Portland's 9th Fertile Ground Festival: Part 1

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 23, 2017

'Nansen of the North'
'Nansen of the North'  

Portland's 9th Fertile Ground Festival opened last week, a city-wide festival of performing arts including dance, theatre, staged readings, storytelling and multi-media events. This is a great opportunity to preview little shows that dream of one day growing up to be a Big Show.

Portland's record snowfall interfered with my plans to see "El Payso," which was a huge disappointment. I support Milagro's mission to present bilingual theatre in Portland, and have enjoyed other productions. But weather is a fickle friend.

My first show was a preview of "Nansen of the North," a Portland Story Theatre presentation. It is a pleasure to hear stories written and delivered by Lawrence Howard of Portland Story Theatre. He's like your favorite uncle, sitting down after the Thanksgiving meal and telling the history of the family, except his subject is great explorers of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Nansen, his subject this time, is even more fascinating than Shackleton, as Nansen contributed even more to the world (he is responsible for the organization that became the U.N., among many other accomplishments) after his mission ended. The storytelling community in Portland is delightfully robust, and these events are incredibly enjoyable. Howard is a master at storytelling, and I recommend attending any show where he performs.

For more information on his work, visit https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=68047

If Howard is your favorite uncle, "The Free Box" is a bunch of kids playing pretend with a treasure box of dress-up clothes and found items. creating a world of their own. Yocteau Theatre's Mary Rose and Nathaniel Holder perform a story based on items that have been contributed by the audience on the night of the show. Based on Portland's famous "free box" tradition, the show explores imagination and showcases improvisational acting skills.

Holder's talent for physical, movement-based acting is obvious, but it's Rose's intelligent and penetrating expressiveness that captured my attention. At times their narrative choices made me uncomfortable, but they managed to provide a through-line in their story, however bizarre the pieces they had to work with. When the actors are joined in their improvisation by the sound and lighting, and all four elements work to create something new right on the spot, it's exciting-if wholly non-traditional theatre.

For more information, visit http://www.witd.org/headwaters/2017/1/19/yoctotheatre-presents-free-box

This coming week holds many more Fertile Ground adventures, so watch this space for my impressions on new work by local authors.

Portland's 9th Fertile Ground Festival runs through January 29 at assorted venues throughout Portland. For information and tickets, visit http://fertilegroundpdx.org

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.