If there’s one word that describes Fertile Ground, it’s “raw.”
Since it was founded in 2009, the annual festival of new works has become the best place in the city to experience theater, film and dance that hasn’t been workshopped into oblivion—art that exists at the intersection of imperfection, vitality and risk.
Fertile Ground has never lacked nerve—it’s the festival where a naked performer covered themselves with dirt in front of an audience at the Clinton Street Theater—but the pandemic demanded a different brand of courage. An event built on the bustle of live audiences packing venues across the city was suddenly faced with the daunting prospect of forced reinvention.
By going virtual in 2021, Fertile Ground risked becoming small and shriveled. Yet the festival was buoyed by visionaries who dreamed up everything from a therapeutic baking podcast to a profoundly moving reading of a play about Fezziwig, an often overlooked character in A Christmas Carol.
While Fertile Ground 2021 may have set towering standards for virtual performance, 2022 has the potential to top it. It’s hard to think of a topic that isn’t addressed by this year’s edition of the festival, which will unleash works about sex, love, politics, puppets and even pirates.
Narrowing down the festival’s offerings to a list of can’t-miss events is never easy, but here are some of the shows that look likely to keep that raw Fertile Ground spirit alive.
Anca Hariton and David Woodin, masters behind Leaven Dream Puppets, return to Fertile Ground with a fable that is molded in the Czech tradition of socially engaged puppetry—and ruminates on communism in Eastern Europe. Streams 5 pm Thursday, Jan. 27, through 8 pm Sunday, Feb. 6. Donations accepted.
Apple Hunters! and Dorothy’s Dictionary
Few things are as thrilling as the prospect of a new E.M. Lewis play, especially for fans of her Antarctic saga Magellanica. This year, she’s bringing two new works to Fertile Ground—Apple Hunters!, which chronicles a hunt for a lost variety of apple, and Dorothy’s Dictionary, about an unlikely friendship between a high school student and a librarian. Apple Hunters! streams 7 pm Tuesday, Feb. 1. Free. Dorothy’s Dictionary streams 7 pm Thursday-Sunday, Jan 27-Feb. 6. Donations accepted.
Fans of the Milwaukie dance company TriptheDark should seek out this musical by Chad Dickerson, which is choreographed by TriptheDark’s ingenious co-creative director, Corinn deTorres. Streams Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 3-6. $10. Also plays at Chapel Theatre, 4107 SE Harrison St., Milwaukie. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 3-6. $20.
Milagro legend Ajai Tripathi created and directed this two-part showcase, which uses shadow play to chronicle the origin of the universe. Streams Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 27-Feb. 6. Donations accepted.
The Cult of Cunnilingus
Sex-positive superstar Eleanor O’Brien is back with an erotic comedy that stems from her sensual, soulful and uproarious ensemble show Sex We Can! Streams 8 pm Thursday-Saturday and 3 pm Sunday, Feb. 3-6. $20.
Crossroads at Chambersburg
Playwright and director Fred Cooprider dramatizes a real-life encounter at an abandoned stone quarry in Chambersburg, Penn., between Frederick Douglass and martyred abolitionist John Brown. Streams Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 27-Feb. 6. Donations accepted.
There’s nothing quite like the writing of Sara Jean Accuardi—it’s clear-eyed and unafraid of heartbreak, but bold in its embrace of compassion and optimism. For this audio drama, she teamed with Theatre Vertigo to tell a tale of a single mother set during the last days of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Streams Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 27-Feb. 6. $20.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Legacy, spirituality and morality—those are the themes that define this short film about a clash between two African American brothers, written and directed by poet and playwright Valerie Yvette Peterson. Streams 6 pm Friday-Saturday, Jan. 28-29. Donations accepted.
The Misadventures of Missy Black: A Pirate Play
Who isn’t craving some seafaring action? This play promises to satisfy our collective appetite for piracy—with a twist. Riley Anna wrote the script about a young woman who defies an arranged marriage and joins a mutiny to become a pirate queen. Streams 7 pm Sunday and 7:30 pm Wednesday-Thursday, Jan. 30 and Feb. 2-3. Free.
Ro & Jo: A Tale of Woe
The daughters of two rival politicians fall in love in this contemporary riff on Romeo and Juliet. Streams 7 pm Tuesday-Friday and 4 pm Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 1-6. Sliding scale $5-$25.
The Town of Many Names—Digital Wild West Edition
Never underestimate the exhilaratingly experimental theater of Hand2Mouth. This Western, created by students of the company’s Youth Summer Devising Residency Program, sprouts from an intriguing question: “What would Westerns look like if they weren’t all created by old white men?” Streams 7:30 pm Friday, Feb. 4. Pay what you will.
SEE IT: Fertile Ground Festival, fertilegroundpdx2022.org. Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 27-Feb. 6.