Since live theater has been “a desert” over the past pandemic year, playwright Gary Corbin of Camas is urging everyone to check out how innovative local thespians are streaming new works to a locked-down world.
Portland’s annual Fertile Ground festival usually offers 10 days of dashing all over town to catch performances in different theaters at set times. This year, it migrates online and all its offerings are free.
All you have to do is check out the schedule at FertileGroundPDX.org and click the associated Facebook or YouTube link to take in local performances that can’t be found on Netflix.
The only catch: This isn’t literally live theater. The works have all been prerecorded for streaming — and some, including one short play by Corbin, make mischief with the world of screens we’re stranded in now.
Corbin’s contribution, “Swapping Some Spit,” is a tongue-in-cheek look at how people get business done — and get flirting done on the side — while isolated at home and connecting with others only through Zoom conference calls.
“I was looking at how people make these weird connections through Zoom meetings,” he said. “Sometimes the connections work, and sometimes they really don’t.”
Another Camas playwright, Louise Wynn, also has a short play in the festival. “Beach Front, Affordable” is about a conflict between haves and have-nots on the Oregon Coast.
These two short comedies are among dozens of plays and performances hosted by Fertile Ground. The first piece goes online at noon today, but don’t worry too much about timing. After they’re posted, all performances will stay up (and free) for the duration of the festival, which ends the night of Feb. 7.
Corbin and Wynn’s plays are both just a few minutes long and included in anthologies of “shorts.” If you like that kind of thing, try the “Instant Play Festival,” featuring pieces prompted by audience suggestions and then written and produced within 48 hours. At the other end of the Fertile Ground spectrum are standard-length plays.
Styles and subjects are as diverse and complicated as the world we live in now. “A Window into Elder World” is about life and advocacy in an elder-care home. “Fezziwig’s Fortune” is a look at what happened after Scrooge cheered up. “Hot Mess” is billed as a “comic book zombie musical.” “Allies and Accomplices” is a multi-disciplinary performance piece about the race protests and painful politics of the year 2020.
And in “Prolific,” grown-up Vancouver kid Anne Zander, who now lives in Portland, clowns her way through both creativity and pregnancy. “If she’s not pregnant and a world-renowned artist by the end of the show, you get your money back!” says her description of the free comedy.
Fertile Ground’s move online has been a great opportunity for thespians eager to get back in the game, Corbin said.
“It’s not quite as personal, we’re not in the same room, there’s no physicality to it,” he said. “But having Fertile Ground to work toward has energized (local playwrights) a lot. It’s great to reconnect with actors and directors, to engage and create some theater in a very different way.
“Even though we’re all doing it from our living rooms and bedrooms, it does help us reconnect. It helps keep a lot of us sane.”
Does it really? Judge that sanity for yourself by checking out this year’s Fertile Ground theater festival.