Minority report: highlights from underrepresented voices

Fertile Ground 2015 includes an array of works by or about people of color, queer folks, women, homeless folks, and teens. A quick guide.

By REBECCA WAITS

As a lifelong actor and theatergoer, it’s weird being the darkest person in the room at performance events (especially since I’m a light-skinned biracial woman). But, that’s how it tends to go. C’est la vie, I tell myself, sighing in line for the bathroom during intermission. I am usually crestfallen and disappointed at the lack of color and diversity at theatrical shows–both in the audience and onstage. That’s why it warms my angry heart to see so many promising works from POC and other marginalized groups on this year’s Fertile Ground Fest lineup–and they truly run the gamut, from historical drama, to comedy, musical to spoken word! In a city/cultural climate where peoples’ cultural identities are constantly being erased or denied (“There are no Black people in Portland!” – a person who has lived here for two months, sound of me sighing forever, etc., etc.), it is critical that we raise up and amplify the voices of those who are rarely heard or acknowledged.

Not only are there a lot of amazing, talented POC in and around Portland, but a lot of us are producing a wide range of smart, important, timely performance art that doesn’t always make it to the bigger stages. Fertile Ground exists to incubate and showcase “abundant works of creation” in all forms and at all stages of their creation. It is my hope that audiences can use this exciting time as an opportunity to broaden horizons, meet your neighbors, hop adventurously outside your comfort zone, and create conversations.

It’s art, baby, and it’s all new to you!

If you truly wish to “grow out into undiscovered nooks and crannies” of locally produced new work, consider checking out and supporting work from artists of color, queer folks, women, homeless folks, and teenagers. This year’s festival is spread out over 11 days and 37 venues (pubs, movie theaters, museums, churches?!) and there are dozens upon dozens of performances to choose from. Many shows are under $20, several are free or “no one turned away for lack of funds”; and with Festival passes at only $50, you can’t afford not to go see something new! Here are some highlights from some oft-underrepresented producers, writers and directors of our community.

Now get out there and dig into it!

Site of the old Vanport in north Portland.

Site of the old Vanport in north Portland.

Cottonwood in the Flood

[A Staged Reading]

By Rich Rubin; directed by Damaris Webb, in association with PassinArt.

A dramatic look at the history of Vanport, the multiracial city that was built in 1942 largely to house World War II workers in Portland’s Kaiser shipyards, and was destroyed in a flood in 1948.

Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Ave.; Jan. 22, 23 @ 7:30p.m.; Jan 24 @ 2:30p.m.; $5 at the door

 

No Room of Her Own

[A Staged Reading]

By Desiree Hellegers; directed by Patty Price-Yates.

As women and children are quickly rising to the top in numbers of poverty and homelessness, we often lose sight of the real, visceral humanity of their stories.

Circle Theatre Project collaborates with author and playwright Hellegers to bring to life her 2012 oral history No Room of Her Own – Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death, and Resistance. In a piece that challenges stereotypes about our homeless brothers and sisters, an intriguing cast of women reveals harrowing narratives of impermanent transit across the United States, from the rough streets of New York to the Jim Crow South.

The extraordinary women in this visionary play reveal the formidable struggles they face every day. Even as catastrophic health issues and routine threats of physical and sexual assault are recalled, the women talk freely about their own intellectual interests and spiritual lives. Passionately advocating for the homeless community, the women of No Room of Her Own recount vigils marking the deaths and honoring the lives of the hundreds who have died homeless in Seattle, the city that spawned Microsoft, Starbucks and the WTO.

Copeland Commons at Tabor Space, 5441 SE Belmont St.; Jan. 23, 24 @ 7:30p.m. Tickets:  $10 advance/$15 at the door.

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Saffert as Liberace. Photo: Randi Wigginton

Saffert as Liberace. Photo: Randi Wigginton

David Saffert’s 40th Birthday – The Liberace Edition!

[A Comedic Musical World Premiere]

By David Saffert, Jillian Snow Harris & TriptheDark Dance Company; directed by Stephanie Cordell.

In this fully staged premiere, theatrical gadabout David Saffert celebrates his fifth and final birthday celebration with FGF – he’s not dying, it’s just the last time, he says, he’s running a birthday party show starring himself. This year, he brings us his own version of the twinkly-eyed bedazzled rhinestone king behind the keys, Liberace. The show features “Liberace” on piano, a full live band, dancers, Liberace’s long term “special friend” Scott Thorson, and Jillian Snow Harris as Judy Garland, Bernadette Peters, Eartha Kitt, & Liza Minnelli. (How does one woman pull all that off? I don’t know! Let’s find out.)

This night of queered-out glitz and drinking also includes an appearance/performance from Liberace’s real-life musical director, Bo Ayars, who just so happens to live in St. Johns and was happy to oblige when Saffert tracked him down, originally for research. This over-the-top evening would be perfect for a raunchy, champagne-drizzled date night, or just a light-hearted palette-cleanser from all the fest’s drama. Running time is about an hour and 45 minutes.

Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; Jan. 23, 24, 30, 31 @ 7:30p.m. Tickets:  $12 advance/$15 at door.

Roots, Reality & Rhyme

[Theatre/Literary Arts Staged Reading]

By Turiya Autry; directed by Kevin Jones; music performed by Jana Crenshaw & Turiya Autry; film by Elijah Hasan and Chris Fuzell; presented by Good Sista Ink.

Turiya Autry. Photo: Fertile Ground

Turiya Autry. Photo: Fertile Ground

Multi-faceted poet, artist, author, educator and performer Turiya Autry is an integral part of our Portland community. For more than two decades, she has provided assemblies, workshops and residencies and has worked with more than 50 K-12 schools. Creating and delivering almost 20 unique university courses, across four departments, Turiya has built a veritable trunk show on culture and identity. Her work incorporates the arts, pop culture and history with personal, community and political struggles. Roots, Reality and Rhyme is both a book and a performance–a poetic journey, a saga that is the result of 15 years of research, travel and introspection.

This performance runs about 2 hours, with an intermission. It will be followed by a talk-back discussion session and a book-signing.

Conduit Dance, 918 S.W. Yamhill St. #401; Jan. 24, 25, 31, Feb 1 @ 2p.m. Tickets:  $10

Alan’s Confectionery

[A Theatrical/Musical Staged Reading]

By Alan Alexander III; presented by PDX Playwrights.

Alan's Confectionery. Photo: Fertile Ground

Alan’s Confectionery. Photo: Fertile Ground

A musical mystery about black family in sweet and sour American times, this new work tracks the legacy and entrepreneurial spirit of an elder Alan living in uncertain times. Plagued by unanswered questions about the family’s matriarch, Alan helps navigate his family through the twists and turns of the Great Depression and World War II. As Alan says, “Some folks can snatch the sweetness out of the cake and never crack the crust.” Catch this one-night-only staged reading and bite off a piece of personal history from a local playwright.

Hipbone Studio, 1847 E. Burnside St. #104; Jan. 25 @ 6 p.m. Tickets:  $10

Time, A Fair Hustler

[a workshop]

Inspired by Gus Van Sant’s movie My Own Private Idaho; produced by Hand2Mouth Theatre; directed by Jonathan Walters; created by H2M & collaborating writer Andrea Stolowitz.

Hand2Mouth considers changes in Portland since Van Sant’s 1991 vision of a city’s gritty underside and now.

Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 S.W. Morrison St.; Jan. 26 @ 7:30p.m. Tickets: FREE

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What Is Erotic?

[A Dance/Theatre/Cabaret Workshop]

Directed by Eleanor O’Brien

Eleanor O'Brien pops the question.

Eleanor O’Brien pops the question.

Dance Naked Productions brings us a collection of original, sex-positive performance art that aims to defy categories and cross boundaries–but, like, probably with not that much nudity? As it was described to me at our speed-dating event, this amalgam of “satirical hipster erotica” brings together a broad-ranging cast of varying ages, races and genders, presented in a saucy cabaret format. Artists of all levels and ilk will bring us stand-up, storytelling, spoken word, song and dance in a queer-friendly, safe-space environment that is meant to be accessible whether you’re leather-bound for kinkiness, or vanilla as a light and rare Portland snow. I was told that if you send erotic selfies through Dance Naked’s facebook page, you can get free tickets–but don’t quote me on that! What Is Erotic? runs about two hours, with an intermission.

The Headwaters Theatre, 55 N.E. Farragut St. #9; Jan. 27, 28 @ 7:30 p.m., full run Feb. 12-14. Tickets:  $15

Maybe it’s Because…(I’m So Versatile)

[A Workshop: Theatre/Music/Dance/Drama/Comedy]

Stories from p:ear, by p:ear youth in transition; directed by Angie Collins; presented by Well Arts Institute.

Facilitated by Angie Collins and Ann Singer, these two workshop performances feature stories collected from the creative mentoring of homeless youth in the wonderful p:ear program of downtown Portland. This show aims to give Portland audiences a glimpse into the lives of youth living on the edges of a polarizing society through their poetry, songs, comedy and stories. This dynamic group of young people invites you to share space and listen to some groundbreaking storytelling from the other side of the fence.

@ p:ear, 338 N.W. Sixth Ave.; Jan. 31, Feb. 1 @ 6p.m. Tickets:  $10 general/$7 student/seniors

 

 

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