Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Discover Portland’s Powerhouse Animation Scene January 26, 2012

Portland birthed the California Raisins. It schooled the voice of Bugs Bunny and the mind behind The Simpsons. It’s home to “the queen of indie animation.” It’s a rising force producing hit feature films such as Coraline. Discover the power source behind these cultural icons: our home town’s electric, eclectic animation scene.

Portland Animation Now! showcases 22 short films from local independent animators. Including both masters and remarkable amateurs, it’s a lineup of new works and seldom-seen gems you won’t find anywhere else.

The 90-minute variety show crams its fun into 24 frames each second. You’ll see hard-luck dinosaurs, cranky baristas, robot terminators, a sassy drunken detective, flying pirates — and a duck. Also, toe-tapping music, artistry and Big Ideas. Just like live theatre, right?

The NW Animation Festival is honored to bring you Fertile Ground’s first-ever film program. Attending animators will answer questions each night, illuminating this unique art form.

“I like chocolate turtles with pecans. I don’t like babies much—they’re too small and you can’t eat them. Well, I guess some people might eat them… But that’s just plain sick.” —Ruby Rocket, Private Detective.

P.S. Not sure which night to attend? The same program plays both nights — but we recommend Friday. There’s a special SURPRISE at the end of the show.

See Portland Animation Now! at 7pm on Friday or Saturday Jan 27-28. The 5th Avenue Cinema is located at 510 SW Hall. Free parking after 5pm just across the street at PSU Parking Structure 1. $8 general admission, buy now.


PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEW: Claire Willett January 19, 2012

Filed under: Shows,the writing process — Claire @ 7:13 pm
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Playwright Interview: Claire Willett

Trisha Mead digs into the writing process of 4-time Fertile Ground playwright Claire Willett, author of Artists Rep’s featured festival project Dear Galileo.

Dear Galileo by Claire Willett
Directed by Stephanie Mulligan
Venue:  Artists Repertory Theatre, Morrison Stage, 1515 SW Morrison, Portland OR 97205
Festival Dates:  Jan 21 @ 2pm; Jan 23 @ 7:30pm
Tickets:  Pay What You Will; $10 suggested donation | 503.241.1278

Three women in three different times wrestle with their identity, the conflict between science and religion, and what it means to be their fathers’ daughters. In Renaissance Italy, Celeste Galilei lives under house arrest with her elderly father Galileo, the disgraced astronomer who wants to defy the Pope yet again by publishing one last book. In a small town in Texas, creationist author and TV pundit Robert Snow is at a loss when his 10-year-old daughter Haley’s newfound passion for science begins to pull her away from the Biblical teachings of her upbringing. And in Swift Trail Junction, Arizona, home of the Vatican Observatory’s U.S. outpost, New York sculptor Cassie Willows arrives to find that her estranged father, world-renowned astrophysicist Jasper Willows, has gone missing. As the three stories move toward their point of convergence, the destinies of each become inextricably bound with the others, linked through time by love, family, grief, faith and the search for identity. Cast includes Portland favorites David Bodin, Adrienne Flagg, Chris Harder and Gilberto Martin del Campo. Join us for a post-show talkback after each show with the playwright and director, moderated by Mead Hunter.

Trisha Asks, Claire Answers

Give me your one-sentence thesis statement for what kind of work you like to create.

Funny and moving stories about messy, complicated people trying to figure out the big stuff in life – faith, grief, family, love, identity – and occasionally really screwing it up along the way.

Four years, four festival projects. What keeps you inspired to create new work?

I still have so many more stories I want to tell, and different creative leaps I want to take.  Every play I write, I get a little braver, more willing to take a risk.  When that clump of half-formed thoughts rattling around in your brain finally coalesces into the beginning of a real story idea, you just want to keep running down that path as fast as you can to see where it’s going to end up, and you won’t know until you get there.  And the best thing about Fertile Ground is that it gives you a new goal every year.  As soon as this year’s festival ends I know I have a year to write my next year’s play.  It pushes me to keep writing, to always have a couple ideas on deck and to be writing all the time.  I’m so grateful for that.

Do you feel you’ve discovered your ideal audience? Describe the typical/perfect audience member for a Claire Willett play.

I’m Catholic, so there’s a very Catholic sensibility to my writing, even when I’m not writing about religion (though I often do).  And I love, love, love using theatre to sort of invite people who don’t define themselves as religious to enter into that world.  I wrote a play 2 years ago about monks, where one of the major plot points had to do with somebody going to Confession, and after the show one of my best friends, who is completely non-religious, was like, “I TOTALLY want to go to Confession now.  It sounds RAD.”  Those are my favorite moments.  People leave a little bit different than they came in – those are the perfect audience members.  If you get a handful of those, you’re lucky. 

I think of myself as the Fertile Ground poster child.  Without the resources available through this festival – the shared marketing, the visibility, being under the umbrella of a larger organization with all that entails – I can reach an audience I could never have found otherwise.  I’d just be in my living room doing readings for my friends.  But now I feel like I’m building a bit of a regular audience.  People who follow theatre stuff in Portland are starting to know who I am a little bit.  There are Portland theatregoers who have seen all four of my shows.  They don’t know me, they just found me in the Fertile Ground catalog that first year and liked what they saw and kept coming back.  I hope I give them a better show every year. 

Think about the writer you were four years ago. What advice would today’s Claire give four-years-ago Claire about creating new work and participating in Fertile Ground?

Child, you have trust issues.  It won’t kill you to let someone read a first draft before you think everything is perfectly polished.  It won’t kill you to put the script in a director’s hands and then WALK AWAY.  Relax. 

Also, your smartest audience member and reader will be your dad. 

You had the opportunity to complete your current festival project with the help of a month-long writer’s retreat. Tell us about that experience. Do you feel it impacted what you chose to create?

It was AMAZING.  I’m used to writing from 10 at night until 2 in the morning, because with two jobs, that was the time I had.  But with a whole month of uninterrupted days stretching ahead, I wrote completely differently.  I could take time.  I could do research.  I could sit with an idea until it fully germinated.  I could sit in my studio with a pot of coffee and read all of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time in one day and take notes, and then spend the whole day just re-reading and thinking about those notes.  I wasn’t writing in a rush, or with the phone ringing, or with a tiny chunk of time in between a million things to do.  I felt free and expansive and I think the writing is freer and more expansive because of that.  I think people who have seen my other plays will feel the difference in this one.  I had time to get everything right the first time, to take it slow.

This is the first year you are not having to self-produce your project. What does it mean to you to be selected as one of Artists Rep’s Fertile Ground projects this year? What opportunities has it created?

Having the stamp of approval of the city’s second-largest theatre company makes a huge difference.  It will change how the script is perceived when I start shopping it out to theatres for production.  It’s already changed my media and press visibility.  Being Artists Rep’s project kicks me a major step up the ladder in terms of how much attention a project gets.  It gives you access to a whole new audience.  For my last three projects, it was all on me.  I did all my own press and marketing.  I made the programs.  I paid actors out of my own bank account.  I set up and took down chairs every night.  I tore my own tickets at the door.  Year One we were in a tiny music studio with room for like 30 chairs.  Year Two we were at Jim & Patty’s Coffee, and the night baking shift came on around the beginning of Act II, so oven beeps and delicious cookie smells were constantly wafting over the counter.  Year Three we were in an honest-to-God warehouse; the actors hung out “offstage” in a room full of table saws.  A theatre with real seats feels like a crazy luxury.  And not just any theatre, but  Artists Rep, where I used to work.  It’s like the theatrical equivalent of that great first love you never get over.  I know these people.  I wrote grants for them, I ran around carrying cases of wine in high heels at opening nights, I edited playbills and staffed photo shoots and stuffed envelopes.  Being back there not as an administrator but as an artist – and working with some of my favorite former colleagues like Stephanie Mulligan and Carol Ann Wohlmut – is indescribable. 

When I first started writing plays for Fertile Ground, most of the Portland theatre world knew me as a grantwriter, and I kept waiting for someone to point at me and accuse me of being a fraud.  “She can’t be an artist, she’s an arts administrator!”  But nobody did.  It was like, “Oh, you also do this thing too?  Awesome.”  Just immediately accepted.  It was only me that felt like I wasn’t enough of an artist to sit at the cool kids’ table; nobody else was looking at me that way.  People root for each other here, in a genuine and non-clique-y way.  It’s really inspiring.

The big difference, to be quite frank, is legitimacy.  I don’t want to be a scrappy DIY-er self-producing in warehouses forever.  I had a low point last year around this time, where I just hit a wall – as we all do from time to time – because I had written what I thought was a really awesome play with my writing partner Gilberto Martin del Campo, and we were really proud of it, but we kept applying for all these grants and opportunities and it was no after no after no after no.  And one night I just lost it.  I kept thinking, “If I’m secretly really terrible at this and it’s never going to go anywhere, I just want someone to TELL me so I don’t keep breaking my heart over it.”  I just wanted ONE institution to put their stamp of approval on something that I wrote – a fellowship, a grant, a professional reading, a real review, anything – so I didn’t feel like I was just a “hobby” playwright who was never going to go anywhere.  I was stuck in neutral, waiting for a sign that I had what it takes to be a real writer.  I was closer to throwing in the towel than I’ve ever been.   And then the very next day I got an email that said I had been picked as the 2010-2011 Oregon Literary Fellow for Drama.  So I guess the moral of the story is, all that crap people always say about it being darkest before the dawn is actually really true.  I asked for a sign, and I got one.  I just had to keep pushing through.

What’s next year’s Claire Willett Fertile Ground project?

Well, hopefully Dear Galileo again, as a real production.  That’s the dream.  And then maybe if it’s done in time, you’ll also get to see the postmodern chamber opera inspired by Norse mythology that I’m co-writing with a terrific L.A.-based composer named Evan Lewis.

*     *     *     *     *

Click here for more information about the show.

Click here to listen to Claire’s recent Stage & Studio radio interview about the project.

Click here to read Claire’s blog about the writing process from her summer writing residency.

Click here for a video of Claire reading excerpts from the play.

Click here for more information about Claire.


Playing with Subversion January 11, 2012

post by Fertile Ground artist KAREN ALEXANDER-BROWN


My plays are conceived with strong visual and auditory elements in mind.  The non-verbal elements (music, sound, movement, photos, costumes, and lighting) represent essential experience beyond what is spoken.  However, this makes staged readings of the plays a challenge!

With the exception of my first short play, In Vino Veritas, a comic fantasy about a woman’s imagined perfect mate, each of the plays I have presented at Fertile Ground has continued to grow in one form or another.  Consumed, a monologue that takes place in the last hours of my grandmother’s life, became a short story that won notable mention at the 2010 Oregon Writer’s Colony Awards.  Last year’s piece, Bridgetown, A Musical, which is about a love triangle and making it (or not) in the “city of bridges,” is well on its way to becoming a novel.

I am hoping that Triptych Americana, my fourth contribution to the Fertile Ground Festival in as many years, eventually will grow beyond its staged reading into a production— or some other creative form— with all its visual elements fully realized.

For now, however, I am relying heavily on the audience’s imagination, along with a few visual, musical and choreographed elements, designed in collaboration with my sound and lighting designer, Gordon Romei.  The cast (Pat Janowski, Jon Farley, Angela Freeman, Jack Wells and Tom Stutzman) is terrific!

Thematically, my pieces involve familiar situations experienced from an unexpected perspective, usually involving female empowerment or the point of view of someone marginalized by society.  This subversive perspective in each play allows for new insights and unexpected outcomes.

Triptych Americana, a trio of short plays that will be presented as a staged reading on January 29th at 1:00 pm at Hipbone Studio, focuses on contemporary issues in America and how they affect the characters on a personal, social or political level.

And, of course, there will be music, sound, movement and photography, enhanced by your imagination.

Come give us your feedback and help Triptych Americana evolve.  Tickets are $8.00 (cash only) at the door, and the price includes a second feature, Skin Garden, by Jeremy Benjamin, that will follow.  Hipbone is located at ­­­­­­­­1847 E. BURNSIDE, #104,  PORTLAND, OR 97214.


Passholders. If we dont know them, who are they? January 22, 2011

Filed under: Shows — jwallenfels @ 8:12 pm

Met two great ladies last night at Ostlund & Co. Talking heatedly about “My mind is like an open meadow.” after first eavesdropping on and then busting in to their convo, I (being a theatre maven and not recognizing them) asked why they’d bought passes. One used to do theatre with her own company in ca and the other used to and still dances a little. I thought it was so cool, and duh, that our audiences come from people that have experienced their own connection to the arts. It’s not nec how irresistible yr press photo is or how smart yr copy. These ladies had insightful discernment and love maintaining their relationship to arts as patrons. Hallelujah.


Stories from Portland’s Streets: Lunacy Stageworks

Filed under: Shows — fertilegroundpdx @ 12:15 am
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Lunacy Stageworks presents Stories from the Streets


My Mind is Like Whoa! January 19, 2011

Filed under: Shows — fertilegroundpdx @ 7:15 am
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Inside the Mind of the Elderly

If you’ve seen a Hand2mouth show in the last eight years, you’ve seen Erin Leddy: unforgettable presence, great moves, can make a small, human act heartbreaking or thump the hell out of some karaoke- Funkadelic.
While wearing a ridiculous, red white and blue getup.
This year’s Fertile Ground Festival sees the longtime company collaborator go solo, in a manner of speaking – she’s still directed by H2M artistic director Jonathan Walters, so she’s not going completely Lionel Ritchie on the company – in an original, one-woman show inspired by a year spent with her grandmother.
“My Mind Is Like An Open Meadow” is a performative meditation on memory and consciousness spawned by spoken memoirs Leddy recorded in 2001. Though she’s shown excerpts at On the Boards in Seattle, Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival and H2M’s “Risk/Reward” series, Fertile Ground 2011 sees the whole enchilada for the first time. And Leddy’s provocative grey haired lady in waiting promo shot made her our Festival’s poster girl in American Theatre this month. (Hear a short excerpt read on KBOO’s “Stage and Studio” from Jan. 4).
Leddy’s work is supported by a sonic and visual landscape crafted by Chris Kuhl, Ash Black Buffalo, Holcombe Waller and Jane Paik. It’s a “strange control station of the mind,” according to the show’s press materials, in which songs, stories and dances come and go, intergenerational thoughts intermingle and heirlooms are redefined. Expect a fine art installation sensibility stitched into live performance elements floating around like cataracts over the pupils of our loved ones.
Legend has it Walters found Leddy, who’s played a key role in co-devising the company’s 14 original shows – in an open audition call for performers. Since then, the company’s work has taken on cross-cultural collaborations in Poland and Mexico, as well as touring extensively throughout the Northwest, San Francisco, and New York City. Leddy’s special focus has been on composing and choreography.
Leddy received a prestigious residency at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, to develop ‘Meadow,’ and was later commissioned by On the Boards in Seattle, in addition to receiving support from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the Oregon Arts Commission and the William T. Colville Foundation.
“My Mind is Like an Open Meadow” runs January 20 – 30, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. All performances at the mOuth, 810 SE Belmont. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15 at the door; of course FREE with Fertile Ground Festival Pass. Buy tickets here and join the company for a post-show reception Friday, Jan. 21.


Bridgetown: A Musical January 18, 2011

Filed under: Shows — fertilegroundpdx @ 6:02 am

Book by Karen Alexander-Brown
Music by Fred Gerard Stickley
Directed by Bruce Hostetler
The musical, BRIDGETOWN, is a celebration of all that is associated with the culture of Portland: local
boutiques, great music, activism, creativity, grassroots opportunities, nearby coastal beaches. However,
the musical also touches upon Portland’s less celebrated aspects: economic difficulties, unemployment,homelessness, the sex trade, feckless relationships, and the uneasy relationship between local and Big
Business. As in many classic plays, the relationships in the beginning are wrong matches destined to fail. However, their resolution in this musical is as original as Portland itself. Join us for an evening celebrating the uniqueness of Portland. Purchase a Voodoo donut or a glass of wine, and experience a musical about finding one’s place (or not) in the city of bridges. Adult language and mature themes.
Purchase tickets online or pay cash at the door.

This show is a part of the Fertile Ground Festival.

NOTE: Map location in Festival Brochure is incorrect. Conduit Dance is in downtown Portland. Please see map on the Fertile Ground Events page.