BWW Review: Fertile Ground Final Wrap-Up: MINI SEX FEST, THE FEAR OF SPEAKING, 8-24-9, 2020 - THE NEW 1920?, THE INTELLIGENT WOMAN'S GUIDE TO SOCIALISM: A COMEDY
Fertile Ground 2020 wrapped up last weekend and I don't know about you all, but I had a great time -- 16 shows in 11 days! Here's a wrap-up of my final weekend.
MINI SEX FEST
After a week of festival activities, I knew I'd be tempted to stay home on Friday night, which is why I scheduled something I knew I wouldn't want to miss: Dance Naked Productions' MINI SEX FEST -- three women starring in three solo shows, providing three unique perspectives that challenge traditional ideas about sex.
NAKED AT MY AGE
It's no secret that our society has an ageism problem, especially when it comes to women and sexuality. This isn't just a feeling -- in 2015, OkCupid data scientist Chris Rudder analyzed tens of millions of data points from the dating platform and found that, while women are interested in men of about the same age as they are, men of all ages just want 20-year-olds.
It gets worse. As men get older, their preference for twentysomethings gets even stronger. Rudder sums up his data like this: "[T]he male pattern runs much deeper than just a preference for 20-year-olds. And after he hits thirty, the latter half of our age range (that is, women over 35) might as well not exist. Younger is better, and youngest is best of all, and if "over the hill" means the beginning of a person's decline, a straight woman is over the hill as soon as she's old enough to drink [emphasis added]."
It's a good thing Charla Hathaway didn't get the memo. Her one-woman show NAKED AT MY AGE chronicles her personal sexual renaissance, which started at age 50! Nearly three decades after the OkCupid data suggest she should just pack it up, Hathaway took charge, discovering the sex-positive community in Austin, TX, working for a local escort service, and eventually becoming a certified sexologist. Now, at 70, she helps others have sexual renaissances of their own and is apparently having the best sex of her life. Take that, OkCupid!
You don't have to be interested in getting into sex work to find Hathaway's journey inspirational. Told genuinely and from the heart (with three original songs!), this unique story is a call for all people to stop getting so hung up about age and start embracing their sexuality.
HOW TO REALLY, REALLY? REALLY! LOVE A WOMAN
Eleanor O'Brien's HOW TO REALLY3 LOVE A WOMAN "dives deep into the ancient art of going down." This is a trimmed-down version of the show I reviewed last March (read the review here), which O'Brien will be taking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.
The 60-minute version is tighter and more polished, but everything from my previous review stands -- O'Brien is a titillating performer, and the show is smart, funny, educational, moving, and delightfully punny. I did find it slightly less terrifying this go-around, but that's probably just because I knew what I was getting into.
You have at least one more opportunity to see this show before it heads to Edinburgh. On Valentine's Day, O'Brien will be having a fundraiser for her trip at the Clinton Street Theater. More details and tickets here.
SEXOLOGY: THE MUSICAL
For those of us who thrive in monogamous relationships, polyamory can be a mystery. Melanie Moseley's show SEXOLOGY: THE MUSICAL seeks to demystify this approach to romantic relationships, which is becoming more popular and more accepted. Playing herself, a dramaturg (who offers definitions and clears up facts), and Footnote (who provides color commentary), Moseley traces her own journey from monogamy to solo-poly. The show is an education in the ethics and logistics of polyamory. I found it informative and entertaining, and, like the other shows in this mini sex fest, it was refreshing to see a powerful non-twentysomething woman (Moseley is 55) owning her sexuality.
THE FEAR OF SPEAKING
It's often said that people fear speaking more than death. This idea comes from a seminal 1973 study that asked people to select their fears from a list -- more than 40% of people chose "speaking before a group," while only 19% chose "death." According to more recent research, this fear is getting worse -- in 2010, 62% of people reported being afraid of public speaking.
In her solo show THE FEAR OF SPEAKING, Jane Comer uses this close-to-universal fear as a framework to explore other, more personal, fears. The setup is this: the students from Comer's public speaking class are set to give their speeches in an end-of-term recital. The problem? None of them show up. So, Comer, as she promised she would, gives all of the speeches.
If you saw Comer's I AM AN ACTRESS at last year's Fertile Ground Festival, you'll know that she is a transgender actress who draws on her personal journey in her work. THE FEAR OF SPEAKING does the same -- though the speeches were written by "the students," they are really about her own experience as a trans person. What makes this show impactful is the way it's constructed. Using fears most people can identify with (public speaking, revealing your true self) as a gateway to talk about challenges trans people commonly face (bigotry, losing friends, fraught relationships with family), Comer takes the audience on a journey of empathy. The message is that regardless of gender identity (or any other type of label we like to put on people), we're all just humans with the same hopes, dreams, and fears.
8-24-9 (SECRET ASIAN MAN)
Samson Syharath has had plenty of people tell him to go back to his country. But he's from Arkansas.
Growing up different in the South wasn't easy, and as a child all he wanted to do was fit in, so he learned to live on MacDonald's hamburgers and prayed to God to make him "normal," meaning white and straight. It wasn't until a recent trip to Laos that Syharath started learning more about, and embracing, his Asian heritage. In exploring his roots, he also heard for the first time about the secret U.S.-led bombing campaigns that resulted in more than 2 million tons of ordnance being dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973.
In 8-24-9, Syharath combines spoken word and movement (in collaboration with local choreographer Minh Tran) to illustrate his voyage of personal discovery toward understanding his dual identity as a Laotian-American. The reading at Fertile Ground was a first workshop, and Syharath plans to present the full piece this summer. Keep an out for this one -- even as an early-stage workshop, this show packed an emotional and visual punch. As our national conversation about what it means to be American intensifies, stories like this provide a much-needed perspective. And we all need to be more informed about our country's military activities around the world (learn more about the secret war in Laos).
2020 - THE NEW 1920? (WHY VOTE? JUST ASK HISTORY)
Speaking of national conversations...We've got an important election coming up and, for all our talk of democracy, the news is filled with stories of creative ways citizens across the country are being denied the right to vote. What century are we in, again?
This year marks the 100th year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving American women the right to vote. It was the product of a 72-year struggle led by women's rights pioneers including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Oregon's own Abigail Scott Duniway. 2020 - THE NEW 1920? (WHY VOTE? JUST ASK HISTORY), written and performed by Randi Douglas, commemorates this anniversary, illustrates the difficult path to women's suffrage, and highlights the importance of voting rights today.
Douglas has done extensive research to craft a concise and absorbing narrative, and she uses process drama to create an interactive experience. While she set the scenes and portrays various activists, audience members are invited to read lines, participate in scenarios, and even improvise conversations as a way of engaging more deeply with the material. I wasn't sure what to expect, but at the workshop I attended, despite some initial hesitancy, everyone got into the spirit, and by the end we were all standing up and singing together. It was as joyful as it was educational.
2020 - THE NEW 1920? is a theatre performance, a history lesson, and a powerful reminder that progress doesn't happen without hard work and dedication. As we celebrate this monumental anniversary and enter what's already a heated election cycle, now's a good time to refresh our collective memory about the history of voting rights in this country and reinforce the power of the ballot box.
Douglas plans to present 2020 - THE NEW 1920? around town this year. It's a show everyone should see, so look for it on the event calendar of your local theatre, library, community center, church, school, house party, or anywhere else people gather.
THE INTELLIGENT WOMAN'S GUIDE TO SOCIALISM: A COMEDY
With dock workers rioting in the streets, Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Ellen Terry hole up in London's swankiest restaurant to debate the best way to bring about the socialist revolution. At least, that's what they would be doing if they could keep on task and stop being distracted by who's sleeping with whom. THE INTELLIGENT WOMAN'S GUIDE TO SOCIALISM: A COMEDY is a fast-paced new play by Maria Choban and Brett Campbell that was part of the PDX Playwrights staged reading series. In its current form, the play is a bit chaotic -- if you aren't familiar with all four people in the first sentence, didn't happen to catch the recent production of Shaw's Major Barbara at Portland Center Stage, and can't track three conversations at once, then you're in for a bumpy ride. But, I'm still intrigued by the idea behind this play, and I look forward to seeing its next iteration.