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New and experienced artists write Lakewood's productions for annual festival

COURTESY IMAGE: LAKEWOOD THEATER - Tom Walton and Kelsey Glasser perform in White Rabbit by CS. Whitcomb.Though they cannot sit in front of the stage as part of a live audience, theater-lovers can still watch two new productions from Lakewood Center for the Arts as part of the 13th annual Fertile Ground Festival starting Jan. 27.

Due to ongoing health risks from COVID-19, Lakewood's Fertile Ground productions will be available online for the second consecutive year.

For the past 12 years, Fertile Ground has featured hundreds of productions, play-readings, theater workshops, ensembles, dances and multidisciplinary works of art from Portland area artists.

The two plays Lakewood will include in the festival this year are the Young Playwrights Festival, a collection of five short plays written by local students, and "White Rabbit" from renowned screenwriter and playwright Cynthia Whitcomb.

Matt Zrebski, program director for the Young Playwrights Festival, explained that because it wasn't possible to fully produce all five of the students' plays, they will each be read aloud as concert readings.

"The actors are at music stands and we really put the focus on the acting and the language so the writers can assess that," he said. "It's a simple presentation so we're really focused on the script."

This allows the writers, actors, Zrebski and Whitcomb, who is serving as a mentor for the Young Playwrights Festival, to focus their attention on helping each writer improve their script.

The young playwrights for this year's festival include Eli Carey, a Portland native pursuing a bachelor's of fine arts in comedy arts from DePaul University; Eli Mohr, a senior at Ida B. Wells High School; Karli Longquist, a student at Jesuit High School; Nico Vilches, a senior at Ida B. Wells and Niku Edlund-Farsad, a junior at Lincoln High School.

Carey's play "Decimation of Character" deals with the gender roles of two people on a first date in a dark and humorous way.

Mohr's absurdist "Light of my Life" focuses on a young couple and their argument about walking a dog, but turns into a tragic parable about their relationship.

Lonquist wrote "Gloaming," a poetic and surreal dreamscape about a young woman and her infatuation with a boy and how her world crumbles around that relationship.

Vilches' "The Ball" focuses on the relationship between father and son and the behavioral expectations of men.

Edlund-Farsad's "End Times" is a comedy about a cult.

"These are not pieces that would easily translate to film," Zrebski said. "They're really meant to be in a theater, so I'm really proud that they're embracing the medium of the stage, which begs the audience to use their imaginations. I think they're using the storytelling power of theater in really cool ways."

COURTESY IMAGE: LAKEWOOD THEATER - The actors in the Young Playwrights Festival perform a concert reading.

Whitcomb's "White Rabbit" takes place in 1971 in the back hallways and editing rooms of UCLA's film school.

Whitcomb said she was a film student at UCLA in the early '70s, and one of the play's two characters is based on her.

"I was that teenager, idealistic and devouring all types of film and trying to make 8-milimeter film," Whitcomb said.

The other character, she explained, is a mysterious guerilla filmmaker in his 20s sneaking around the film school and trying to make his movie while no one else is there.

"It's a romance but really it's about life and art and trying to make art on no money at a difficult time," Whitcomb said.

She said the idea for "White Rabbit" came to her in a dream in July.

"I would wake up in the morning hearing these two people talking to me and the conversations they might have had," Whitcomb said.

Once her ideas were written out, she began to hone the script. When Lakewood agreed to take the script for the festival, they began readings with actors.

"One of my favorite things about playwriting is being in the room with actors and hearing it come alive and being able to make it better and better," Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb began her career as a screenwriter, and wrote several movies and mini-series over the years. She has also written 22 plays, five of which have been produced — including two at Lakewood.

"White Rabbit" and Young Playwrights Festival will be available to stream on Lakewood's website Jan. 27-Feb. 6. The shows are free, though donations are encouraged.


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