2018 PDX Fertile Ground Festival Forecast

Dear readers:

In the calm between Christmas and the new year, I’ve remembered that the PDX Fertile Ground festival of new theatre work will soon be upon us! Having been back and forth to Artist Rep recently for performances of Pericles Wet and rehearsals for Magellanica, I managed to grab a print copy of the festival line-up. (I’ve spotted copies in local book shops and other theatres, too, so keep your eyes peeled.) My cat, Puck, and I spent the morning over coffee and biscuits debating the offerings. (You can see the complete list online here.)

Cat on a blanket.
Puck contemplates the Fertile Ground Festival options while in hygge mode.

This year, I plan to invest in a pass and catch as many of the following and I can manage before the spring academic term launches in full. I only attended one workshop last year because it was loosely related to Shakespeare, only to bemoan later that I hadn’t done my homework to see other premieres and table readings. There are two works that explicitly link themselves to Shakespeare this year.

That Midsummer

This piece is in tandem with Twilight Theatre Company’s season focusing on “how theater enriches our lives; be it told via a play within a play, plays about the acting and directing experience, influential plays that have changed the course of theater, or plays that have helped shape our culture and society today.” Midsummer Night’s DreamHamlet, and Love’s Labors Lost are the three most invested in moments of meta-theatre by Shakespeare, staging moments about staging. Adding another layer always has potential to do something special in my experience.

  • Run: 1/19 & 1/20
  • Tickets: $10 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: Twilight Theatre (7515 N Brandon Ave)

Written, directed, and produced by local theatre-maker Meg MorriganWinter is in workshop as a “’psycho-spiritual vision quest that draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, this in-development text uses a free-form, stream-of-consciousness style in its exploration of womanhood, mothers and daughters, the multiverse, free will, and spirituality.”

  • Run: 1/20, 1/22, 1/24, & 1/27
  • Tickets: $12 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: Craftsman Theatre (437 NE 79th Ave)

With my professional investment in Shakespeare and early English drama, it is likely no surprise that I likewise have a penchant for new takes on other threads of classical theatre. The festival will include two world premieres of new Chekhov adaptations as well as re-imaginings from Hellenistic myth.

Persephone Xao Iris

Drawing upon mythology, lesbian history, and comic book ethos, storyteller Gretchen Peterson performs three original stories in an intricate one-woman show. The performance will move between three different locales, so check dates to see in what mood you’d like to take in the work.

  • Run: 1/18, 1/19, 1/20, 1/22, 1/23, 1/24, 1/25, & 1/26
  • Tickets: $15 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: Taborspace (5441 SE Belmont St)

Orphic annually commissions a playwright to write an original play inspired by a specific Greek tragedy. This year it is Karin Magaldi and Ajax, by Sophocles, to be table-read as part of the festival. The essential conceit: Death follows those that come home from war. They can’t drink it away. It remains. The killing does not stop, and the aftermath of the slaughter is littered with remains. Not just bodies, but ghosts trapped at home and sequestered to screens. Do we hear them? Do we talk to them? Do we offer them a warm blanket and a place to sit down on a snowy night?

  • Run: 1/26 & 1/27
  • Tickets: Free, however reservations are recommended.
  • Venue: The Shout House (210 SE Madison St)
Strangest Yellow

In this lunchtime double-header with Alaska, the playwright collective LineStorm is offering up the literary. Adapted from the famous short story The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, this play promises to investigate how far we’ve come in terms of feminism and mental health from the Victorians.

  • Run: 1/23
  • Tickets: Free.
  • Venue: Artists Repertory Theatre (1515 SW Morrison St)
Three Sisters

Written in 1900 and first produced in 1901, Three Sisters is often described as a metaphor for the decline of elite coupled with the search for meaning in a modern world. In its first outing since the critically acclaimed Waiting For Godot, Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative returns to the Shoebox Theatre to stage this new adaptation. The production will also move to the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon as part of a unique outreach program.

  • Run: 1/18, 1/19, 1/20, 1/21, 1/24, 1/25, 1/26, 1/27 & 1/28 (with additional non-festival dates)
  • Tickets: $25 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: The Shoebox Theatre (2110 SE 10th Ave)
Uncle Vanya

I’m particularly excited about Štepán Šimek‘s new adaptation because it was translated by a native-speaker of Russian who also happens to be a working actor and teacher. This fully staged world premiere by the Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble (PETE) will also include live, original music.

  • Run: 1/18, 1/19, 1/20, & 1/21 (with additional non-festival dates)
  • Tickets: $30 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: Diver Studio Theatre, Reed College (3203 SE Woodstock Blvd)

Additionally, there are a handful of new works freshly brewed whose either casting, creative team, or topic sounded compelling as well as thorough devised.

A Woman in Washington’s Army

This play is based on the true story of Deborah Samson, a young woman who disguised herself as a man and fought with distinction during the Revolutionary War. After the war, she became the first female touring lecturer and, upon her death, her husband became the first man to receive a pension as a soldier’s widower. The playwright, who is also a genealogist, discovered Deborah while on an unrelated research project.


 Inspired by a collection of real-life stories from across America, a two-spirited guru takes us on a journey that delves deep into bicultural, bilingual, bisexual, and binary sensibilities. As one of the identities of the LGBT+ community particularly maligned within and without the group, this seems a particularly rich topic for multimodal exploration.

Grand Junction

A finalist for the 2018 Portland Civic Theatre Guild award for next new play, this lunchtime table-reading showcases long-time local playwright Rich Rubin.

  • Run: 1/19
  • Tickets: Free.
  • Venue: Artists Repertory Theatre (1515 SW Morrison St)
How the Light Gets In 

This lunchtime read of a new work by E. M. Lewis is exciting if only for the fact that her award-winning, full-length world premiere, Magellanica, will be opening at Artist Rep in tandem with the Fertile Ground festival. From what I’ve seen thus far in rehearsals, she is particularly adept at using a complex ensemble to advantage. The description of this new work promises four interweaving stories, so I have high hopes.

  • Run: 1/25
  • Tickets: Free.
  • Venue: Artists Repertory Theatre (1515 SW Morrison St)

Produced by the PDX Playwrights collective with Northwest Theatre Workshop, the first of the two nights of this staged reading will include a post-show panel discussion with local theremin and hypnotherapy practitioners.

  • Run: 1/23 & 1/26
  • Tickets: $10 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: Literary Arts (925 SW Washington St) or Hipbone Studio (1847 E. Burnside)

 There are a few “maybes” I’ve got in mind as well, including Interlocus: Between Space and Time and Death of a Cranky Philosopher. Having attended music and theatre festivals in the Chicago area for the last decade, I’ve learned to take advantage of the specialty shows that are only possible in a festival setting rather than the long-shot performances. Of the options this year, the following look particularly worth the effort:

Homebrew 2018: A PDX Animation Showcase
  • Run: 1/21
  • Tickets: $10 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: 5th Avenue Cinema (510 SW Hall St)
Portland’s Mini Musical Festival
  • Run: 1/18, 1/19, 1/20, & 1/21
  • Tickets: $28/50 at the door, or with a festival pass.
  • Venue: Portland’s Center for the Performing Arts, Brunish Theater (1111 SW Broadway)
The Phantom of Oz: A Radio Play Premiere
  • Run: 1/18
  • Tickets: Free.
  • Venue: O’Connor’s Vault (7850 SW Capitol Hwy)

There is, of course, the kick-off party on January 19 as well as the Performing Artist Summit, wherein theatre-makers come together to help survey the field and discuss ways that independent performers and organizations can create and support a more vibrant community. Both of these professional development events are free and open to the public.

I’d love to hear any recommendations you might have before the festival or responses to works listed here if you seen them. Do feel free to comment or send me an email, here.


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