BWW Previews: 10 Things to See at Fertile Ground 2021

Fertile Ground runs Jan. 28 to Feb. 7, with shows available on-demand through Feb. 15.

By: Jan. 21, 2021
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BWW Previews: 10 Things to See at Fertile Ground 2021

We are exactly 1 week away from my favorite part of the Portland theatre calendar: the Fertile Ground Festival!!

This year's festival features 37 virtual works, all of which promise to be exciting and engaging (read my interview with managing director Dré Slaman to learn more). I've been covering Fertile Ground for several years and this is the most trouble I've had narrowing my must-see list down to 10. The good news is that this year is the first time you'll be able to see everything! The shows premiere between January 28 and February 7 on the festival's Facebook page and YouTube channel, and then they'll be available for on-demand streaming through February 15.

In this list, I've focused on shows that demonstrate the incredible variety of projects that Fertile Ground attracts. Please consider these just a starting point for your theatrical adventure.

1. RE: Lilith Lopez (Feb. 2, 9pm, 24 minutes)

About the show: Lilith Lopez is missing. She leaves behind a series of videos, a handful of clues, and a warning to anyone who might be paying attention: "If you think you see me, run." She is pursued by paranormal investigator Tamsin Walsh, who must locate Lilith - and whatever is hunting her - in time to stop an unimaginable evil. In RE: Lilith Lopez, The Reformers fuse their trademark immersive performance style with the connective power of technology to bring you their first ARG (Augmented Reality Game). Viewers can click through Tamsin's investigative files, watch YouTube videos, read text message conversations, and listen in on phone calls that draw them more deeply into the story. Participants can choose to be sent additional supplementary materials at home for a gameplay experience positioning them at the center of the plot. Get started now at then log on Tuesday, February 2 at 9pm to see how it ends!

Why I'm excited: During the pandemic, the best shows I've seen have had an interactive / immersive component, and I've already devoted several happy (and heart-pounding -- it's suspenseful) hours to The Reformers' RE: Lilith Lopez.

Here's how it works: You buy a $25 ticket (so worth it!), which gets you access to the records of paranormal investigator Tamsin Walsh as she searches for "death-positive" occultist Lilith Lopez, who has disappeared (run away?) to escape a spirit with (possible) malintent. Every day, you get an email with new materials to pore over as you try to unravel the mystery. For a small extra fee, you can also get a special package delivered to your home (I very highly recommend this experience, which is not anything like Amazon delivery). The game is already running, but it's not too late. When you sign up, you'll get the full complement of materials you've missed, which you can work through at your own pace. Just be sure to finish by Feb. 2 at 9pm so you can watch the final installment as it premieres.

2. Lilies (Feb. 3, 9pm, 9 minutes)

About the show: Set during the (first) COVID lockdowns, Lilies is an experimental short film featuring poetry by Joni Renee Whitworth with images and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, two Portland-based queer femme multi-hyphenate artists. In this love story, the personal and political collide and comingle, exploring birth, becoming, class, femme health, and gay sufficiency against a backdrop of farm simulator games, archival agricultural footage, b-roll, domestic scenes, and psychedelic abstraction.

Why I'm excited: I've seen this already and it's gorgeous. Joni Renee Whitworth uses the pandemic experience as a springboard for examining our wider cultural context. Their poetry is sensual and expansive, touching on everything from sex to inequality and houselessness to baking and self-sufficiency in a way that's tinged with anxiety yet somehow reassuring.

3. Be Careful What You Ask For (Feb. 1, 9pm, 17 minutes)

About the show: From the writer of Pass the Jam (PDX Playwright's Daisy Dukes Shorts Night, Fertile Ground 2018) and iPhone and Lunch Room (PDXP Daisy Dukes Shorts Night, Fertile Ground 2019), Family of Color Production introduces Be Careful What You Ask For, directed by Jennifer Lanier. Lanier is a card-carrying actor, licensed for comedy, and Co Artistic Director of Original Practice Shakespeare Festival in Portland. This play examines the political and social conversations that are taking place at dining room tables and Zoom meetings throughout our nation. Be Careful What You Ask For features actors Vana O'Brien and Keith Cable as a Portland couple chatting over morning coffee about the year 2020. How do we have a conversation about politics, nationwide protests, racial injustice, and videos of police brutality against black people? Be Careful What You Ask For is a must-see production that will keep the conversations about community and social change at the forefront.

Why I'm excited: We're more likely to listen to people who look like us, which is why Lisa Collins set her play about racial injustice and police brutality as a conversation between two older white people. I saw a 30-second preview of this piece and it hit the nail on the head as to how these awkward conversations tend to go in my experience. I look forward to seeing how the rest of it turns out!

4. Cat Napper (Jan. 30, 4:30pm, 85 minutes)

About the show: The 2021 Portland Civic Theatre Guild New Play Award winner, Cat Napper, a mystery thriller with more than a bit of comedy, centers around newly hired Special Detective Crystal Beck. Beck, under orders from the Mayor himself, must partner with not-too-pleased veteran detective Gribbs to solve a series of mysterious cat kidnappings. With the odds stacked against her, Beck's simple cat case leads her to the homes of the city's richest, most powerful and dangerous politicians. Money, Power, Politics, and Cats!

Why I'm excited: I'm not a cat person, so you have to work hard to get me excited about a show about cats. But, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild's New Play Award winners are always worth a watch, and this one, from playwright Kwik Jones, looks to be no exception. This is the third in a series of plays Jones has written in response to reports of child kidnapping, suggesting that there's more to this comedy mystery thriller than meets the eye.

5. Resiliency in Rhythm (Jan. 30, 7pm, 45 minutes)

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!

Why I'm excited: Directed by S. Renee Mitchell, the performers of I Am M.O.R.E made their Fertile Ground Festival debut last year, and I could not have been more impressed with the talent, creativity, and poise of these young people. A spoiler alert on the show promises: "You will leave each I Am M.O.R.E. performance with a renewed sense of hope, gratitude and joy." If this year's show is anything like the last, that promise is 100% true!

6. Martha Bakes (Jan. 31, 4:30pm, duration TBA)

About the show: The Vanport Mosaic presents a staged reading of the first act of a new play MARTHA BAKES: a Biography of a Revolution and Insurrection that never happened. Using the device of the one-woman show, MARTHA BAKES takes a satirical lens to American Colonial HerStory. Part historical biography, part cooking show, we are invited into the relationship between Martha Washington, our original First Lady, and her dower slave Oney Marie Judge during an imagined slave revolt on Mount Vernon.

Act I begins with Martha, the fresh widow of George Washington, socially distancing herself during a fictitious slave uprising on Mount Vernon. The slaves have learned the contents of George's will declaring that the over 350 enslaved bodies on the plantation are to be set free -upon the death of Martha. Enduring her new found circumstances with a pleasant disposition, Martha bakes us a three-course meal during the revolt, as she barricades herself in the kitchen and with each preparation reflects on her influential role with scant representation in the creation of our Nation. That the suffrage and abolition movements are not always easy bedfellows echo the legacies of racism, sexism and voter suppression that our Nation is still struggling to unpack today.

Why I'm excited: The Vanport Mosaic has a track record of developing and producing excellent work that helps us better understand our complicated founding history. One of the things I like most about Fertile Ground is seeing shows in development. Act 1 of this work-in-progress by Don Wilson Glenn will premiere this year, with the full play coming to us in 2022.

7. I'll Tell You How To Love Me (Jan. 30, 2pm, 7 minutes)

About the show: I'll Tell You How To Love Me is an original visual short story by Kapu Waiaʻu Dancel and Brave Ass Scaredy Cat. This modern moʻolelo explores the intersection of spoken word, dance, and performing art in a tale of backward wisdom. I'll Tell You How To Love Me is a love letter written to the world, but addressed to oneself-a story that gives tangible expression to an internal dialogue and struggle. Using poetry, song and dance, viewers are invited to listen and sit with an exploration of how we love and choose to be loved. It speaks to how trauma can shape us, but we can reclaim ourselves. Somewhere between words and movement this visual short story looks to illuminate one Wahine's fight to feel her way through the dark and back to herself.

Why I'm excited: I saw Kapu Waia'u Dancel perform a solo number at an aerial arts showcase a couple of years ago and it has stuck with me. I'm not really sure what to expect from this one, other than an emotional punch.

8. Ways of Trying (Feb. 3, 7pm, 68 minutes)

About the show: Ways of Trying is a solo show about queerness, community, and liberation, written and performed by Tara Hopebringer. Collaborators include Cassie Greer, Kate Mura, and Georgina Escobar.

Everyone has their own ways of trying: trying to belong, trying to find love, trying to accept themself. In this show, various ways of trying unspool into vulnerable histories, as songs of love and heartbreak loop in rounds, interspersed with poetry and soundscapes. Through interviews and meta-theatrical narrative, several characters emerge and interrupt in a performance about growing into queer sexuality and gender non-conformity, questioning power and privilege, and reclaiming joy in the riot. This show features music created with loop machine, flute, vocals and percussion. Some adult language and themes.

Why I'm excited: I saw a very short preview of this piece that was enough to leave me wanting more. I'm a sucker for multi-instrumentalists and talented vocalists using loop machines to create time-based pieces of music, and the themes Tara Hopebringer explores in the piece certainly align with my interests.

9. Hot Mess - a Zombie Musical (Feb. 4, 7pm, 19 minutes)

About the show: Real life is too intense, so let's retreat into something less frightening: zombies. From the creatives behind 4×4=Musicals and John Hughes High: the 1980's Teen Musical comes a new musical mashup where Harley Quinn meets Scooby Doo. The musical takes place on one wild night in a graveyard where one has come to mourn, one has come to murder, and many have come back from the dead! Tiffany, accompanied by her less-than-supportive boyfriend, Playa, thinks she's coming to a funeral. But when zombies, a long lost friend with a dark secret and a distractingly sweet guy show up, the night devolves into a fight for her life, self-respect and love. Local favorites Erin Tamblyn, Joshua Stenseth, Megan Misslin, Kylie Clark Johnson, Míchel Castillo and Lauren Steele are joined by Top 10 Billboard Dance charting artist Sariah in this dance/pop musical.

Why I'm excited: It's the only musical in this year's festival. But also, writer Mark LaPierre has embraced the digital format to create a new genre of virtual comic book musical theatre. Plus, singing zombies? The screening is of Part 1 of this work-in-progress.

10. The November Project (Feb. 7, 7pm, 12 minutes)

About the show: In the three weeks following the election, Many Hats Collaboration will ask 20+ artists to create short dance expressions of their experiences of isolation, personal agency and uncertainty during the tumult of 2020. Initially inspired by Many Hats' 2007 piece REST ROOM, this piece continues our inquiry into expressions of identity and isolation that occur in the privacy of bathrooms, now relocated from a public space into films made in our own home bathrooms. In the demanding immediacy of November 2020, we'll surrender to the individual brilliance of our collaborators, the intimacy of their personal spaces, and discover what distinctions and harmonies are expressed in this moment. This collective creation will bring together Many Hats' experience in dance theatre and its passion for community devised art into a virtual dance piece guided by lead deviser Beth Thompson, choreographer Jessica Wallenfels, video editor Lava Alapai, and composer Amenta Abioto. We believe that each of us and our community at large have to exercise and share our experiences of grief, anger, triumph and absurdity in order to heal the collective traumas of 2020.

Why I'm excited: It feels weird to say I like shows in bathrooms, but it's true. These intimate spaces are ideal for the type of deeply personal work that resonates strongly with me and that Many Hats Collaboration is known for.

Learn more about these shows and discover the rest of the festival works at