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Fertile Ground: the scramble begins

Portland's eleventh annual festival of new works is a citywide blur of hopeful creativity. Media night gives just a hint of the pandemonium.

There are a million stories in the naked city, and I figure on a recent Monday evening I heard about 683,427 of ’em. Tall tales, sad tales, hopeful tales, adventure tales. Stories spun by puppets and sexologists and Suffragettes. Roundabout rambles. Elevator speeches. Solos and duets. A surge of stories, a flood of fables. Soft sells, hard sells, stories spun with urgency or jazz-hands pizzazz.

It was media night for Portland’s eleventh annual Fertile Ground festival of new works – what festival director Nicole Lane likes to call “speed-dating the media” – and there I sat at my little assigned corner café table on the mezzanine of The Armory, other little tables splayed out in a semicircle on either side as an invading cast of producers, directors, playwrights, actors, and assorted backstage types pressed forward, slapping press releases and postcards and business cards on the tabletop and launching into their three-minute schpiels before moving on to the next line at the next table to do it all again.

Festival director Nicole Lane, clanging the bell: time to switch partners and start again. Photo courtesy Fertile Ground

Fertile Ground – which runs officially January 30-February 9 in spaces scattered across the Portland metro area, although some shows have already begun and some will run longer – has, as Lane noted before unleashing the horde, “seventy-five shows, a hundred-twenty or more acts of creation.” That’s because some programs have multiple short works: a half-dozen each for the promising Portland’s Mini Musical Festival, PDX Playwrights’ Crazy Dukes Instant Play Festival, and the Groovin’ Greenhouse dance showcase, for instance; eight for Daisy Dukes Shorts Night. Linestorm Playwright’s Lunchtime Reading Series (a couple are actually in the early evening) at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie includes free readings of ten new scripts, by the likes of such familiar names as Rich Rubin, Josie Seid, E.M. Lewis, and Sara Jean Accuardi. Like a set of Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls, there are festivals within festivals.

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Fertile Ground: Curtains (almost) up

ArtsWatch speed-dates the makers of 2017's Portland new-works festival. We don't kiss, but we do tell. Here's what's happening.

By CHRISTA McINTYRE, A.L. ADAMS, and BOB HICKS

One thing we’ve learned in life: You can’t date everyone. Even speedily.

Nevertheless, the three of us took a pretty good shot at it on the first Thursday in January, when we set up business at a big table in Artists Repertory Theatre’s upper lobby and braced ourselves for an onrushing tide of producers, writers, directors, and performers in this year’s Fertile Ground Festival, an orgy of new theater, dance, comedy, solo, musical-theater, circus, and other performance works that’ll scatter across the city January 19-29.

The meet-and-greets, which are set up roughly like a speed-dating session (or so we’ve been told), are a cacophony of elevator speeches, and as it happens, all three of us knew what to expect from previous years’ free-for-alls. Theater people line up in front of a confusion of journalists from print, online, radio, and television outlets and work their way to the front, where they get five minutes to pitch their show and explain why that journalist really, really ought to see it and write very, very nicely about it. Then a whistle blows, and everyone moves on to the next encounter. Did you get that phone number/email address/press release/oddball memento? We’ll be in touch. (That little pink-wrapped chunk of Hubba Bubba bubble gum from 1980’s Teen Musical? We’ve tossed it in the drawer with all of our leftover 1982 Easter Peeps to help us make it through Armageddon.)

At the ArtsWatch table, and beyond. Fertile Ground photo

As usual, Fertile Ground boss Nicole Lane kept things on a strict schedule, and by evening’s end we hadn’t got around to talking to everyone. A few no doubt got caught up at other tables and ran out of time. A few just had other priorities. Some, we imagine, didn’t show up at all: they’re not the dating kind. Still, out of seventy-plus acts, we managed among us to talk with people from roughly forty. Add to those the dance productions that ArtsWatch’s Jamuna Chiarini has written about separately, and … let’s just say we played the field.

One of the great things about Fertile Ground, which began as an annual festival in 2009, is that it’s open to new projects at every stage of production, from first readings to staged readings to workshops to world premieres. Theater companies have started to book premiere productions to coincide with the festival, lending the city a sense of freshness and discovery, at least on its performance stages, every January. It’s like a smaller Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and just as unpredictable), but made up entirely of local acts.

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