Christopher Acebo

DramaWatch: Uncommon Ground

Fresh voices and surprising ideas emerge through the annual Fertile Ground festival of new work, and the theater week stays busy elsewhere, too.

The time has come again for Portland’s annual mid-winter performance bloom. Fertile Ground, “a city-wide festival of new works,” marks its 11th year and features 11 days of world premiere plays, play readings, workshop productions of works in-progress, dance, puppet shows and so forth. Dozens of shows in dozens of places around town, some ticketed, some free, almost all accessible with a $70 festival pass — that “almost” caveat necessary because many shows sell out or at least producers of popular shows fill up the reservations set aside for pass-holders.
In any case, it’s a great time to take time to race around (obeying all traffic codes and etiquette, mind you) and indulge in the cold-weather cornucopia. 

In addition to the basic concept outlined above, you’ll want to consult the 2020 festival guide or its online equivalent to help make choices about what to see. It’s a lot to take in and even after — perhaps especially after — perusing the 24-page guide you’ll have questions. I did. So I called festival director Nicole Lane.

“Who the heck are all these people??”

Well, actually I tried to make the question sound more professionally journalistic than that. I mentioned that in the festival’s early years it featured major productions by big companies such as Portland Center Stage and Artists Rep, but that’s no longer the case. And that projects seems less likely these days to come from the ranks of theater artists and writers whose work we see the rest of the year. But I was really asking who are all these writers and directors and producers I’ve not heard of before.

Fertile Ground festival director Nicole Lane. Photo: courtesy of Fertile Ground.

“Fertile Ground has evolved in terms of meeting the needs of Portland artists,” Lane replied. “It was founded upon a very open, non-adjudicated process.”

In the beginning — not coincidentally, she pointed out, when she and festival founder Trisha Mead were working for some of those big theater companies — the big producers were paying attention to the opportunity the fest presented and scheduling new works in conjunction with it. But the overlapping complications of new-play development and season planning make it difficult to keep getting brand new plays produced and also make sure they get staged at such a particular spot on the calendar.
Lane points out that the large companies are “finding ways to be supportive without putting shows in,” such as the panel discussion on IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility) that PCS is hosting on the festival’s final day, Feb. 9.

As for the folks who are in the festival, Lane was kind enough not to point out that the fact that I haven’t heard of them probably says more about me than about the artists in question. Instead, she gently reminded me that, ““one of the major tenets of Fertile Ground is producer education and opportunity — developing a new crop of producers alongside the new crop of works and ideas.”

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Vision 2020: Christopher Acebo

The longtime OSF designer and arts leader says extending equity to under-represented groups provides a way forward for everyone

As is true of many of our Vision 2020 participants, Christopher Acebo wears many hats. Until leaving recently to pursue freelance opportunities, he was associate artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. In 14 seasons there, his work included virtually every aspect of play production, from season planning and casting to design; he also participated in strategic planning and creative team selections.

He worked on more than 30 productions at OSF, including Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way, which also played on Broadway and won the 2014 Tony Award for best play. His work has also been in theaters in Portland and around the country. Beginning Jan. 16, he’ll be directing Lynn Nottage’s Sweat at Profile Theatre in Portland.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


At OSF, Acebo initiated and curated the Latinx Play Project, which developed and presented new plays and provided a forum for artists, producers, and audiences to discuss and advance Latinx theatre. He was also a founding member of the Latinx Theatre Commons and in 2013 was presented with the LTC Award for Outstanding Advocacy for Latinx Voices in the New American Theater.

Christopher Acebo filled a variety of roles during 14 seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “Our collective responsibility as an audience/viewer/listener,” he says, “is to enter every artistic experience with deep curiosity and empathy.”

For seven seasons, he was an ensemble member of the nationally acclaimed Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles. He also has taught at Cal State University in Los Angeles and the University of California-San Diego. Along with his OSF duties in Oregon, Acebo is the immediate former chairman of the Oregon Arts Commission and a former board member of Theatre Communications Group.

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