new plays festival

Speed-dating at Fertile Ground

As the new-works festival gets ready for its tenth annual run, a horde of writers and performers check out the media (and vice versa)

And lo, on the third day of the New Year, a great clamor fell upon the multitude, and the dread Pealing of the Four Minutes rang out, and the people scurried from line to line, taking their spots in the sun, pitching their pitches, eager to be heard. And a mighty clatter and confusion arose, accompanied by press releases and business cards, and then the next wave burst, and the pieces shuffled yet again. And the creator of it all smiled, and said, “That’s good!”

It’s true. On January 3, in the upstairs lobby of Artists Repertory Theatre, producers, performers, directors, and writers of shows in Portland’s 10th annual Fertile Ground festival of new works met with members of the press, pressing them, as it were, with quick-hit details on their shows and why the media members should really, truly see and publicize them. Once again Fertile Ground director Nicole Lane was stage-managing this frenzy of what she calls “media speed-dating,” cracking the whip – or, more accurately, blowing a harmonica – to keep things moving swiftly along. What sometimes seemed like bedlam actually had a drill-sergeant efficiency: Line up in front of a press member sitting at a table. Take your turn. Make your pitch. You get four minutes. The mouth harp shrieks. You move on to another line, and someone takes your place.

The Fertile Ground speed-dating crowd. ArtsWatch’s contingent is tucked discreetly toward the back, hidden behind more dashing daters. Photo courtesy Fertile Ground

This year, ArtsWatch’s contingency in the hot seats consisted of me and Marty Hughley, our theater editor and chief theater columnist. We made a deal beforehand. Marty would get the lay of the land, find out what’s out there, use his brief talks to help strategize our coverage, including which full productions to review. I would do my best to simply report the evening as it occurred from my table. And Bobby Bermea, who wasn’t at date night (sensible man), would tackle the festival from the inside, talking about the stages of some of the shows, and talking with artists about the process of creation. 

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DramaWatch Weekly: Fertile Ground, Playing Favorites

As Portland's sprawling festival of new performance works begins, A.L. Adams picks her best bets (and weaves in a nonfestival highlight, too)

For YEARS, at multiple publications, I used to compile an overview of Fertile Ground titled “Fertile Ground Speaks for Itself,” wherein quips from the scripts submitted by their authors comprised the entire story, and I just formatted it.

It is, after all, a lowercase-f fringe festival, an uncurated and welcoming workshop space where indeed the pieces DO “speak for themselves.” But now I’m in grad school. And my time to listen is limited. If I go at all, I’ll have to be pre-selective. Hence, I find myself (for the first time) inclined to speak up for particular festival participants whom I’ve already observed doing good work. If your time is limited like mine, here’s my short list of “good risks.”

Nikki Weaver and friends, piecing things together for “Weaving Women Together.” Portland Playhouse photo

Aubrey Jessen’s appeared in many plays at Action/Adventure, portraying everything from a superhero action star to a breathlessly anxious secretary. I didn’t catch her playwrighting debut, Hawthorne, but a Drammy nod suggests it was deft. A speech therapist by trade, Jessen seems even in her improvs like a master of metacognition, with a keen awareness of thoughts-about-thoughts and an aw-shucks persona that makes such musings accessible. I’d deem it worth seeing what she does in Velvet.  It’s a double-header with Autumn Buck’s Sable in the Forest. Phillip Berns—last seen carrying A Christmas Carol solo—is directing Velvet. I could say a lot about Berns, but my opinionated aunt side would rather just pat your arm and exclaim, “He’s very good!”

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