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Fertile Ground grows local arts

11-day festival of new works in many genres plants creative seeds


by: COURTESY OF DAVID KINDER - In Fertile Ground: Spectre Productions actors will perform mini-musicals on a four-foot-square platform.Writers, producers, actors, dancers and all their performance kin are looking forward to the Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, a 11-day, citywide event starting Jan. 23 that has earned the reputation of being the perfect proving ground.

Formed six years ago by the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, Fertile Ground features more than 75 acts, 100 artists and 30 venues. Go to www.fertilegroundpdx.org for complete information.

Let’s go on a quick tour of Fertile Ground 2014:

• A highlight of Fertile Ground will be Spectre Productions “4x4 Musicals,” where seven choreographers/directors put on musicals on a four-foot-square box platform (7:30 p.m. Jan. 17-18, Jan. 23-25, Triangle Productions Sanctuary, 1785 N.E. Sandy Blvd.). It’s based on Ten Tiny Dances by Mike Barber. Producer/curator Mark LaPierre says out of professional courtesy he asked Barber for the right to put on the similar show.

“This year, we added the challenge of requiring (performers) to dance,” says LaPierre, who has ties to top local choreographers by virtue of his day job as a lighting designer.

“It’s a very sadomasochistic event,” he adds. “There is efficiency of movement and resources. Everyone wants to do a show, but you don’t always have time, space or resources. What if we could make that a marketing concept? It’s an idea very much taken with permission by Mike Barber’s brilliant work in that.”

• Whink Productions puts on “Remme’s Run” (Jan. 23-26, Jan. 30-31, Portland Playhouse, 602 N.E. Prescott St.), by Wayne Harrel, Oregon Book Award finalist. It’s a true story about a French-Canadian gent turned Oregonian (Louis Remme) who makes $12,500 on a cattle drive to California in 1852. He deposits the money into a California bank, just before the bank goes under. So he rides back to Portland on horseback, beating the mail boat that brought notification of the failure, and withdraws his money from the Portland branch.

The play uses a projection system to synch actors with images from the 1800s. “I love the fact that it marries this 1850s story with technology,” says co-producer Judy Straalsund.

• PDX Playwrights and P-Town Playwrights can claim one-quarter of Fertile Ground’s production lineup as their own. PDX Playwrights will put on 17 staged readings by 15 playwrights (1-10 p.m. Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, Hipbone Studio, 1847 E. Burnside St.). Gary Corbin wrote “KleptoFamilia,” about a family that can’t stop stealing from one another. (Now, that would make for interesting dinner-table conversation).

The five-writer P-Town Playwrights also will tell stories from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, at Hipbone. Miriam Feder, playwright and producer, introduces “Objects May Shift During Flight.”

Playwrights go the staged reading route, hoping to land full productions. “It’s amazing as a playwright to hear your words,” Feder says. “The next step is Fertile Ground, which is even more amazing, to get an audience and how do they react — laugh, gasp, fall asleep (hopefully not)?” Adds Corbin, “You’ve got to have relationships.”

by: COURTESY OF JORDAN HEFENEIDER - In Fertile Ground: Tennessee in Key West is a fictional story of playwright Tennessee Williams.• There are larger, established performance groups involved with Fertile Ground. Artists Repertory Theatre puts on “The Monster-Builder,” Hand2Mouth stages “Pep Talk,” Post5 Theatre performs the topical “Therapy Hunger” and Theatre Vertigo should draw some attention with “End of Sex.” Check fertilegroundpdx.org for times/dates and locations.

Polaris Dance Theatre’s “Groovin’ Greenhouse” features six nights of collaborations with other smaller dance groups (various times, Jan. 23-Feb. 1, Polaris Studio Theatre, 1502 S.W. Taylor St.) — including PDX Dance Collective and A-WOL Dance.

Although established, Polaris likes to introduce new stuff at Fertile Ground and has been working on a full-length film. M’liss Stephenson heads the Polaris Junior Company, which also performs. “It’s all new work, and it could go on to become bigger pieces of work to take to another show,” she says.

• Fertile Ground has a distinct youth movement going on, with plenty of 20-somethings

involved.

Producer Avital Shira has two works in repertory in the show: “Dear Momma: A Love Letter” and “Revival” (7 and 8:30 p.m., Jan. 30-Feb. 1, Feb. 6-8, The Little Church, 5138 N.E. 23rd Ave.). In the “Dear Momma” workshop production, the main character, Megan, lived in a cult until she was 6 years old and looks back in her 20s for understanding. “Can she learn to trust people again? Can she open up?” Shira says. Women and men play Megan in the different shows, for variety, although a woman (Megan Sweigert) wrote the story.

“It can relate to people in their 20s and 30s,” Shira adds. “It’s a very youthful focus.”

In the premiere of “Revival,” the bandmates of Skidmore Bluff act and play original music. “It’s a very young show,” says producer Amir Shirazi. “It’s one part theater, one part music, one part church service about a defrocked minister who’s very controversial — liberal — in his views.”

Kailee McMurran and her six other young dancer friends — SubRosa Dance Collective — will put on “Heirloom” (7 p.m. Jan. 24-25, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, Clinton Street Theater, 2522 S.E. Clinton St.). It’s a physical dance, about young people with distinctly different backgrounds all becoming dancers. “This show is kind of a tribute to those people in our lives,” McMurran says.

College buddies Nate Cohen, the director, and Corey O’Hara, the writer, have teamed up as Down Boat Arts on “Middle Names” (8 p.m. Jan 24-26, Jan. 30-Feb. 2, The Shout House, 210 S.E. Madison St., Suite 11), a story of three characters who dump the ashes of a mutual acquaintance into the ocean and then spend the night together at a motel.

“It’s a rough, submerged coming-of-age story,” Cohen says. “How do you deal with loss and responsibility when you’re not ready for it? It’s got a very youthful vibe, for sure.”

• Clearly, playwrights are trying to draw attention to their work with the hopes of making it big. Broadway, perhaps?

D.C. Copeland moved to Portland recently, having finished her master’s degree at New York University after doing her undergraduate study at Yale University. She hails from New York City. In other words, she aims to be a mover and shaker in the theater business, and she puts on two shows at Fertile Ground: “The Truth According To Rose” (themes: processing grief, letting go of a loved one) and “Merrily Down The Stream” (theme: failure of language to communicate authentic emotions between men and women). The one-act shows/stage readings are one night only (4:30 p.m. Feb. 1, Independent Publishing Resource Center, 1001 S.E. Division St.).

Copeland says while the Fertile Ground shows are short, seven of her full-length works are at theater companies waiting for approval for productions.

“I just want to get them out in the world,” she says.

by: COURTESY OF CRYSTAL AMAYA - There are several dance groups participating in Fertile Ground, including PDX Dance Collective with Seasons.• Kevin Yell wrote “Entanglement” for New Century Players of Milwaukie, which stages during Fertile Ground (including 8 p.m. Jan 30 at BodyVox, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave.). He also has a proclamation.

“I’m probably the only Catholic priest with a show in the festival,” he says.

“Entanglement” has “science, sex and storytelling,” about a family going through changes. Facts match and don’t match, and the daughter exists in the future — thus, “quantum entanglement.”

• Lakewood Theatre of Lake Oswego has joined Fertile Ground for the first time with “Aged to Perfection” by Veronica Esagui and Linda Kuhlmann, “The Temporary Man” by Scott David Bradner, “The Haunting of Childhood” by Gregory Neil Forbes and “Til There Was You” by Julie Michaels (shows starting Jan. 24 at Lakewood Center for the Performing Arts, 368 S. State St., Lake Oswego).

“The Temporary Man” teams young composer Scott Bradner and writer A.R. MacGregor in a reading about a disgruntled former dishwasher holding his former restaurant and customers hostage.

Esagui and Kuhlmann are set to peddle “Aged to Perfection,” about a dysfunctional family that inherits property, to theaters “all over the English speaking world.” Forbes, meanwhile, hopes his paranormal story set in Eastern Oregon and involving a 14-year-old girl who sees visions of her dead mother takes off.