Cat Napper

Strike up the virtual festival band

ArtsWatch Weekly: Online Fertile Ground fest marches on, film fest updates, Hal Holbrook on jackasses & politics, monthly guides

BELLS ARE NOT RINGING AND NO MARCHING BANDS OR HIGH-STEPPING HORSES are sashaying through the center of town, but it’s festival time in Portland. We’re talking, of course, about Fertile Ground, the city’s annual festival of new performance works, which in an ordinary year would see revelers scurrying high, low, and in between across the metropolitan area, into basement and attic spaces and grand theater halls, to be among the first people on the planet to see the beginnings of upwards of a hundred new creative works, in all stages of development, from first readings to workshops to full-blown world premieres. Over its dozen years Fertile Ground has become something like a localized Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with the restriction that shows aren’t imported – they have to be made here, by people who can plausibly claim to live here.
 

A whirlwind of dance, circus, and aerial action awaits in Petra Delarocha’s “Prismagic Radio Hour,” premiering at 9 p.m. Friday in Fertile Ground.

This year everything’s changed: What had been known and celebrated for its in-the-moment acts of performance has transformed because of Covid restrictions into a virtual festival. As the 2021 festival moves into its final days – it began on Jan. 28 and closes on Saturday, Feb. 7, although projects can be viewed online through Feb. 15 – ArtsWatch’s writers have racked up a lot of screen time. We haven’t seen everything, but we’ve spent hours watching, and we’ll be watching more. One thing that’s stood out has been the ability of some projects to think like hybrids, making the most under the circumstances of the possibilities of both film and live performance. 

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Fertile Ground 2021: Digital seedlings sprout

The annual PDX festival of new works, which ordinarily sprawls across spaces large and small throughout the metro area, has become a garden of virtual theater

As the pandemic raged through Portland last year, Nicole Lane wondered what to do about Fertile Ground. For 11 years, the festival had been a sweeping showcase for new works (it’s best known for theater, but has also incorporated dance and film). Yet with a tradition of cramming crowds into venues across the city, it was ill-suited to a post-COVID 19 world.

That’s why Lane, who has been festival director since 2010, began to envision a virtual version of Fertile Ground. “I don’t know what bee was in my bonnet, but I saw it,” she says. “I saw the possibilities.”


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


On January 28, those possibilities will become realities. By offering a zany mix of free, prerecorded performances through February 7 (the festival features everything from an interactive baking show to a spinoff of A Christmas Carol titled Fezziwig’s Fortune) Fertile Ground 2021 seeks to sustain the festival’s rambunctious spirit—and shake up its status quo with a lineup with works from BIPOC and LBGTQ visionaries.

Myhraliza Aala’s audacious tale of the horrors of the dating game, “Oh My Dating Hell,” premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, Fertile Ground’s opening night. It’s produced by Aala Is Possible.

Fertile Ground has long been renowned for its restless rhythm. It typically spans an epic range of stories (the Fertile Ground plays that I’ve written about include a multigenerational airport drama and a screwball comedy about an alligator-ravaged hotel) and beckons audiences into performance spaces both expected (Artists Rep) and eccentric (Mother Foucault’s Bookshop). 

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