Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Meet Box of Clowns, and hear about their show “Mom?”: A Comedy of Mourners January 3, 2015

Box of Clowns,  a new clown & physical theatre ensemble based in Portland is premiering a new dark comedy “Mom?” A Comedy of Mourners at FG 15.

FG 2015 box of clownsFG 15 Box of Clowns Defenestrators poster w text

Together they replied to our Pop Quiz so we could get to know them a bit better. See their show Jan 23 + 30 at 9:30PM and Jan 24 + 31 at 7PM and Jan 25 + Feb 1 at 8PM at Friendly House Community Center 1737 NW 26th. Double click on the poster (picture on the right) and see that they are sharing the stage with The Defenestrators. http://thedefenestratorst.wix.com/the-defenestrators

Jeff Desautels, Laura Loy and Anna Sell, Box of Clowns, “Mom?”: A Comedy of Mourners

1)Artists in your field that you have giant artist crushes on are..

Jeff:  Absolutely Philip Burgers. Look him up!

Anna:  Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Laura: Mookie Cornish, Bill Irwin

2)Works that have shaped your artistic voice are

Jeff:  Can I bring up the Muppets and still be taken seriously? On stage, I’d have to say Three Trees, that’s a Dell’Arte Company show with three other clowns. Who happened to train us. Clearly we draw most of our inspiration from them!

Anna: Film: The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh.  Stage: Three Trees, a Dell’arte Company.  Music Performance: Lady Gaga at the VMAs with Paparazzi.

Laura: Mabou Mines A Doll’s House, Diventare– I wish I knew who did this piece I saw at KCACTF, but I can’t remember.

3)When I’m not creating art you can often find me

Jeff: Probably doing something mundane, like grocery shopping.

Anna: Jumping from buildings, learning how to fly.

Laura: Writing postcards and looking at the sky.

4)Songs on my playlist are . .

Jeff: I’ve just discovered Patrick Wolf, Charli XCX and Chromeo. If I’m not listening to something current, then it’s gypsy swing.

Anna: Songs: Oh Fortuna, Chandelier, You Will Be My Ain True Love, Clap Your Hands.  Artists: Basshunter, Robyn, Lindsey Stirling, Florence and the Machine.

Laura: The Living Sisters Love to Live album, Kimbra Cameo Lover, and any number of podcasts- a current favorite is Startup by Gimlet Media.

5)A Portland artist/creative/arts or other community or social services organization I’d love to work with (e.g. Media Rites, Passin’ Art, PHAME, p:ear)

Jeff: Mizu Desierto! I’ve always wanted to learn more about Butoh.

Anna: I concur with Jeff.  Mizu Desierto is incredibly interesting.

Laura: Portland Parks and Rec- so many spaces that are perfect for arting about.

6) I am terrified of

Jeff: Clowns. (Just kidding.) I’m afraid of anything supernatural, to be quite honest. I have a very overactive imagination.

Anna: That Mango will slowly take over my daily life.

Laura: Stinkbugs. The way they move is super creepy.

7) I obsessed with..

Jeff:  The Serial podcast, like everyone else. Will they release the DNA results!?

Anna: Superheroes and the supernatural.

Laura: Grimm and science facts: Did you know that dinosaurs probably had feathers?  WHAT?! Stuff like that blows my mind.

box of clowns duck face

8) Favorite books and/or books currently on my nightstand are…

Jeff:  On nightstand is easier: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

Anna: The nightstand is definitely easier: The Artist’s Way and Walking in this World by Julia Cameron; Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff by Richard Carlson.

Laura: Since we’re doing nightstands: Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus, my journal, Finding Water by Julia Cameron, Lessons from a Sheepdog by W. Phillip Keller, Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford, did I mention that my nightstand is a bookshelf?  Anyway, that’s what is on top.  My favorite book is Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

9) The words that describe your piece in the Festival

Jeff:  If Monty Python raised the children of Carol Burnett and Mr. Bean…

Anna: If peace, harmony, and tradition were thrown into a blender and served as a comedic smoothie…

Laura: I think Jeff and Anna have this one covered.  I might add something like “Well, it’s a funeral, but they’re clowns. So everything goes wrong…”

10) In the bio-flick of my Life, I should/want to be played by

Jeff:  Jennifer Lawrence. That woman can do anything.

Anna: Absolutely Jennifer Lawrence.  Fight you for her, Jeff.

Laura:  Maggie Smith, aided by a time machine.

About your show in the Festival

  • Tell us about your Fertile Ground Festival work

A mysterious trunk sits on the peak of a mountain at the end of the universe. Out of the trunk come the clown siblings Victoria, Frank, and Mango. They have brought with them the ashes of their dear, departed mother, whose last wish was to be scattered across the void. Jam-packed with acrobatics, slapstick, and mischievous antics, the clowns trip, fall, and stumble through the stages of grief.

box of clowns other show color candid

  • How did this work come about? What inspired it?

This work started two years ago when we studied at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, it was our “Final” (yes, like the exam. The audience graded us). We liked the image of carrying more suitcases than we could physically handle. Each suitcase had it’s own “world” inside, (a beach, an office, a sock drawer, etc.). One suitcase we dubbed “mother’s garden”. Every time it was opened, Frank was required to leave behind a flower from his mother’s garden. This caused him to cry hysterically, because he dreaded the thought of an empty suitcase. This became the seed for “Mom?”, where we scatter our mother’s ashes instead. The other image we liked was getting sucked into a suitcase, so we found a bottomless trunk, put it on top of two tables, and that became how we entered and left the playing space. After we left Dell’Arte, we had to physically construct a trunk and adjoining tables that were the exact physical dimensions of the one at school, so we could continue working on the show. Needless to say, we are very proud of it.

  • Tell us about your creative process. How do you work? When do you work? What gets you inspired? How do you fight inertia and creative blocks?

Our process goes something like: find something fun to play with, put on a red nose, improvise, dissect what we liked, and see if we can replicate it and make it funnier. It’s very scientific. At the same time, at no point in our process did we consciously decide to create a play about grief. We did decide to create a play with these characters, we assembled some props, and Frank revealed to us that he was grieving. I know that sounds…spooky…but since we work with clowns it’s really essential for us to maintain some distance between ourselves and the characters in order to have authenticity. I’d bet a literary playwright would say the exact same thing. You’ll never hear me say, “I thought it would be fun to trip on stage”. Yes, on some level, I did think it would be fun, but it’s more accurate to say that Frank tripped and I thought it was funny so I make sure conditions are right for tripping. When we come to a block, it’s usually ourselves blocking the characters from doing what they do. I’ll often push for improvising since that’s my background, and maybe someone else will want to craft something, and then we’ll get in a fight about it because we care so much about this show. Usually going for a walk helps. And, sometimes, believe it or not, watching cat videos.


FLASH READS Playwrights Ellen Margolis & Claire WIllett January 28, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — fertilegroundpdx @ 5:19 pm

Ellen Margolis playwright, “Calmunies”

claire bw nice

Claire Willett, playwright, “Carter Hall”

Flash Reads  is a new partnership between Artists Repertory Theatre and Playwrights West to present stripped-down world premiere readings of new work by the award-winning Portland writers of Playwrights West.  The first two plays will be presented at Fertile Ground Festival 2014.  CALUMNIES by Ellen Margolis and CARTER HALL by Claire Willett, with music by Steeleye Span. We interviewed Ellen and Claire to learn more about their new plays and what makes them tick:


1) An artist or artists in my field I have a giant artist crush on is/are . . .

Ellen: Will Eno, Alan Bennett

Claire: Neil Gaiman

2) A work or works that has/have shaped my artistic voice is/are . . .

Ellen: Anything by Anthony Clarvoe or Caryl Churchill

Claire: Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia

3) When I’m not creating art you can often find me . . .

Ellen: Watching my kids play basketball, watching the Trail Blazers play basketball

Claire: Binge-watching Doctor Who

4) Songs on my creative inspiration playlist are . . .

Ellen: “Tear-Stained Letter” (Richard Thompson), “Red Dirt Girl” (Emmylou Harris)

Claire: In addition to listening to Steeleye Span (the 1970’s British folk band whose songs are featured in Carter Hall) over and over on repeat, here are a few other current faves from my writing playlist: “From This Valley,” The Civil Wars; “Storm Coming,” The Wailin’ Jennys; “Let My Love Open the Door,” Luminate; “Ne’er Do Wells,” Audra Mae & the Almighty Sound; “If I Had a Boat,” Lyle Lovett. Also, I’m OBSESSED with the Nashville soundtrack and I don’t care who knows it.

5) A Portland artist/creative/arts or other community or social services organization I’d love to work with is . . .

Ellen: PETE, Shaking the Tree, Cerimon House

Claire: Isaac Lamb and Maureen Porter.  Preferably together.

6) I am terrified of . . .

Ellen: Fundamentalism

Claire: Vulnerability

7) I am obsessed with . . .

Ellen: My family

Claire: Christmas

8) Favorite books and/or books currently on my nightstand are . .

Ellen: Currently reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. It’s a terrific study, far more complex than the title might suggest. I haven’t even got to the internet part yet; the book starts by examining how technologies throughout history – including written language – have been thought to affect our brains.

Claire: I got a ton of books for Christmas, so my nightstand stack is HUGE. I just finished Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, the book version of her AMAZING blog by the same name; an anthology of the collected works of Nora Ephron, who is my hero; and Father James Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway, his memoir of spending six months as a kind of theological consultant-slash-chaplain to a New York theatre company creating a new play about Judas Iscariot. I am in the middle of Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, and The Name of the Wind, a fantasy novel by Patrick Rothfuss – both recommendations from my brother. Next up in the pile is I’m Your Man, a biography of Leonard Cohen, and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

9) The three words that describe your piece in the Festival are . . .

Ellen: “Calmunies” Sexy, twisty, violent

Claire: “Carter Hall”  Whimsical, eerie, haunting

10) In the bio-flick of my Life, I should be played by . . .

Ellen: Emma Thompson (because I’d get to meet her!)

Claire: Queen Latifah

11) Tell us about your creative process. How do you work? When do you work? What gets you inspired? How do you fight inertia and creative blocks?

Ellen: Getting started on a project, which means churning out a lot of material, I do best with a big chunk of time and a designated space. Later, or when things are flowing, I can write anywhere and especially in response to what’s happening in the rehearsal room.

Claire: I so badly wish I was one of those early-bird morning people who gets up at 5 a.m. and writes for hours with a pot of coffee before work.  I desperately envy those people.  I wrote the first draft of Carter Hall in about two weeks over the summer, and it was absolutely insane.  My college best friend was staying with me, and he had never lived with a playwright on a manic writing bender; we kept crossing paths at  2 or 3 in the morning as he was heading off to his morning shift at the bakery and I was finishing up and staggering to bed. I think he thought I was going insane; he’d leave the house on a Sunday morning while I was writing at the dining room table in my pajamas, and he’d be gone all day and come home like twelve hours later and I’d be sitting in the exact same position, and he’d be like, “ . . . Have you even moved?”  I’ve never written a play that fast before.  I couldn’t go to bed until I had downloaded everything from my brain because I knew if I slept, I’d forget it.  It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. When I needed a pick-me-up, I relied on my classic inertia-fighting standby: blasting Queen really, really loud.   


Artists Repertory Theatre presents Flash Reads at Artists Rep New work by Playwrights West Artists Repertory Theatre, Morrison Stage (1515 SW Alder) January 27th @ 7:30 p.m. Calumnies by Ellen Margolis January 28th @ 7:30 p.m. Carter Hall by Claire Willett (music by Steeleye Span) Gather with us to hear a surprise script…a stripped down to the words, brand-spanking new play from one of Playwrights West’s cadre of seasoned Portland playwrights. You’ll get to hear a new work at start of its development – and we promise it will be an exciting ride. Playwrights West is a professional theatre company focused on presenting top-level productions of its members’ work and supporting development of original work in Portland.


“Calmunies” based on a true crime, by Ellen Margolis

CALUMNIES: Based on a real-life crime of passion, Calumnies is a tale of sex and scandal, race and revenge. The story unfolds in 1820s Kentucky, where old-world society meets wild western free-for-all, and the only thing rougher than the politics are the love affairs. Scraping by on the outskirts of Frankfort, Olivia Burke leads a precariously independent life. Her father is dead, her mother is bedridden, and her affair with Leopold Brass, a family man and aspiring politician, cannot end well. Enter Obediah Dupree, a naïve and feverishly romantic young man who would like to cast himself as the hero in her story. When Olivia becomes pregnant, the pressures increase–and secrets, lies, and slanders become the currency of her world. The cast includes Matthew DiBiasio, Kayla Lian, James Peck, Jameson Tabor, and Ithica Tell.


CARTER HALL: Janet Carter and her young daughter Lucy spend every summer in a vacation rental cottage at Carter Hall, the crumbling old manor that once belonged to Janet’s family and is now a Historical Society-owned tourist trap. Janet has nothing more pressing in mind for the next few months than lazy time with her daughter (a hyper-imaginative child whose hobbies include practicing exorcisms and pretending to be a ninja), reminiscences with Alec, the ancient gardener who has known her all her life – and perhaps a little summer flirtation with Alec’s handsome new assistant Thomas. But when the boy in the cottage next door goes missing on Midsummer Eve, Janet and Lucy are pulled headlong into a supernatural mystery that forces them both to confront the hidden reality that magical forces are at work in their daily lives. To rescue the boy, Thomas risks losing Janet forever by revealing the truth about who he really is – a fugitive from the fairy underworld hiding under Alec’s protection. Janet, Thomas and Lucy set forth on a dark and dangerous quest to the mist-shrouded land of the fairies, braving dangerous creatures, impossible riddles, and the darkest secrets of their own hearts to rescue the missing child and bring him home. Music performed live by Ken and Claire Willett. How did this work come about? What inspired it? The murder at the center of Calumnies took place in my husband’s family. His great-great-great grandfather was the Kentucky Attorney General Solomon Sharp, who was at the center of a huge story, quite notorious in its time. I had heard about it over the years, but when I finally sat down to find out who these people were, I became obsessed by the collisions of public and private within the tragedy. In the end, I took massive liberties with the facts, but the guts of it come from this real case. A long, long time ago I had loosely sketched out a few bits and pieces of a potential new work that was my first stab at writing a play for kids, a story about a little girl whose best friend goes missing and she decides to sleuth around and solve the mystery herself. Then my computer got stolen, and I hadn’t backed anything up because I was one of those idiots who never back anything up, so the script never got finished. But that little girl stuck around in my mind. Then I went on a major Neil Gaiman binge this summer, and read five of his books in about a week while I was at the beach for Fourth of July with my family. I became fascinated by his stories of plucky, oddball kids who discover fantastic supernatural forces at work in their daily lives. And I remembered that weird, over-imaginative little girl from that script I never finished, and I thought, “Okay, it’s time for you to get your story.” As the play evolved and I locked in on the specific Scottish mythology I would be using, I found myself turning more and more for inspiration to the music of Steeleye Span, a British folk band from the 60’s and 70’s that my mother absolutely loved. I grew up on their music, much of which is based on adaptations of the same 13th-century Scottish fairy ballads I was researching for the play. I didn’t set out to write a musical, but eventually I realized that the play needed those songs to flesh out the story. It’s an exciting new challenge as a writer to be playing with this music, but it also makes it so deeply personal – I’m sharing the soundtrack of my childhood with this audience. (Literally, since my dad and I will be performing the music live at the reading!)


Triptych Americana by Karen Alexander-Brown January 28, 2012

What is the state of the “American Dream” today? How do its conditioned expectations help or hinder the average American in today’s society under duress?

Triptych Americana combines three vignettes into one staged reading addressing how the stresses of job loss, homelessness and mercenary war affect Americans on personal, social and political levels.

In the first vignette, job loss and precarious health put Benny and Shiela’s relationship on the brink. In the second vignette, a discarded ticket to the Museum of Modern Art is the impetus for a homeless woman to regain her visibility. In the third vignette, Jason and Dani, two mercenary soldiers, become threats to one another over an incident of “collateral damage.”

How does the American Dream stack up in your life, today? Come and see how these characters cope with the gap between their ideals and their reality.

January 29, 2012
1 pm, $8 at the door, or buy tickets online


Stories: from survivors of the sex trade/article in Mercury January 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — annsinger @ 5:23 am

Shelter for victims of sex trafficking opening in SE Portland!  Great news since this is the only one in all of Portland.



Lunacy Stageworks Presents “Stories: From Survivors of the Sex Trade” January 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — annsinger @ 3:40 am

KZME 107.1 FM Dmae Roberts presents a ‘Making Change’ feature story  of the women behind Stories: From Survivors of the Sex Trade, a performance produced by Lunacy Stageworks.  As part of this years Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, Lunacy Stageworks produces another important story providing a hard-to-come by connection; this time to the reality of what women endure through their stories from the front lines of Portland’s sex trade.  Listen to the podcast here:



Stories: from survivors of the sex trade

Filed under: Uncategorized — annsinger @ 3:35 am


Facts about human trafficking and Portland:

  • has the second highest rate of rescued child prostitutes in the nation
  • is the city with the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the country
  • the average age girls here are forced into prostitution is 12-14 yrs. old

This is why it’s important for parents to bring their teenagers to see this show.


It’s His Party…. January 21, 2012

Filed under: David Saffert's Birthday Bashstravaganza,Uncategorized — tamara carroll @ 1:59 am

…and he’ll have an international piano duet with a world renowned Russian pianist if he wants to.

(note, WordPress has given me the option of preserving my precious photo phormatting or captioning my photos, so I must credit them here: Photo of David (left) by Mr. Gary Norman and photo of Vladimir Sultonov (right) by Mr. The Internet. And as an update to this post, let me say that V.S. looked incredibly handsome during his satellite transmission on Friday.


David Saffert is turning 37, and his Fertile Ground Birthday Bashtravaganza is turning 2! Last year’s inaugural show was a frenetic blend of reminiscent slide-show story-telling, a substantial sampling of Saffert’s virtuoso piano skills, and a sprinkling of sketch comedy from the cream of Curious Comedy’s crop (after viewing the aptly named and deeply disturbing “Jurrasic Pork” I am constantly vigilant against the sexual intentions of brightly colored dinosaur puppets). And this year promises even more surprises!

But WHO IS DAVID SAFFERT?!? Why does he want to put on a show for his birthday? Why will you LOVE it?

Well. Let’s learn a little more about the birthday boy, shall we? By day he tours with Portland Opera for their Opera to Go program, currently bringing Engelbert Humperdinck’s classic Hansel and Gretel to schools throughout Oregon (not that Engelbert Humperdinck, this Engelbert Humperdinck). By night he flexes his sketch and improv comedy muscles at Curious Comedy and, in recent memory, Action/Adventure‘s Fall of the House (I have no formal training in journalism, but I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to mention my affiliation with Action/Adventure at this point). Now that my bias is a matter of public record, allow me to say that David Saffert is one of the most delightful and entertaining people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.

Which is why I’ll be at his birthday party tonight, despite not being the biggest fan of classical music and having virtually no tolerance in general for other people talking about themselves. But it is his birthday, after all, an indulgence he relies upon while crafting his evening of entertainment.

“You know when it’s someone’s birthday and they want to go to Chili’s on their birthday, or they want to go to Applebee’s, and you’re like ‘Do we have to go to Applebee’s?’ But it’s their birthday and you go because you know that they’ll enjoy it….So no matter what [the audience] sees on stage there’s always the background of ‘Well, it’s his birthday and this is what he really wanted to do.”

While consciously testing the boundaries of just how far he can take this “We’re going to Applebee’s for my birthday” leeway, David maintains the clear goal of entertaining a diverse audience of the friends, family and, oh yes, strangers that filled Curious Comedy for two sold-out shows last year, and promises to again in just a few short hours. According to David, this year’s show is slightly less manic than it’s predecessor.

“I don’t want to say that it’s a better show, but it’s a more thought-out show. There’s more to bite in to.”

This blogger is just hoping that there’s enough cake to bite in to.

What: David Saffert’s Birthday Bashtravaganza 2! Older and Wisier
Where: Curious Comedy Theatre, 5225 NE MLK Blvd
When: 1/20 and 1/21 at 8pm
Tickets: $10 advance, $12 door

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