THE FERTILE GROUND festival of new theater arrives this week, and with it one of the lone, weird blooms amid theater’s post-holiday stupor. In case you need a refresher, here’s the drill: Festival passes ($50) and single tickets (many under $20) are relatively cheap. I don’t advise trying to go to everything, but you could. Fertile Ground is a proudly open and accessible festival, which means you’ll be seeing both fully-produced shows at local theaters with runs that continue after the festival and one-time performances from scrappier outfits. In previous years, I’ve seen plays performed in storefronts, staged readings given to standing-room-only crowds, and peculiar glimpses into the machinations of local companies like Hand2Mouth. If you game it right, Fertile Ground can be a fun, bizarre two weeks in the Portland theater world—a temperature check to see what’s going on throughout the city’s performance community, and a good way to start off the new year. As a January palate-cleanser, I can’t recommend it enough. Here’s what I’m putting on my festival agenda this time around.
Stories from MacLaren Correctional Facility
Rogue Pack facilitates writing and performance workshops for underserved youth, and their Fertile Ground offering should be timely and powerful. Stories from MacLaren Correctional Facility pulls together writings from teens and young adults currently incarcerated at the youth prison in Woodburn, Oregon. Their stories will be performed by professional actors in a series of one-act plays, and after each show, you’ll have a chance to hear from the playwrights themselves, as they Skype in from MacLaren for a talk-back after the performance. Sellwood Playhouse, 901 SE Spokane, Fri Jan 20-Sat Jan 21 & Fri Jan 27-Sat Jan 28, 7:30 pm, $10-15
Last year, Fertile Ground featured a retelling of Frankenstein that emphasized themes of sexuality and gender in its translation of Mary Shelley’s classic story. The troupe behind that production is back, this time adapting the myth of the lost island of Atlantis. The source material’s the perfect mix of spooky and weird to make it ripe for the type of immersive reenactment this ensemble does so well. Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton, Wed Jan 18-Thurs Jan 19, 8 pm; Fri Jan 20, 10 pm; Sat Jan 21, 1:30 pm; Sun Jan 22, 8 pm, $15-20
Last year, Theatre Vertigo, whose Shoebox Theatre productions I’m nearly always jazzed to see, mounted the premiere of I Want to Destroy You, an enjoyable if imperfect journey into the frequently sad, always strange world of art school and academia. At this year’s fest, Theatre Vertigo will premiere Carnivora, a play about a woman who wakes up screaming inside of a burlap sack somewhere in the Ozarks and has to find out what happened to her. That’s enough information to pique my unhealthy curiosity, how about you? Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th, Fri Jan 20-Sat Jan 28, 7:30 pm; Sun Jan 29, 2 pm; extended post-festival run through February, $10-20
New Frontiers in Vaginal Consciousness (VAGCON™)
If you’re giving me a look, don’t worry: I proudly serve as the Mercury’s Chief Ladyparts Correspondent and even I made a ~*skeptical face*~ when I saw the description of this show. You know what though? Vaginal Consciousness host Dr. Tallulah is not some “womanhood lies in our sex organs only, what is intersectionality?” yoni magick woo-woo “practitioner”—she’s a character created by performance artist/clown about town Kelly Nesbitt, who bills her alter-ego as “a fiery Shamanic Healer, Sexual Activist, Zen Cosmetologist, and Vaginal Consciousness (VAGCON™) Pioneer.” More importantly, Dr. Tallulah is funny, clever, and vouched for by the likes of sex-positive theater genius Eleanor O’Brien. Seeing Dr. T live! in person! should be a goofy delight. Lightbox Kulturhaus, 2027 NE MLK, Thurs 19-Sat Jan 21, 8 pm; SomaSpace, 4050 NE Broadway, Fri Jan 27-Sun Jan 29, 8 pm, $12
Do You Believe in Magic
A highlight of last year’s Fertile Ground festival was Hand2Mouth co-founder and “creative guide” Faith Helma’s I HATE POSITIVE THINKING, a one-woman show that began as a skeptical indictment of the self-help industry and quickly morphed into an unhinged celebration of all things ugly, inelegant, and painful. But in, like, a FUNNY way. Helma’s back this year with Do You Believe in Magic, one of the festival’s offerings I’m most excited to see. I hate to be all “Donald Trump is going to ruin our lives! We need to smile now more than ever!” but, um, Donald Trump is already ruining our lives. We need to smile now more than ever. Helma’s work often inspires bemusement and confusing delight. It’s nuanced and unapologetically weird. Helma’s back this year with Do You Believe in Magic, one of the festival’s offerings I’m most excited to see. I hate to be all “Donald Trump is going to ruin our lives! We need to smile now more than ever!” but, um, Donald Trump is already ruining our lives. We need to smile now more than ever. Helma’s work often inspires bemusement and confusing delight. It’s what I want to see more of in 2017. Yoga Refuge, 7831 SE Stark #300, Fri Jan 20, 9 pm, Sat Jan 21, 7 & 9 pm, Sat Jan 28, 7 & 9 pm, $11-15
For more Fertile Ground listings, visit our performance calendar.