new works festival

Fertile Ground: Curtains (almost) up

ArtsWatch speed-dates the makers of 2017's Portland new-works festival. We don't kiss, but we do tell. Here's what's happening.


One thing we’ve learned in life: You can’t date everyone. Even speedily.

Nevertheless, the three of us took a pretty good shot at it on the first Thursday in January, when we set up business at a big table in Artists Repertory Theatre’s upper lobby and braced ourselves for an onrushing tide of producers, writers, directors, and performers in this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, an orgy of new theater, dance, comedy, solo, musical-theater, circus, and other performance works that’ll scatter across the city January 19-29.

The meet-and-greets, which are set up roughly like a speed-dating session (or so we’ve been told), are a cacophony of elevator speeches, and as it happens, all three of us knew what to expect from previous years’ free-for-alls. Theater people line up in front of a confusion of journalists from print, online, radio, and television outlets and work their way to the front, where they get five minutes to pitch their show and explain why that journalist really, really ought to see it and write very, very nicely about it. Then a whistle blows, and everyone moves on to the next encounter. Did you get that phone number/email address/press release/oddball memento? We’ll be in touch. (That little pink-wrapped chunk of Hubba Bubba bubble gum from 1980’s Teen Musical? We’ve tossed it in the drawer with all of our leftover 1982 Easter Peeps to help us make it through Armageddon.)

At the ArtsWatch table, and beyond. Fertile Ground photo

As usual, Fertile Ground boss Nicole Lane kept things on a strict schedule, and by evening’s end we hadn’t got around to talking to everyone. A few no doubt got caught up at other tables and ran out of time. A few just had other priorities. Some, we imagine, didn’t show up at all: they’re not the dating kind. Still, out of seventy-plus acts, we managed among us to talk with people from roughly forty. Add to those the dance productions that ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini has written about separately, and … let’s just say we played the field.

One of the great things about Fertile Ground, which began as an annual festival in 2009, is that it’s open to new projects at every stage of production, from first readings to staged readings to workshops to world premieres. Theater companies have started to book premiere productions to coincide with the festival, lending the city a sense of freshness and discovery, at least on its performance stages, every January. It’s like a smaller Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and just as unpredictable), but made up entirely of local acts.


ArtsWatch Weekly: The ground is fertile. The age is golden.

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It started, as so many things do, with a casual conversation. “You know what this town needs?” “What if?” “What we really ought to do is …”

The very first Fertile Ground festival of new performance works, in January 2009, featured singer McKinley’s musical Gracie and the Atom; the Algonquin Round Table play Vitriol and Violets, with music by jazz wit Dave Frishberg; and new plays by the likes of William S. Gregory, Sandra De Helen, Eleanor O’Brien, Steve Patterson, Matt Zrebski, and others.

This week the eighth annual Fertile Ground opens for an eleven-day run, Thursday through January 31. And it’s not fooling around. This year’s festival will include more than 160 performances on more than 30 stages across the metropolitan area. What began mostly as a theater showcase has expanded to embrace dance, performance art, aerial and acrobatic acts, new-vaudeville, clowning, even film animation, which has a lively presence in Oregon. Offerings range from the biggest theaters in town to pop-up projects, and cover just about every step in the process, from readings to full-blown world premieres.

Echo Theatre will be the hub for circus and aerial acts at this year's Fertile Ground.

Echo Theatre will be the hub for circus and aerial acts at Fertile Ground. Photo: Renata Kosina

A couple of weeks ago three ArtsWatch writers joined the mob at Artists Repertory Theatre for Fertile Ground’s big media kickoff, a “speed-dating” evening in which producers, performers, and playwrights lined up to spend five minutes with a writer or reporter, pitching their project. What we gathered in these assembly-line interviews, we compiled in Fertile Ground: Let the fest begin. Among the things we learned: When a woman comes after you with a hatchet, she’s not after your scalp, she just wants to tell you about her play Grimm Northwest. Faith Helma hates positive thinking so much that she wrote a solo show about it. And playwright Patterson, who was in the original Fertile Ground, is back with another, a play he describes as “kinda like a feminist Huck Finn on acid.” We’re pretty much sold on that.



Solid Gold Cadillac. All right, not a Cadillac. Brett Campbell’s talking about serious contemporary music. “We may be entering a golden age for Oregon contemporary classical music, he writes for ArtsWatch. “This past fall might have brought Oregon music lovers more new music by Oregon classical composers than any season in history.” That includes, among many other projects, a fresh performance of Portland pianist and composer Darrell Grant’s The Territory. Of Grant, who teaches at Portland State University and is a leading figure on the city’s jazz scene, Campbell says that if Oregon had a most-valuable player award for musicians, “I’d nominate Darrell Grant.”

Darrell Grant: MVP?

Darrell Grant: MVP?



A few things to consider on this week’s calendar:

  • Celestial Carnaval. As Portland’s suburbs and surrounding communities grow bigger, the art scene expands, too. Out west, the Valley Art Association‘s been at it a long time. This party and fundraiser Saturday night celebrates fifty years for the association, which operates a gallery in Forest Grove and presents events including an annual sidewalk chalk festival. Saturday night in downtown Forest Grove, with the ever-excellent 3 Leg Torso providing the tunes.
  • Great Expectations. After a week of previews, Portland Center Stage’s adaptation of the Dickens classic opens Friday night, with Stephen Stocking as Pip, Dana Green as Miss Havisham, and a solid supporting cast. It anticipates yet another adaptation opening in late February at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
  • Beethoven-Bartok Festival. The admirable Jerusalem Quartet returns to town to show some classical flexibility at Friends of Chamber Music in four concerts at Lincoln Performance Hall, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and next Tuesday.
  • Dido and Aeneas. Baroque opera doesn’t get performed much in Portland, but The Ensemble is on hand to help correct the oversight with performances Saturday in Eugene and Sunday in Portland of Henry Purcell’s lovely first opera, along with excerpts from John Blow’s even earlier version.



ArtsWatch links

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Upstart: Lakewood’s Golden Boy. Christa Morletti McIntyre considers Ty Boice’s knockout performance in Clifford Odets’s heavyweight role, and the links between Odets’s conflicted boxer and his own career.

In search of the great white .. leg. Barry Johnson follows Portland Experimental Theatre Company’s next stop in its quest to deconstruct Moby-Dick, this one called [or, the whale]. Sometimes what isn’t there is what’s there.

Engaging ears, eyes, minds. Gary Ferrington previews the creative Cascade Composers’ upcoming show in Eugene, citing concert organizer Daniel Brugh: “There’s gonna be a few lights of a variety of colors, video, some sound-induced visuals and lots and lots of darkness! This is music experienced in an alternative way.”

Golden cage, broken promises. Broken Promises, Olga Sanchez’s new play at Milagro about the child sex-trade corridor  in Oregon and along the West Coast, “straddles cultural, social, and age divides,” Christa Morltti McIntyre writes.

Woman, trapped. Sue Mach’s new stage adaptation at CoHo of the classic story The Yellow Wallpaper, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, feels “like the pit of your stomach was ripped out and lost down a hole.”

Grace Carter, caught in the wallpaper. Photo: Holly Andres

Grace Carter, caught in the wallpaper. Photo: Holly Andres



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


And finally…

We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!

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Fertile Ground: Let the fest begin

ArtsWatch's writers "speed-dated" the producers, writers, and performers of Portland's sprawling new-works festival. Here's what they discovered.


If you host it, they will come. And come they did, from east, south, west, and north: dozens of playwrights, producers, choreographers, clowns, actors, dancers, acrobats, and other show folk, each intent on one thing: to serially date as many members of the press as they possibly could in one brief evening.

The press, let it be noted, does not ordinarily do this sort of thing. But this first Thursday of the new year was the Fertile Ground new-works festival’s speed-dating-with-the-media night, and for everyone involved (including three of us from ArtsWatch – Brett Campbell, Christa Morletti McIntyre, and Bob Hicks), getting a lot of information out there in a very short time seemed like an excellent idea.

It was also a little like a drive-by clipping by a fleet of eighteen-wheelers. Or a massacre in the making. “Why is that woman coming at us with a hatchet in her hand?” we found ourselves wondering nervously at one point.

Festival director Nicole Lane, calling the speed-dating shots. Photo: Christine Toohey

Festival director Nicole Lane, calling the speed-dating shots. Photo: Christine Toohey

As reporters and editors sat at long schoolhouse-style tables in the upper lobby at Artists Repertory Theatre, or set up their cameras and mics in any spare corner they could find, supplicants lined up chin-deep for their five-minute shots at making an impression. At the end of five, a clang sounded above the clatter and din, and the next in line moved up. “Give ’em your elevator speech,” festival director Nicole Lane instructed helpfully, although no elevator was in a sight.


Speed-dating at Fertile Ground

With a rumble and a roar, producers and performers woo the press before the kickoff of the new-works festival. A peek at the dance card.

On an early January Thursday night in the upper lobby of Artists Repertory Theatre, the hubbub began like the foreboding rumble of water about to burst through a high earthen dam. It grew quickly to a roar – a shout, a din, a tsunami, an anarchy of sound in an overcrowded intellectual bazaar, each voice pitching fast and furious, eager to seal the deal. The place was packed with producers, writers, directors, and actors in a fast-paced mating dance, lined up at tables and waiting to pounce on an empty chair opposite one of the chosen customer-targets. Prospective suitors leaned forward across the tables, straining to hear above the cacophony, eager to make an impression on the handful of arts journalists who were the objects of their temporary affections.

Matt Haynes of The Pulp Stage and storyteller Anne Rutherford make their pitches. Photo: Fertile Ground

Matt Haynes of The Pulp Stage and storyteller Anne Rutherford. Photo: Fertile Ground

Welcome to speed-dating night at Fertile Ground.

Portland’s annual free-for-all festival of new theater, dance, comedy, music, and stuff that falls into the cracks between recognized genres runs for eleven jam-packed days this year, opening January 22 and continuing through February 1 on stages scattered across the metropolitan area. The rules are simple. Everything presented must be new (that doesn’t mean it might not have been workshopped or had readings beforehand). And the festival, which is sponsored by the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, isn’t juried or curated: if you can get your act together, you’re in. It’s a bit like a baby version of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, without the international audience and 24/7 street theatrics.

Alan Alexander III of "Alan's Confectionery (the musical)," with Megan Bradley of "Me Here Now." Photo: Fertile Ground

Alan Alexander III of “Alan’s Confectionery (the musical),” with Megan Bradley of “Me Here Now.” Photo: Fertile Ground

The controlled pandemonium of speed-dating night was a nice predictor of the Fertile Ground Festival itself, which seems to sprawl like a hundred cats across a dozen armchairs, but in fact is a marvel of preparation and meticulous timing. Festival director Nicole Lane presided like a combination kindergarten teacher and school crossing guard herding the kids on a field trip to the beach. Five minutes, she commanded. Line up in front of the reporter you want to talk to, grab a seat when your turn arrives, and start talking. Give ’em your two-minute elevator speech, then let ’em ask questions. At each five-minute mark she rang a bell, and everyone switched partners.

Predictably, energy ran high, fueled by stress and hopefulness. ArtsWatch was well-represented, with Jamuna Chiarini, Marty Hughley, Rebecca Waits, Brett Campbell and me. Our A.L. Adams was there, too, this time representing her other main outlet, Artslandia magazine. I sat at a table with David Stabler and Jamie Hale of The Oregonian. Journalists from the Portland Tribune, Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Mercury, and other outlets were on hand, too.

Pitching and catching: speed-dating night felt a little like open open tryouts for baseball spring training slots. Photo: Fertile Ground

Pitching and catching: speed-dating night felt a little like open tryouts for baseball spring training slots. Photo: Fertile Ground

What I encountered was a blur of small pigs, snow queens, flooded cities, pirates of the Caribbean (who popped up in two pitches), Liberace glitter, Mafioso Shakespeare, Pirandello riffs, solo shows, and sci-fi serials. What I emerged with was a litter of press releases, photographs, web links, and, yes, telephone numbers, for professional purposes only.

Somehow, as hubbubs tend to do, this one took on an air of improvisational normalcy. When I got home afterwards, my wife reported a dinnertime conversation. “Where’s Dad tonight?” our 17-year-old son asked, belatedly noticing the empty slot at the table. “He’s out speed-dating,” she replied. “Oh,” he said, and took another bite. Well, of course.

David Saffert and Sammuel Hawkins showed up in character for "David Saffert's 40th Birthday: The Liberace Edition." Photo: Fertile Ground

David Saffert and Sammuel Hawkins showed up in character for “David Saffert’s 40th Birthday: The Liberace Edition.” Photo: Fertile Ground

As usual, this year’s festival is a gumbo of readings, staged readings, workshop productions, and full-blown premieres: writers and producers sometimes use the festival as a first chance to see how things are working for an audience, and sometimes as the launching pad for a completed show.

And of course, I spotted a few people in the crowd who I didn’t get a chance to talk to: we were like shipwreck survivors clinging to different bits of debris and floating off on separate waves. Among them was the veteran playwright Steve Patterson, whose If the Fates Allow, set in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, is one of several scripts from the writers’ group Playwrights West.

Here are quick hits on just a few of the projects. For a complete schedule and ticket information (festival passes are a very good bet if you’re planning to hit several shows), see the Fertile Ground website.



Groovin’ Greenhouse: where the dance is

Polaris hosts the biggest dance slice (but not the only one) of the Fertile Ground new works festival. Here's what's coming up.

Groovin’ Greenhouse, hosted by Polaris Dance Theater as part of the larger Fertile Ground festival of new works, is prime territory for festival dance followers, a sort of festival within the festival. It will showcase eight new works by emerging and established Portland-area dance companies, January 22-31 at Polaris’s in-house black box studio theater at 1501 SW Taylor St. Other significant dance projects are debuting during the festival, too, including Eric Nordin and Jessica Wallenfels’ The Snowstorm, which has already developed significant buzz, and Northwest Children’s Theatre’s The Jungle Book, which incorporates traditional Indian dance by Anita Menon.

Groovin' Greenhouse host company, Polaris Dance Theatre.

Groovin’ Greenhouse host company, Polaris Dance Theatre.

At Groovin’ Greenhouse:

Polaris Dance Theater, Jan, 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31 @ 7:30pm

The Greenhouse’s host company will be performing a new work and score by Artistic Director Robert Guitron.

Automal, Jan. 29, 31 @ 7:30pm

Automal, a newish dance company directed by choreographer Kate Rafter, will be performing Graft, a primordial piece that involves Silly Putt and, explores symmetry in nature, replication, recycling and interconnection. Performers include Ross Calhoun, Kate Rafter, Sara Himmelman, Lauren Vermilion, Paris Cannon, and Ella Matweyou. Music will be made up of covers, arrangements, remixes and originals from Bjork’s 2007 Volta album, in addition to a commissioned rearrangement by Juliet Gordon.

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, Jan. 23, 24 @ 7:30pm

Muddy Feet Contemporary Dance, co-founded and directed by Suzanne Chi and Rachel Slater, is brand new to the Portland dance scene. It has commissioned a duet, The Servant, by Tracy Durbin, depicting the complexities of sisterly bonds. Also premiering is Slater’s West Rising Sun. Joined by Eliza Larson, the dancers pose the question, “What is happiness?” Joining Muddy Feet will be WolfBird Dance in an excerpt from its upcoming piece, Your Backwash is Better than Nothing.The Directors, Choreographers and Performers are Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones.

Art in Progress: Choreographers Collective, Jan 30 @ 7:30pm

Art in Progress is a collective of dancers and choreographers inspiring each other to create.The dances are generated by every member and brought to life collaboratively. Company Members include: Adrienne Kirk, Beca Rasch, Dustin Brown, Frieda Carlsen, Kelly Koltiska, and Rachel Swanson.

 Fanina Padykula, Heather Henna Louise and Emilie Lauren, Portland Bellydance Guild.

Fanina Padykula, Heather Henna Louise and Emilie Lauren, Portland Bellydance Guild.

The Portland Bellydance Guild, Jan. 24 @ 7:30pm

Elise Morris, director and president of The Portland Bellydance Guild, has brought together 18 dancers in four styles of belly dance. Playing off the light-and-shadow concept of chiaroscuro, they will represent folkloric, cabaret, tribal and tribal fusion styles. This newly formed guild hopes to unite Portland’s bellydancing community, promote artistic excellence, and demonstrate that belly dance in America can mean many different things.

PDX Dance Collective, Jan. 23, 24 @ 7:30pm

Cycle and Seek choreographed by Hannah Downs in collaboration with the members of the PDX Dance Collective, explores the way in which humans repeatedly run up against their own barriers.

Polaris Jr. Company, Jan. 21, 31 @ 7:30pm

Polaris Dance Theater’s second company, Polaris Jr., will perform works by Jr. Company Director M’Liss Stephenson and guest choreographer Gerard Regot. These works-in-progress will be performed in full in May.

NW Fusion Dance Company, Jan, 30 @ 7:30pm

Directed by Brad Hampton, this pre-professional dance company will perform new works by Elizabeth Bressler, Lauren Edson, and Mahina Moon exploring a range of music from the ’80s to opera.

Dance happenings in the larger Fertile Ground Festival

The Jungle Book, Jan. 31-March 1

The Jungle Book, at Northwest Children’s Theater, is adapted by Anita Menon, Sarah Jane Hardy, and John Ellingson, and directed by Hardy. Through the fusion of traditional Indian dances and western theater, this original adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s tales of Mowgli, the boy raised in the wild, is fantastically formed, with dancing wolves and high-energy Bollywood feats.

"The Snowstorm," at CoHo Theatre.

“The Snowstorm,” at CoHo Theatre.

The Snowstorm, Jan. 16-Feb 7

The Snowstorm is written by Eric Nordin, and directed and choreographed by Jessica Wallenfels, with musical direction and piano performance by Nordin. Presented by CoHo Production & Many Hats Collaboration, this physical theater production combines the classical piano music of Rachmaninoff, classical romance, puppetry and masks. Early audiences have been giving it rave reviews.

CoLevity in That’s How We Roll, Jan 24, 25, 31 @ 5 p.m., Feb 1 at 1 p.m.

Choreography is by the CoLevity Performance Group: Cami Curtis, Stephan Diaz, Hilary Hart and Blake Seidel. The company describes That’s How We Roll as satire in dance form, loosely based on the premise of an eccentric blend of characters in a large happy/unhappy family and told through dance, song, and spoken word.

Speed-dating in a Fertile Ground

Before FG14 begins, participants and press check each other out. The result: controlled pandemonium

UPDATE: A.L. Adams tells all about her own speed-dating experience, adding another dozen or so stories to the Fertile Ground mix, from Polaris Dance’s “Groovin’ Greenhouse” series to a bluegrass/folkie/evangelistic musical. Her stories form Act II below. Yes, we cover the waterfront!



By Bob Hicks

Whoa, Nellie.

Last week A.L. Adams and I went speed-dating. We sat next to each other at a big table, and the lines were so long we didn’t say a word to each other or even make eye contact until the whole sweaty ordeal was over. So many potential relationships. So little time.

"4x4=Musicals": a festival favorite returns.

“4×4=Musicals”: a festival favorite returns.

The setup sprawled across the upper lobby and bar of Artists Repertory Theatre, and my ArtsWatch pal A.L. and I weren’t the only objects of fleeting affection. The Oregonian’s David Stabler and the new kid on the Oregonian block, Jamie Hale, were holding down the next table. Holly Johnson of Oregon Music News was around the corner. Writers from the weekly papers, so I heard (I never actually got in there) were stationed in the bar: perfect for a serial blind date. I even caught a glimpse off in the distance of a radio reporter, taping goodness knows what evidence of what sort of attempted tryst. And I’m sure somebody somewhere was tweeting away, thumbs flying in little bursts of snarkiness and enthusiasm.

It was controlled pandemonium.

And that was just about right, because this whole speed-dating thing was about controlled pandemonium: producers and performers and directors in the sixth annual Fertile Ground festival of new works, pitching their stories to members of the media. Five minutes for an elevator speech (“I like cozy fireplaces and long walks on the beach”), then hit the next prospect. In and out. The scene was so chaotic I have no idea how many people actually showed up, but think busy lunchtime intersection in Midtown Manhattan, with pedestrians rushing in every direction, jostling to break in front of the pack and get to the hot dog cart.

In the midst of it all, like a traffic cop with nothing but a piercing whistle to keep everyone in line, was festival director Nicole Lane, making sure everything went tick-tock. Tweet. Switch partners. Tweet. Switch partners. Tweet. Switch partners.

This year’s festival, scattered in about 30 venues all over town, has more than a hundred acts, including theater, dance, comedy, musical theater, solo shows, and other variations on the performance theme. (For the straight scoop on who’s doing what, where, and when, check the Fertile Ground homepage.) It runs officially from Thursday, January 23, through Sunday, February 2, but a few shows have jumped the gun and opened already: the popular 4×4=Musicals, for instance, and Theatre Vertigo’s world premiere of Craig Jessen’s The End of Sex.

Don Wilson Glenn's new play at Ethos/IFCC

Don Wilson Glenn’s new play at Ethos/IFCC.

Further complicating matters is the festival’s all-comers embrace. Shows at almost every stage of development are here, from workshops and simple readings to staged readings and full productions. Some are by prominent practitioners. Others are by people you might never have heard of, hoping to get noticed by a producer or a critic, or maybe just get a little honest feedback. Unlike the summer JAW new-plays festival at Portland Center Stage, which has a small number of slots and fills them through national competition, Fertile Ground pretty much throws the doors wide open. In that sense it’s a little closer to the energizing chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, though it’s more strictly local in scope. At the top of the heap are full-fledged productions such as Artists Rep’s world premiere of The Monster-Builder, by Amy Freed (The Beard of Avon, Freedomland, The Ghoul of Amherst, Restoration Comedy), with Oregon Shakespeare Festival vets Michael Elich and Robin Nordli leading the cast. But who knows what gems might be lurking at the lower levels?

And so they came, elevator-ready, and pitched and pitched and pitched.


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