Fertile Ground Festival

New works of theater, dance and comedy fill Portland's stages every January.

ALL CAPS: A Comedy Show with Character(s) curated by Scott Rogers. Photo Jason Traeger.ALL CAPS: A Comedy Show with Character(s) curated by Scott Rogers. Photo Jason Traeger.
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    Early birds, script-chasers, workshop-watchers and culture vultures already know: Fertile Ground Festival (Jan. 23 – Feb. 2, 2014) is where you go to see Portland’s newest performance works first.

    The 11-day festival, produced by the nonprofit Portland Area Theater Alliance (PATA), is distinct from other cities’ “fringe” fests in two important regards: 1) It only features local producers; 2) It’s non-juried, waving creators through an open door to access the critics they value most: audiences.

    As you might imagine, that means there’s a lot to see. 2013 featured 100 new works; 2014 boasts more than 70. The lineup is varied and abundant, packed with theater and dance, but offering flourishes of comedy and musical theater, too. There’s way more to see than one person can manage, and stumbling into something on your own that turns out to be fabulous is part of the fun. Still, we have a few suggestions to help you on your way. The website has all the information you’ll need.

    In the realm of fully-staged productions, Artists Repertory Theatre will debut The Monster Builder, a razor-sharp comedy about a renowned skyscraper architect’s come-uppance. And the world premiere of End of Sex from Theatre Vertigo uses imaginary advances in sexual science to illustrate interpersonal dynamics that are already too real.

    Of course, what makes FG so delightfully “fringe” is the inclusion of promising upstarts in addition to the more established companies. Corey O’Hara’s real-time dialogue drama Middle Names has buzz after contending for the Kennedy Center’s John Cauble Short Play Award. And the casting for D.C. Copeland’s double bill of staged readings, The Truth According to Rose and Merrily Down The Stream, bodes well, too.

    Veronica Esagui and Linda Kuhlmann, longtime published authors whose chance meeting at a book signing wrought Aged to Perfection, are eager to gauge audience reactions to their staged reading about a winery heiress who also inherits “three old ladies.” Gregory Neil Forbes’ Haunting of Childhood, also a staged reading, views the playwright’s youth in a “haunted” house through the lens of academia.

    Noteworthy musicals include Dennis Nyback’s time-traveling love letter to 1920’s jazz, The Past is Calling, and Untitled Productions’ confrontational sermon of post-Baptist skepticism, Revival. Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego will host The Temporary Man, a staged reading fresh from a spit-shine at the Village Theatre Festival in Issaquah, Wash. Spectre Productions will present its third iteration of 4×4=Musicals, staged within the claustrophobic confines of four-foot stage (a la the famous Ten Tiny Dances), while Curious Comedy sweetens its annual musical variety revue David Saffert’s Birthday Bashstravaganza! IV with the promise of some frankly unbelievable cameos: Truman Copote and Liza Minnelli.

    For more laughs, ALL CAPS runs stand-up comedians through disorienting clowning and comedia drills, while Pep Talk from Hand2Mouth Theatre and the comedian-conceived Live your future, today! each take a well-deserved jab at motivational speaking.

    In the growing dance category, Groovin’ Greenhouse is a festival staple, a series of showcases Polaris Dance Theatre hosts, presenting their own work alongside a rotating roster of other local companies. Automal’s Amends, part of this series, asks audience interaction in the form of “passing light.” Triple Dark’s Picture Sentence Picture converts a surprise-filled narrative pulled from a game of “exquisite corpse” into movement.

    These offerings are a lot to process … but if you like your performance arts like your produce — locally sourced and partially raw—then you’re sure to enjoy Fertile Ground’s bounty.


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