Fertile Ground: 5th Annual Multi-Disciplinary Arts Festival

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Starting next Thursday, January 22 and running through February 1, an eleven-day program called Fertile Ground will present numerous new works. Tagged “Abundant Acts of Creation in Portland”, it is a city-wide theater-centric arts festival now going in to its fifth year and will feature a multitude of genres such as dance, comedy, and staged readings. A week ago, the Artist Repertory Theater in Southwest Portland hosted a festival “Media Night” where the press was invited to participate in a speed-dating-like format with performers, producers, and writers.

Each artist had five minutes with members of the press to introduce their work, speak about the production process, and Q & A with a member of the media. A bell would sound at the end of each five minute session. The Oregonian, Artslandia, Portland Mercury, Willamette Week, Portland Tribune, and then Ambit Magazine. Myself and Ambit’s Publisher, Sean Ongley, were swiftly taken by a line of artists waiting to sit in the chairs before us.

The list of works on the festival program is extensive, and diverse, and looking over it before media night, I knew it would be hard to choose which to attend. Our brief conversations not only provided some preview of what to expect, but it also helped in making up our minds.

Portland Belly Dance Guild

Portland Belly Dance Guild

A belly-dance performance peaked my interest: a woman with thick, bright pinkish-red eye shadow, looking like the remnants of a face-paint mask, pitched the performance to us. She was from Portland’s Bellydance Guild, and the group incorporates belly-dance traditions from India, the Middle East and Africa into their performances. The group will perform on January 24th at 7:30 pm, at Polaris Studio Theater, as part of the Groovin’ Greenhouse series, a presentation by Polaris Dance Theater.

When poet Turiya Autry sat down, she handed us a book of her collected poems entitled, Roots, Reality & Rhyme, and wasted no time telling us about her work. She’ll be performing a one-woman show at Conduit Dance, Inc in SW Portland while bringing to stage her experience as a black woman in America, to thread her poetry. By sharing stories of poverty and domestic abuse, she hopes to empower others to do the same. Her story is more “than just a statistic”, she says. The one-woman show aims to remind the audience that nuanced and trying stories tend to surface merely as distant numbers. She was on the edge of her seat sharing this, her commitment as palpable as the book in my hand, and this is a show I won’t miss.

Turiya Autry.  Photo by Bobby Abrahamson

Turiya Autry.
Photo by Bobby Abrahamson

We learned about tap dance, improv-theater, folk-opera, and literary readings, directly from the mouths of a mostly Portland-based group of artists and producers, all of whom will present at The Fertile Ground Festival. Shows are being held all over the city in an equally diverse collection of venues. A comedy featuring clowns called, “Mom?” A Comedy of Mourners, will be performed in a gymnasium. A performance and book release party for MacDeath will take place in the classic Multnomah Village pub, O’Connor’s Vault. It is a mystery theater piece performed by members of Portland Actor’s Ensemble, based on the book authored by Cindy Brown. There are dozens of events in black box theaters, warehouses, as well as staple locations, like Artist’s Repertory Theater.

Show times are mostly in the evening, but there are a few matinees and afternoon showings. The Fertile Ground Festival serves as the world premiere for many of the works as well as workshop opportunities for developing productions. It is not curated, rather, a submission process is opened to the public and the revenues are directed toward promotion and other support.

After our round of speed-dates last, which due to pace and variety, put our heads in a whirlwind, I left Media Night excited and eager to know some of the performances more intimately. It looks as though there really is something for everyone. And of course, myself and other writers at Ambit Magazine will embed there.




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