BWW Review: Fertile Ground: BEETHOVEN & CHOPIN MEET THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL, PORTLAND'S MINI MUSICAL FEST, and VORTEX 1
Fertile Ground 2020 is in full swing! Here's a recap of my first few days.
BEETHOVEN & CHOPIN (MONSTER HUNTERS) MEET THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (A ROMANCE)
I've asked several people about the best shows they've seen at the festival so far, and this one has made every list. The third offering from the inventive CoHo Clown Cohort, this play is, well, just what the title suggests. Seeking musical inspiration, Beethoven (Emily Newton) and Chopin (Emily Eisele) go on a monster hunt, meeting (among others) the newly animated Bride of Frankenstein (Sascha Blocker). Hijinks and romance ensue.
Every time I watch this group perform, I'm astonished at their ability to distill such a wealth of meaning down to a single word or even the single lift of an eyebrow. How can a show that consists largely of chortles, shrieks, harrumphs, and Emily Newton growling "monster hunt" so exquisitely capture the nature of beauty and of love? And yet, that's exactly what it does -- in a humorous, heartwarming, and utterly delightful way.
BEETHOVEN & CHOPIN... has wrapped up its Fertile Ground run, but it's a work-in-progress that I believe will get an additional production this summer. Don't miss it! http://cohoproductions.org/
TEAR DOWN THIS WALL
Every year at Fertile Ground, The Broken Planetarium puts on an original musical that's expansive, imaginative, and offers a new perspective on a current issue. TEAR DOWN THIS WALL fits all of these categories -- by placing Ovid's story of star-crossed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe during the time of the Berlin Wall, and casting them both as women, the show explores the devastating consequences of surrounding ourselves with walls.
What I love about The Broken Planetarium is its inclusive approach to theatre-making. Their shows are collaborations between professional artists and people who are singing / acting / dancing on stage for the first time. Even just sitting in the audience, you feel like a part of a community of people who are there to lift one another up.
TEAR DOWN THIS WALL's scrappiness is part of what makes it beautiful. As usual, Laura Christina Dunn's script is both thoughtful and whimsical, and the music is fantastic. This year's production also features Resonate Choral Arts, which contributes to its success as a plaintive meditation on the barriers that divide us.
TEAR DOWN THIS WALL has a few more shows this weekend. https://www.brokenplanetarium.org/
PORTLAND'S MINI MUSICAL FESTIVAL
What's better than one musical? Six musicals! This was my first time attending Portland's Mini Musical Festival, and what a treat it was! Six brand new 15-minute musicals from local playwrights and composers, starring some of Portland's hottest musical talent -- I'm not sure what more one could want for an afternoon or evenings's entertainment.
The mini musicals were about as different as musicals can be, from John Vergin's campy ghost story, "Murder From Beyond," to Matthew B. Zrebski and Clara Hillier's dystopian "ARM," to Chari Smith's enlightening "Book Club." My personal favorite was Karl Mansfield and Shawn Rogers's "The Safe," in which an unlucky pizza delivery guy finds himself unwittingly an accomplice of the mob.
The MINI MUSICAL FESTIVAL is over for this year, but put it on your list for next year. If you're a musical lover already, it's a no-brainer. But, even if you think you don't like musicals, it's worth checking out -- with such a wide variety, you might just find the one that speaks to you. http://liveonstage.us/
RESILIENCY IN RHYTHM
You could feel the positive vibes as soon as you walked into The Riveter for RESILIENCY IN RHYTHM, a show featuring a racially diverse group of young performers (ages 7 to 22) telling their stories in a variety of ways -- spoken word, dance, a fashion show, visual art. The show was presented by I Am M.O.R.E., a youth empowerment organization that helps young people turn their trauma into resilience.
Founded by S. Renee Mitchell, I Am M.O.R.E. holds workshops to help young people build resilience as well to help educators and other adults better connect with youth, in particular with youth of color. Performances like RESILIENCY IN RHYTHM are aimed at helping youth use "personal storytelling as a socially just, transformative teaching tool" as well as helping adults better understand what young people need.
I can't remember the last time I saw a group of such poised, articulate young performers. The artists included a 9-year-old self-published author, a 15-year-old poet who I would not be surprised to see named Poet Laureate one day, a spoken word artist who delivered a two-part piece on how life is like a game of Jenga, two fashion storytellers, a painter, dancers, musicians, and more. The event description promised that we'd leave the performance with "a renewed sense of hop, gratitude, and joy." And I did.
RESILIENCY IN RHYTHM doesn't have any more performances at the festival, but keep an eye out for future events. https://www.iammoreresilient.com/
If you were around in 1970, you might remember Vortex 1: A Biodegradable Festival of Life -- a state-sponsored rock concert that was held in Estacada to prevent violent confrontations between members of the American Legion and protesters during a planned appearance by President Richard Nixon. And, if you were around last year for Fertile Ground, you might remember that there's a new musical based on the event (there's also going to be a 50-year anniversary concert this summer). Last year, we got to see Act 1 of Sue Mach and Bill Wadhams' ambitious musical, and this year they presented the entire show.
VORTEX 1 tells a story of cooperation that seems impossible today -- a Republican governor and student protestors together decided that violence was not in anyone's best interest, so they came up with a creative solution. It's an incredible example of the kind of win-win problem-solving that can happen when we stop reflexively demonizing people who don't agree with us and instead decide to be open-minded to what they have to say. The show is timely, it's hopeful, and the music rocks.
The staged reading of VORTEX 1 was a one-night-only event, but Mach and Wadhams have big plans, so stay tuned. http://vortex1musical.com/