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Portland's annual new theater festival is online again in 2022 but nothing can depress the thespians' imagination

COURTESY PHOTO: MADDIE NGUYEN - The actors in Do It For Mead take over a coffee shop and put on a pirate musical in "The Misadventures of Missy Black."Portland's annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Works runs Jan 27 to Feb 6, 2022. Like last year, the 37 works are all online (to prevent spreading COVID-19), although some have live performances too. And like every year, it's a mixture of final works, readings and works in progress.

If you ever need an example of pandemic resilience (beyond, say, health care workers or supermarket staff), look at the playwrights and actors of Portland. They could have thrown in the towel and produced nothing these last two years, which have been more ring light than limelight. But they didn't. They kept at it, imagining their audience when they couldn't see it, picturing their opening nights when the theaters were unavailable.

Note that all shows are available online (some on demand, some at set times) and a few are also live in theaters. The Portland Tribune listened to three hours of five-minute Zoom pitches and picked out a handful that sound like must-sees. Everything else is in agiant pdf at www.fertilegroundpdx2022.org.

No, it's not weird that you are still buying original plays online and watching them from your couch. One day you will look back at this and chuckle. Enjoy!

COURTESY PHOTO: MADDIE NGUYEN - A pirate looks to find herself and deal with an arranged marriage in "The Misadventures of Missy Black" by Do It For Mead."The Misadventures of Missy Black: A Pirate Play," by Do It For Mead

Since the demise of the pirate band Captain Bogg and Salty, Portlanders have had a hook-shaped hole in their hearts. This film of a musical, which was staged at Cafe Delirium in Gresham, chronicles the life and adventures of a young woman who grows up to be a legendary pirate queen in an alternate version of late 18th Century New Haven.

Misty Black, the daughter of a pair of common criminals, is forced by her parents into marriage to Jericho Black, a pirate captain and gentlemen. Hilarity ensues.

"It's a story for anyone who's ever wished they could turn pirate," explained director Maddie Nguyen. "The kids who grew up on 'Peter Pan' and or 'Pirates of Penzance,' depending on your parents, the girls who wanted to be Keira Knightley, or Johnny Depp."

Do it For Mead was created in the spring of 2020 as a solution to the challenges posed to live performances during the initial COVID-19 lockdown.

"It is very hard to be entering the theater world right now," said Nguyen. "Many of our peers have given up on theater for entirely valid reasons, but we are determined to continue making a space for ourselves in an incredibly difficult industry."

The show is a staged reading framed around the idea of a bunch of theater kids breaking into a coffee shop and playing pirates. They studied filmed versions of "Hamilton" and "Come From Away" for inspiration. Trigger warning: Contains sea shanties.

COURTESY PHOTO: LARA KLINGEMAN - Performers from the Echo Theater Company took to the streets to make nine short dance films in "Touch and Go."• "Touch and Go," by Echo Theater Company

Many of the performers in this package of short dance films were with the excellent Do Jump! Theater and are skilled in acrobatics, aerial dance and group problem solving. One piece is all about feet. Others defy gravity inside the tall Echo Theater space. Look out for the big puppet, "which is basically someone's buttocks stuck through the top of a skirt with shorts on them and some eyeballs," said director Aaron Wheeler-Kay.

"We wanted to retain some element of live performance, so we created work that we could do in the world and film."

This includes people dancing at crosswalks for whomever pulls up at the stoplight. "You can watch them in any order, they're for anyone with a short attention span. It's meant to help us all feel a little more delight," Wheeler-Kay said.

COURTESY PHOTO: NADYA PYNKINA - Russian plastic theater is at the heart of "Heart of Stone" by Fools House Art Collective.
• "Heart of Stone," by Fools House Art Collective

This 20-minute piece is based on a longer work in progress. A Muslim Uighur boy, in love with dance and music, defies both his father and the government soldiers when he tries to save a mysterious ancient artifact in a cave, risking his life but discovering who he is.

"Back home we call it plastic theater, which is a mix of movement and dance, and opera singing, spoken word and music," said producer Olga Kravtsova.

The show will be directed and choreographed by Alisher Khasanov, who is also the director of the Movement Theater "Mim-Orkestr." Khasanov is from Moscow by way of Kazakhstan.

"We try to highlight stories from the people who typically do not bring enough attention in anywhere and news in onstage and off," said Kravtsova. "It's a mixture of physical theater, but with a strong text. We did it in a very Russian way — we went to sauna, had tea and wrote a play."

The ensemble is made up of artists from Moscow and Portland's Russian and Russian-American community.

"We have a very diverse cast of ages, nationalities and genders. Half of the cast happen to be Russian, from Fool House in Portland, which puts on plays in Russian," Khasanov said.

Bear in mind the players are no strangers to the European avant garde, so this won't be a walk in the park.

COURTESY PHOTO: FERTILE GROUND - Yantra Productions uses Mexican and East Indian mythology and folklore in "Cosmogonos."• "Cosmogonos," by Yantra Productions

Ajai Tripathi was Milagro Theatre's education director and he teaches classes at Northwest Children's Theater and School. This film of his 30-minute play is in two parts and uses the mythology and folklore of his Mexican American (Amoxtli) and East Indian (Ananta) heritage to tell an origin of the universe story.

It also draws on the work of Joseph Campbell and presumes knowledge of the Codex Mendoza. Unlike the big bang, it is just half an hour long and is all done through shadow puppetry and animation.

"The idea was to use shadow puppets as a way to show it, rather than tell it with a whole bunch of really long names with a bunch of syllables," Tripathi said.

COURTESY PHOTO: FERTILE GROUND - John Brown and Frederick Douglass debate a raid to free slaves in "Crossroads at Chambersburg" by Fred Cooprider.
• "Crossroads at Chambersburg," by Fred Cooprider

This play tells the story of the slavery abolitionist John Brown when he raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry to free slaves.

Before he went on this raid, he invited his old friend Frederick Douglass to meet with him in a stone quarry in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Douglass was adamantly opposed to the plan and they debated the merits.

The play imagines their dialogue, although some is lifted from the history books.

"I think the play has a special relevance today because of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing issue of racism in America," said writer Fred Cooprider of the 50-minute, fully-staged play.

COURTESY PHOTO: JIM COLLIAS - What does it mean to be connected to Earth? The Portland Eurythmy Ensemble shows us in "Earth: This Being Human."• "Earth: This Being Human," by The Portland Eurythmy Ensemble.

This 13-part tale takes the audience on a journey to what it means to be connected to the Earth.

In eurythmy, the listener can see what they are hearing.

"Suddenly, you're seeing the movement, the color, and the flow and the shapes of the sounds," member Amanda Leonard said. "The goal of eurythmy is simply to make sounds visible through movement."

All the performers are wearing silk because of the dynamic quality of the fabric. An actor draped in a cloak oozes across the stage as though they are mud itself.

COURTESY PHOTO: FERTILE GROUND - Sara Jean Accuardi of Theater Vertigo takes us on a journey through a stressful 2020 with "Landscape."• "Landscape," by Sara Jean Accuardi of Theater Vertigo

Who's still processing 2020? This audio play has it all: Trump, COVID-19 and Bets, a single mother.

Fertile Ground Festival of New Works 2022

Jan 27 to Feb 6

www.fertilegroundpdx2022.org


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