmy, is a Black nationalist like his father, Millie's ex. When Millie witnesses a young black man trying to get into Stein's store, the ensuing events challenge not only Stein and the community, but also those of us who bear witness to his journey.
Why I'm excited: This play has been workshopped a couple of times over the past few years (including at previous Fertile Ground Festivals). I've missed it every time, which has been my loss because word on the street is that it's very good. Now, it's getting its first fully staged production, and I'm sure as heck not going to miss it again!
Festival dates: Jan 30, 31, Feb 1, 6, 7, 8 @ 7:30pm; Feb 2 @ 2pm
Additional run dates: Jan 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 @ 7:30pm; Jan 19, 26 @ 2pm
2. Tear Down This Wall (fully staged world premiere)
About the show: The creators of Sirens of Coos Bay and Frankenstein: A Cabaret present a new musical set in Soviet era Berlin, retelling Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe, the original star crossed lovers, this time divided by the Berlin Wall. Reflecting on our own political moment of political division and militarized borders, the play documents Pyramus and Thisbe in love through a wall for 20 years before making a last desperate attempt to be together. With an all-female cast and production team, music by the women's choir Resonate Choral Arts (backed by a synthesizer), the lyrical choreography of Kelsey Mahoney Watson, playwright Laura Christina Dunn's whimsical humor, and a guest appearance by three jaded Fates and a very unlikely Zeus, this play examines what are the walls that divide us, and how can we tear them down?
Why I'm excited: I have no idea how she does it, but somehow Laura Christina Dunn manages to write a new original musical every year (while also working a full-time job and raising kids). I've enjoyed all of them thus far.
Festival dates: Jan 30, 31, Feb 8, 9 @ 8pm; Feb 8 @ 2pm
Additional run dates: Jan 29 @ 8pm
3. Vortex I (musical, workshop)
About the show: The Vortex 1 team returns for a workshop of the entire musical. Come gather with us to experience this home-grown Oregon story! In May of 1970, 31 activists were hospitalized after protests in the Park Blocks about the Vietnam War and the Kent State Massacre near Portland State University resulted in a bloody clash with law enforcement. In August of that same year, the American Legion planned to hold its conference in Portland and invite Richard Nixon to be its keynote speaker. The FBI warned then-governor Tom McCall that he should prepare for 25,000 Legionnaires and 50,000 protesters to take to the streets. The People's Army Jamboree led the student protests. A faction of this group called The Family approached McCall with the idea of sponsoring a rock festival to encourage protesters away from the convention, yet still give them a platform. McCall agreed to the plan, as he considered a festival to be the most viable option to prevent the very real threat of violence. This meant that law enforcement had to turn a blind eye to drugs and nudity and allow thousands of young people to camp out in a public park. Vortex 1: A Biodegradable Festival of Life took place in Estacada from August 28 through September 3, 1970. This musical is loosely based on the Vortex I story.
Why I'm excited: The first act of Vortex I was workshopped at last year's Fertile Ground and it rocked!
Festival dates: Feb 3 @ 7pm
4. Beethoven & Chopin Meet the Bride of Frankenstein (clown performance)
About the show: Step into the lab... What happens when you take Mary Shelley's classic horror novel Frankenstein-mix elements from James Whale's cinematic interpretation and Abbot & Costello shtick-then introduce classical music legends Beethoven and Chopin-add a healthy sprinkling of Romanticism-and distill it all with the pure physical comedy of clowning? Sounds like an experiment for the CoHo Clown CoHort! The ensemble that brought you Philip's Glass Menagerie and Witch Hunt returns for a third consecutive year of Fertile Ground mischief.
Why I'm excited: The title alone, right? But also, the CoHo Clown CoHort does awesome work, revisioning classics in new ways that never fail to reveal some sort of existential truth about humanity.
Festival dates: Jan 30, 31, Feb 1 @ 7:30pm; Feb 2 @ 2pm
Additional run dates: Jan 25 @ 7:30pm; Jan 26 @ 2pm
5. Recent Unsettling Events (reading)
About the show: Portland Civic Theatre Guild's 2020 New Play Winner, Recent Unsettling Events centers on a small liberal college that erupts in protests over its required Western Civilization class. As the fights intensify and the entire campus takes sides, the complexities of identity politics, the limits of free speech, and the consequences of preserving the status quo are examined. Andrea's plays have been developed and presented nationally at theatres such as The Long Wharf, The Cherry Lane, and New York Stage and Film. She has won the Angus Bowmer Oregon Book Award for drama three times for her plays Antarktikos, Ithaka, and Successful Strategies. Recent Unsettling Events is a Table| Room |Stage commission from Artists Repertory Theatre. In addition to its Portland reading as part of the 2020 Fertile Ground Festival, the play will have a weeklong public showing and workshop in New York City this spring. Andrea will be holding a writing workshop at Artists Rep with Recent Unsettling Events.
Director Bobby Bermea is a multi-talented actor, director and producer. He holds multiple Drammy Awards including Actor in a Leading Role (The Brother Sister Plays, Portland Playhouse), and Actor in a Supporting Role (Fences, Portland Playhouse and A Raisin in the Sun, Artists Rep). He is co-artistic director of The Beirut Wedding World Theatre Project, a proud member of Sojourn Theatre, and a founding member of Badass Theatre Company, and has worked in theatres from New York to Honolulu.
Why I'm excited: The topic certainly promises to be thought-provoking, but also if it ends up getting a New York premiere, we'll get a lot of street cred for having seen it first in Portland.
Festival dates: Feb 4 @10:30am; Feb 5 @ 7:30pm
6. Resiliency in Rhythm (storytelling, dance, art, and more)
About the show: This expressionistic collection of heARTivism storytelling reveals authentic journeys of young people in the Portland metro area. Their creative language, which includes music, video, dance, song, fashion, multimedia art and spoken word, is grounded in the real-life experiences of these racially diverse performers who have moved past the emotional grip of their suffering and shifted into the depth of their possibilities. They each have been empowered to look more critically at the experiences that have shaped them, so that they can begin to walk through the world, not as victims, but as heroes of their own re-imagined story.
Each performer possesses a unique sense of purpose that has been seasoned by trauma. Their empowering messages are a collective wake-up call for adults to look past challenging youth behaviors - and sometimes, racially based judgments of their potential - and recognize that we are ALL so much MORE than the worst thing that has ever happened to us. And with a little love, support and encouragement, young people have the potential to shift from rough to resilient ...and rise UP!
SPOILER ALERT: You will leave each I Am M.O.R.E. performance with a renewed sense of hope, gratitude and joy.
Why I'm excited: Everything about this show sounds amazing. I love the idea of using performance to build resiliency. Anyway, who doesn't want a renewed sense of hope, gratitude, and joy?
Festival dates: Jan 31, Feb 1 @ 7:30pm; Feb 2 @ 2pm (includes talk back with cast)
7. The Bride of Bellagart?'n (reading)
About the show: An isolated hunting lodge. An ancient gypsy's curse. And some very carnivorous eels. Who knows what other dire dreads await nervous newlywed, the fetching Fern Fairthistle, when she is introduced to her eccentric in-laws for a whirlwind weekend of sinister celebrations, perilous parlor games-and perhaps a ritual sacrifice if time allows. From the twisted imagination responsible for last summer's campy cult classic Bed, Bath and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, comes a ridiculous new comedy that promises to make you think twice before attending your next family reunion.
Why I'm excited: Sinister celebrations, perilous parlor games, and carnivorous eels -- what's not to like? This just sounds fun.
Festival date: Feb 2 @ 2pm
8. Interplay (aerial, multi-genre, works in progress)
About the show: Explore. Risk. Unravel. Interplay with us. Explore what arises when two or more performance disciplines unite to produce an original piece of work. Interplay features dance, video, music, physical theatre, aerial expression, Shibari, and more. The shows highlight work from artists representing a variety of traditionally marginalized communities and will be sex and size positive. Each weekend will feature a different group of artists presenting 10-20 minute vignettes.
Weekend A: Heavy Is the Head that Wears the Crown: Mental Health Memoirs of the Black Woman by Noelle Simone; Bad Grrls of Bellydance by Sasshole; self-titled Rip/Pull Effect.
Weekend B: CITRINE by Rose City Rope Queen; The Book of J by Sara Fay Goldman & Marc Schreiner; Textured by Flo Buddenbaum, Summer Olsson, & Aurora Rupert. We Belong Here by Echo Theater Company's Professional Performance Lab is performed both weekends. These unique works-in-progress will push staged expression in new directions.
Why I'm excited: I'm interested in the intersection of different forms of expression, and I've heard great things about Echo Theatre Company's past Fertile Ground productions. Also, these artists represent communities we don't see on stage as often as we should.
Festival dates: Jan 31, Feb 1, 7, 8 @ 8pm; Feb 2, 9 @ 3pm
9. 8-24-9 (workshop reading)
About the show: 8-24-9 (Secret Asian Man) is a Movement piece devised in response to the dual-identity of being a Laotian-American. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions-equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years-making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Samson Syharath will be collaborating with dancer and choreographer, Minh Tran, to create a performance piece presented in the early summer of 2020. This workshop reading will be the catalyst for the physical life of the piece.
Why I'm excited: I had a fascinating conversation with Syharath about his inspiration for developing this piece. This is a good opportunity both to witness the process of creation and also learn something about our shared history.
Festival dates: Jan 31, Feb 2, 8, 9 @ 7:30pm
10. The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism: a comedy (reading)
About the show: Homeless people riot, underpaid workers strike, thousands starve-but the 1% prosper. Conservatives discredited, liberals divided... sound familiar? In 1906, England is ripe for revolution-or fascism. But a rising movement has a plan to save democracy-if four famous whack jobs quit philandering, fix their friendships...and get their sh*t together. It's Free Money vs. Free Love!
Why I'm excited: A timely history lesson and wild entertainment all in one. What more could you want, really?
Festival dates: Feb 7 @ 7pm; Feb 9 @ 5pm
What shows are you most looking forward to at Fertile Ground? Share them in the Portland on Stage Facebook group.