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January 20th, 2010 Ben Waterhouse, Kelly Clarke | Featured Stories
 

Spring Awakening

The Fertile Ground festival is back with 10 days of home-grown theater and dance.

     
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JESSICA WALLENFELS (LEFT) AND BETSY CROSS IN TRUTH AND BEAUTY
IMAGE: Jessica Gleason

Last January, the first ever Fertile Ground festival drew some 6,000 people to readings and performances of 36 world-premiere plays—all of them created right here in Portland by your neighbors and co-workers. Now the festival is back Jan. 22 through Feb. 2, bigger and broader, bringing dancers and comedians into the fold to present more than 50 performances involving just about every arts venue in town. The schedule for the festival is imposing—it is literally impossible to see all 17 of the participating full productions, let alone take in the dozens of readings, workshops and parties. With that in mind, here are six good jumping-off points.

Bugged


Jan. 23, 26-27 and 30 at Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave.

What it’s about:
Bugs, annoyance and electronic surveillance, explored through the lives of three insects, portrayed by shadow puppets assembled from “cardboard, paper, found objects and digital transparencies.” The puppets include a praying mantis, which transforms into a “more metaphorical-poetic interpretation of a praying mantis,” according to puppeteer Tony Fuemmeler.

Who’s behind it:
Puppeteers Rollin Carlson and Tony Fuemmeler, with musical accompaniment by Jason Miranda, who is also a puppeteer.

Where you may have seen them:
Working the puppets at Tears of Joy Theatre performances; onstage with sketch comedy group Superego (Carlson); building masks for Blitzen Trapper’s “Black River Killer” video (Fuemmeler); drumming for Mercury Rev (Miranda).

Why you should go:
Shadow puppets are awesome. “It’s like a live animated movie,” Fuemmeler says. That’s reason enough for us.

SexyNurd


Jan. 22-23 and 29-30 at Curious Comedy, 5225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

What it’s about:
A one-man show, blending comedy, music and PowerPoint, about growing up in a tiny Michigan town as a horny, Ted Nugent- and Rush-obsessed nerd with dreams of rock ’n’ roll heroics. And if that sounds like too much fun, there’s also the story of the nerd’s mother’s struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Who’s behind it:
Comedian Augi Garred and playwright Pema Teeter. Garred left Portland a decade ago to pursue a career in comedy, appearing at Second City and on Comedy Central. Teeter premiered her comedy Talking Dogs at last year’s Fertile Ground.

Where you may have seen them:
Performing bits and pieces of SexyNurd at Mortified Portland, Back Fence PDX and LiveWire!

Why you should go:
Augi’s stories of his youth, including fantasies of UFO abduction and indecent exposure by the highway, and a terrible cover of “Hot Blooded,” are hilarious and sad.

Truth and Beauty


Jan. 22-23 and 28-30 at Shaking the Tree Studio, 1407 SE Stark St.

What it’s about:
An adaptation of novelist Ann Patchett’s memoir of her friendship with the poet Lucy Grealy, a cancer survivor whose face was deformed by the disease and who eventually descended into an obsessive spiral of corrective surgery and painkiller addiction.

Who’s behind it:
Writer and director Elizabeth Klinger, with actor-dancers Betsy Cross and Jessica Wallenfels.

Where you may have seen them:
Klinger teaches teen acting classes at Portland Center Stage, Cross peddles a line of jewelry under the name Betsy & Iya, and Wallenfels choreographs all over the state and manages marketing for Portland Actors Conservatory.

Why you should go:
Truth and Beauty is a beautiful tearjerker of a story told through an unusual blend of realist and movement-based storytelling: “We’ve staged the most damaging surgery Lucy undergoes with me balancing on my butt on a stool with my body horizontal to the floor—a real ab-killer—and I have to hold it for about two minutes while action takes place around me,” Wallenfels says. “This is so difficult that I actually start to shake. Then, when I’m lifted onto the floor and can relax, the next scene is Lucy on postoperative drugs, babbling about how much she loves everyone. After that kind of exertion, I actually feel high and a little crazy—so we’ve used an “outside-in” method to arrive at the psychological state of the character.” Nifty!

Willow Jade


Jan. 22-24 and 28-31 at Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St.

What it’s about:
A pair of slackers stuck in a dead-end Northwest town who play Dungeons and Dragons with a sleazy real-estate agent and the possibly underage girl downstairs, until everything goes horribly awry. There are orcs.

Who’s behind it:
Hunt Holman, a Portland native whose plays have been produced in Seattle and New York.

Where you may have seen him:
In the classroom, as a writer-in-residence for Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program.

Why you should go:
Holman gets us: “I don’t have to explain here,” he says. “It’s been freeing, kind of refreshing to have people know what I’m talking about. There’s a shared perspective that I wasn’t always able to find in New York. I had a lot of good experiences there, too—I don’t want to run down New York—but it’s fun not to have to explain your jokes all the time.” Also, gratuitous Seattle-bashing.

Fighter Girl


Jan. 22-24 at Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway

What it’s about:
In this workshop of a new rock opera, a young musician named Sparrow grieves for her father (killed while on tour in Afghanistan), gets lost in the Shanghai tunnels and aspires to guitar heroics.

Who’s behind it:
Musicians Catherine Garvin and Arlie Conner, who developed the show over the past year with help from Duncan Sheik, Marv Ross and Portland script guru Mead Hunter.

Where you may have seen them:
Conner performing at Sellwood Public House; Garvin at Red Room, Gotham Tavern and elsewhere.

Why you should go:
It’s a show for teenage girls that doesn’t involve princesses and won’t drive parents mad. “If I saw this and didn’t know anything about it, I think I would be modestly amused,” Connor says. “And I hope other people will say, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever seen.’”

Tere Mathern Dance/Minh Tran & Company


Jan. 20-24 at the World Forestry Center’s Miller Hall, 4033 SW Canyon Road

What it’s about:
Two of Portland’s most graceful contemporary dancemakers split a bill of brand-new works commissioned by White Bird. Mathern tackles the “fulcrum between balance and risk” in the sculpture-enhanced work PIVOT, while Vietnam-born Tran bares all, emotionally and physically, in his 24-year coming out journey, Kiss (which includes the six years his family disowned him). The whole thing’ll be performed in the round underneath the Forestry Center’s giant, wood beam dreamcatcher ceiling. “What was I on when we decided that?” Tran says about his and Mathern’s choice to make dance in the round. “That’s really hard!”

Who’s behind it:
Mathern and Tran have both made dance in Portland for nearly two decades; in fact, Mathern taught Tran’s first modern dance class at Portland State in 1984. Collaborators include drummer-about-town Tim DuRoche, composer Heather Perkins, oddball artist David Eckard and fashion designer Paloma Soledad, who wove the duo’s funky fishing-net costumes herself.

Where you may have seen them:
Mathern is nearly always at Conduit, the light-drenched, downtown dance space she co-created. Tran teaches dance at Reed College.

Why you should go:
This pair are masters of physical give-and-take—Mathern’s sharp-edged, geometric motions warmed by Tran’s sinuous lines and spiritual flair. “We have such a long history of working relationship that we almost complete each other’s sentences in dance movement,” Tran marvels. “Physically, our bodies are even almost the same—I’m just a little crazier.” Twine, the pair’s intimate new duet, set to a live score by DuRoche and Perkins, may be their last. Tran says he’s going to focus on making works instead of dancing them in the future.


SEE IT: Multiple times and locations, see listings for additional details. All-festival pass available for $50 at fertilegroundpdx.org, individual admissions vary.
 
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