virtual theater

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.”

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 Asia 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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A Milagro Carol

Working from generation to generation, Milagro and playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez give "A Christmas Carol" a virtual update

The story of A Xmas Cuento Remix begins with a play being handed from one generation to another. In 2015, Milagro Theatre co-founder José González began discussing the possibility of a Christmas show with his daughter, Los Angeles-based playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez. He decided to show her a Christmas Carol-inspired script that he had written—and while she liked what she read, she saw yet-to-be-plumbed depths.

“My father’s play, while it’s beautiful and is really an incredible story, it really speaks to the challenges that Latinos faced in the nineties, which are different today,” says Malan-Gonzalez. “My father touched on immigration and deportation in his play, and so I kind of wanted to also touch on [questions like], Who has access to healthcare? What does gentrification look like in our communities?”

Those are some of the questions that ignited A Xmas Cuento Remix. Written by Malan-Gonzalez, the play reconfigures her father’s concept into a distinctly millennial musical that replaces Scrooge and his three ghostly mentors with a tyrannical, tormented businesswoman (who, like her Dickensian predecessor, is schooled in compassion by a series of supernatural visitations).

“Xmas Scrooge,” from the 2019 production, featuring Veronika Nuñez and Shaleesa Moreno, both returning to this year’s cast. Also shown: Tricia Catañeda Guevara, Gina Cornejo, and Emily Hogan. Photo: Jackaldog Photography/Jack Wells

A Xmas Cuento Remix opened last year at Cleveland Public Theatre, 16th Street Theatre in Berwyn, Ill., and Milagro. Yet the play’s return to Milagro, where it is available online Dec. 4-31, is even more ambitious than last year’s three-pronged debut (which was the National New Play Network’s 92nd Rolling World Premiere). [UPDATE: Opening has been postponed until Dec. 11 because of technical difficulties.]

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