Fertile Ground: Theater online, on brand and on point
Portland's experimental theater festival, Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, is fully virtual in 2021, and runs from Thursday, Jan 28, through Feb 15.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, what is usually a sprawling celebration of storefront theaters, rough scripts and keen talent has been reduced to a spreadsheet and a screen this year.
However, if the thought of getting your drama delivered by Zoom/Teams/Facetime depresses you, fear not (as the thespians say). This year's 36 project participants were asked to be as creative in the way they present online as they usually are on the live stage.
Dozens of them took place in a virtual media night where they pitched their shows, which formed the basis of this little sampler. Check out everyone else at fertilegroundpdx.org.
All shows have a premier time between Jan. 28 and Feb. 7, and can be watched on demand up until Feb. 15, on Facebook and YouTube. For more: www.fertilegroundpdx.org.
All shows are free.
"Fold In Gently," by Elsa Dougherty and Rachel Wells
9 p.m. Jan. 29
This audio play, subtitled "Recipes for Friendship and Forgiveness," literally leads you through how to make chocolate chip cookies while stuck at home alone(ish). The theme is food as community. You supply the ingredients and listen along while actors Elsa Dougherty and Rachel Wells tell stories of what food means to them, especially in these times, with contributions from others. It's like a job, but it's also entertainment. It's free, but you eat.
"Shooflies and Psilocybin," by Heath Hyun Houghton
7 p.m. Jan. 31
It wouldn't be Portland without a magic mushroom play, would it? Theatre Vertigo's new short play by ensemble member Heath Hyun Houghton aims for trippy visuals, calling it part experimental film, part photo essay, part radio play. (Plot: Writer meets hot actress.) Throw in the Rolling Stones, Peter Orlovsky — Allen Ginsberg's longtime partner — and this could be the longest 25 minutes of your life. Featuring the music of Laura Nyro ("Jimmy Mack", etc).
"I Defy You, Stars," by Maddie Nguyen
7 p.m. Feb. 2
Also trippy, Do It For Mead Productions' story is about June Tran, who tries to escape humanity by flying an unauthorized rocket ship to the moon. In this 97-minute take on the Vietnamese folktale of the "Man in the Moon," our heroine clashes by radio link with the engineer who is trying to bring her back to Earth. It's about human connection and intimacy. It's SpaceX with feels.
"I'll Tell You How To Love Me," by Kapu Waia'u Dancel
2 p.m. Jan. 30
It's a Hawaiian dance based on mo?olelo, a mythical story told in dance. The trauma-informed work came from Kapu Waia'u's work with at-risk teen girls, one of whom had a family gathering with a relative who was "a little too touchy." The dance is about learning how to tell people how you want to be loved, rather than going along with the status quo. Waia'u knows aerial dance and uses movement to make trauma tangible and moving it out of herself.
"No one can hear me scream underwater," by Dee Bustos
3 p.m. Jan. 30
Bustos calls this story a visual poem, similar to the state between waking and dreaming. It's her tale of coming out after 31 years, and she collages random videos as a backdrop. This is "for anyone who yearns to liberate themselves from whatever oppressions and expectations that have been placed upon their bodies," Bustos said. "This is brought to you by my pain," is about as verbal as it gets. Look for the donkey mask.
"Cat Napper," by Kwik Jones
4:30 p.m. Jan. 30
This comedic mystery thriller takes on the themes of money and power, but salts it with talk of felines, who are a metaphor for children who are being abducted. "It started about crimes against women and children, but as 2020 went on it made its mark on the work. I just let the play go where it needs to go," said Kwik, who has written and directed 13 plays. "And it has cats." Tagline: Money, power, politics, and cats! (But no digital rear ends.)
"Martha Bakes," by Don Wilson Glenn
4:30 p.m. Jan. 31
Director Damaris Webb of the theater group Vanport Mosaic says the Founding Fathers' wives helped keep the men civil. In this story, a fictional Martha Washington, now a widow, social-distances during a fictional slave rebellion, in which 350 slaves hear they will be freed when she dies. Martha makes a three-course meal, TV cooking show-style, and ruminates. This is a reading of just Act 1 of the play. Act 2 is about her slave Oney Marie Judge, and Act 3 is about both of them. Women's suffrage and abolitionism come together.
Young Playwrights Festival, various artists
Noon Jan. 30
Lakewood Theater hacks together three one-act plays over two hours. One is called "Vow" ("workplace and career dynamics"), another "Life in Color" ("a heartfelt story of a woman artist's life") and the third, "Breakup," is Casey Tilgner's fictionalized romantic breakup done in rapidly changing genres, such as a nature documentary and a sitcom. Scripts were workshopped with Lake Oswego theater professionals.
More to note:
• "Troy USA" is a reworking of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida" by the always excellent Bag&Baggage.
• "Prolific," by physical comedian Anne Zander, is about having a baby and a career.
• "Be Careful What You Ask For" (old white people talking about 2020).
• "Lilies" (lockdown poetry)
• "Hot Mess," the obligatory zombie musical.
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