Fold in Gently

Fertile Ground 2021: The Aftermath

Covid changed the game for the new-performance festival. But going virtual was a renaissance, not a retreat.

My Fertile Ground is not your Fertile Ground. That doesn’t mean I magically attended some sort of alternate-universe version of Portland’s annual festival of new works; I immersed myself in the same virtual rush of performances. Yet this year, I was intensely aware of how undefinable the festival can be.  

Seeing every project featured in Fertile Ground is all but impossible, which makes the event difficult to evaluate. If I had watched different (or more) shows, would I have thought the festival was better? Worse? With no in-person performances, it felt more important than ever to assess it as fully as possible. My job wasn’t simply to review the stories being told. I had to review whether the festival had successfully adapted to the constraints of COVID-19.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


For me, the answer is simple: yes. My favorite Fertile Ground projects of 2021 were Chosen; Fold in Gently: Recipes for Friendship and Forgiveness (and Fucking Up); Oh Myh Dating Hell; and The Prismagic Radio Hour. What made them invigorating was how they each—in epically different ways—embraced the struggles of making art in a locked-down world, transforming obstacles into creative fuel.

Chosen is a solo performance. Fold in Gently is a baking podcast. Oh Myh is a next-gen romantic comedy. Prismagic is a comedy-circus-dance extravaganza. If I learned anything from Fertile Ground this year, it’s that there wasn’t one way for the festival to work during COVID. Some artists compensated for the limits of screens by blitzing audiences with movement (Prismagic is packed with miraculous acrobatic feats), but minimalism proved equally magical.

Alissa Jessup’s “Chosen”: A singular tale of trauma and survival.

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Interactive cookies and scares

A baking show and an augmented reality game at the online Fertile Ground festival of new works mix viewing with performing

Interactive art has the power to blur the line between audience and performer—or even turn an audience member into a performer. That’s what happens during Fold in Gently: Recipes for Friendship and Forgiveness (and Fucking Up) and RE: Lilith Lopez, two inventive entries in this year’s Fertile Ground festival that could not have existed if the festival hadn’t gone virtual.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


Fold in Gently is a podcast-style performance that was dreamed up by Elsa Dougherty and Rachel Wells. While not all post-COVID 19 podcasts are created equal (Sir Roger Deakins may be a brilliant cinematographer, but he should stay away off the airwaves), Dougherty and Wells have cooked up something ingenious—a communal experience that is as much about memory as it is about food.

“Fold in Gently”: cookies and advice. Photo: Mantel media

Fold in Gently offers a crash course in baking chocolate chip cookies. I was relieved when I realized that I had all of the necessary ingredients (thank god I bought cornstarch!) and when I managed to avoid mangling the cookies, which had a rich, vanilla-y flavor that contrasted delectably with the semisweet chocolate chips I dumped into the batter.

In between talking you through the recipe, Dougherty and Wells interview guests about food-centric recollections. A man recalls devouring a bag of sugar cookies; a woman remembers her deceased brother’s passion for cheese potatoes. For Dougherty and Wells, food isn’t just about consumption. It’s about aging, love and rituals.

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