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Don't miss Fertile Ground Festival

Lakewood to host four presentations of new works


STAFF PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Cynthia Whitcomb, front, Jon Quesenberry and Cheryl E. Grant are presenting Fertile Ground Festival readings at Lakewood Center for the Arts during the festival, which runs throughout Portland Jan. 21-31.

Get ready for 11 days of world premiere acts of creation when Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival opens Jan 21, continuing through Jan. 31. This is your opportunity to see dozens of Portland-generated arts events of new works in a variety of venues throughout the metropolitan area. You can see fully staged world premieres, dance, workshops, staged readings and readings of plays in their formative stages.

This marks the third year Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, has been involved with the Fertile Ground Festival. Lakewood Center will host four staged readings; refreshments will be served following “Burning Basil” and “Under the Yew Tree” readings.

“Audiences will be totally amazed,” said Steve Knox, Lakewood Theatre Company co-producer. “There is an element of excitement in attending these first-time readings. It brings new audiences to the theater too.”

Andrew Edwards, Lakewood Center’s executive director, said the event fits in with the center’s principles.

“Our mission is to provide opportunities for new and emerging artists,” Edwards said. “This hits all those buttons because these are artists that are creating new works, they are professionals in their field. Lakewood provides them that home and that opportunity to stage their work.”

“Burning Basil,” written and directed by Cheryl E. Grant, will show at 2 p.m. Jan. 23. “Burning Basil” is a romantic comedy about love, loss, identity and rites of passage. William is a poet, lost in his life, at the end of his successful career. He is literally haunted by the spirit of a lost soul by the name of Bea who is dragging him deeper into her own loss. William’s great love is Wendy, his muse, and a former ballet dancer, who is lost in her second career in real estate and upcoming engagement. Will their accidental reunion help them find their way forward as individuals or will they get lost together?

“The audience element really is magic,” Grant said. “With television and film, you tell the story upfront, but with theater, you keep the secret. The intensity and anticipation grow and the audience gets to participate in the discovery. It can be terrifying, but in a good way. Chaos, doubt and confusion are the beginning of the artistic process. The audience will call you on it if you don’t bring your A game.”

Participating in the reading is a West Linn couple: Nancy Nye, executive director of the Arts Council of Lake Oswego, and her husband, Adam Klugman, son of the late actor Jack Klugman.

Up next is a reading of “Under the Yew Tree,” written by Ron Lee and directed by Cynthia Whitcomb, to be performed 2 p.m. Jan. 24.

Lee is a Liverpool playwright as well as farmer, and writer for BBC radio dramas. He brings some of these experiences to his work in “Under the Yew Tree.”

Whitcomb has been involved in Fertile Ground as a playwright numerous times. Her “Seven Wonders of Ballyknock” was presented at Fertile Ground in 2014 and made its world premiere on the Lakewood stage in February 2015. She has been nominated for Emmy, CableACE, Edgar Allan Poe, Humanitas and Writers Guild of America awards and has written two books on screenwriting. She teaches a screenwriting class in Portland twice a year and takes a group of writers on a trans-Atlantic writing cruise each spring.

Whitcomb says she “loves the rewriting process.”

“This is really exciting and neat to be a part of,” she said. “You can’t tell if something is funny by reading it in your living room. You need to see how audiences react. I’ve cut whole scenes and even characters out after a reading before a live audience.”

Popular Portland actress Margie Boule reads the role of Frances and Curt Hanson portrays Thomas.

A reading of “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” will be presented at 7 p.m. Jan. 26. This musical features the music of Jon Quesenberry with lyrics by Quesenberry and Carrie Morgan, book by Emilie Landmann and Carrie Morgan, with direction by Landmann and music direction by Quesenberry. “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” is the musical retelling of Faust for movie aficionados, tabloid readers and Millennials too lazy to read Faust. Fact checked against McConaughey’s real life, this twist on the classic “sell your soul” story features McConaughey as he struggles against all odds to win an Oscar and save his own soul.

Quesenberry said he got the inspiration for the musical after watching McConaughey’s performance in “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” a 2009 movie with Jennifer Garner. “He must have sold his soul to the Devil with that,” he said. He wrote a “hodgepodge” of music for the piece; you will hear hip hop, gospel and more, all with a cohesive sound supporting the story.

“Fertile Ground is great. You get to try it out and you usually have one day to try it and fix stuff — it’s invaluable,” he said.

Quesenberry is an accomplished music director, vocal coach, composer, orchestrator and actor in Portland. He has garnered nominations for his work in the Portland musical theater scene, as well as a Drammy for his work in Stumptown Stages’ “9 to 5” and a PAMTA for his “consistent and excellent work in musical theater.”

Quesenberry has a second show in Fertile Ground, “The Adventures of Dex Dixon: Paranormal Dick” playing Jan. 21-31 at Stumptown Stages.

Morgan’s Portland theater credits include book for Stumptown Stages’ “Carrie the Musical,” Lakewood Theatre Company’s “Young Frankenstein” and “The Light in the Piazza,” plus the Drammy Award-winning production of “A Christmas Carol” for Portland Playhouse.

Lakewood’s Fertile Ground presentations end with a reading of “A Mischief of Rats” at 7 p.m. Jan. 27. Written by Katherine Lloyd-Knox and directed by Leslie Gale this play poses the question is family what you are born into or is it something you create? The hairy ties that bind these characters are a rat’s nest of complicated relationships each is trying to understand. In doing so, maybe they’ll realize that even if the path taken isn’t the one you meant to take, it might just be the one for you. After all, it’s not your life changes that decide who you are, but the decisions you make that change your life.

Tickets to Fertile Ground Festival shows vary in price; some are free, most are $10 per person. A festival pass is available for $50 and allows admission to all participating Fertile Ground projects during the 11 day festival. The pass and individual tickets are available online at boxofficetickets.com. Festival passholders must reserve seats for the individual events they wish to attend.

Fertile Ground events at Lakewood Center are priced at $10 and tickets can be purchased online at lakewood-center.org or by calling the box office at 503-635-3901. Those attending by using a festival pass can manage admission online at boxofficetickets.com or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For a complete line up of Fertile Ground Festival performances, visit fertilegroundpdx.org.