This GROW Panel is composed of individuals whose identities encompass a spectrum of underrepresented voices,* along with Fertile Ground and PATA representatives. Demonstrating Fertile Ground’s commitment to broadening representative inclusion of local artists, this panel was instituted in order to include a wider range of community artists involved in festival.

This extraordinary community cohort of local artists will adjudicate and award five 2021 GROW Awards, and also identify GROW Panel selected projects with the aim of informing festival goers of key projects that involve artists and stories from underrepresented communities.*

*BIPOC, LGBTQ2IA+, Disabled

Sara Jean Accuardi’s full-length plays include The Delays, BREAK, The Storyteller, < 3, Love Scenes, and Portrait of the Widow Kinski. Her writing has been produced and developed around the country, including with Theatre Vertigo, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, Something Marvelous, Victory Gardens, Portland Center Stage, Chicago Dramatists, The Blank Theatre, and Spooky Action Theater. The Delays received the 2019 Drammy Award for Outstanding Original Script, and The Storyteller won the 2020 International Thomas Wolfe Playwriting Competition. Sara Jean holds an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern University and is a member of the Dramatist Guild and LineStorm Playwrights. Her plays are available on The New Play Exchange.

Jane Comer, a part of the Portland theatre scene since the 1980’s, is sometimes called a trans pioneer of theatre. Jane has decades of experience making theatre both from before and after transition.  An actor, writer and director, her work recently has focused on solo performance. Her latest work, The Fear of Speaking , was workshopped at the 2020 Fertile Ground Festival, and was featured as the mainstage production of the 2020 Outwright Theatre Festival.  Jane currently serves on the board of Fuse Theatre Ensemble.  

Michael Cavazos is a Queer Chicano theatre maker and author of the play Gritos y Chismesitos and co-author of Chic and Sassy and Chic and Sassy: The Higher the Hair, the Closer to God. He recently assistant directed Sweat by Lynn Nottage at Profile and became a company member at Hand2Mouth. Michael directed and performed in the theatrical concert Universo and has stage-managed several shows including Imago’s productions of La Belle and Medea; Crave’s productions of Crossing and Red; and Hand2Mouth’s Dream|Logic and Object Karaoke. He is currently working on new works for Crave, Hand2Mouth, and PCS.

James Dixon is a Portland-based actor, director (SDC), playwright, and equity facilitator. James most recently served as the EDI Chair for the PATA Board of Directors. There is a wealth of self-empowerment, wisdom, and fulfillment in telling your own stories. So James now focuses on creating through an equity lens in an effort to bring communities closer to the stories that display the beauty of the human condition. His favorite directing credits include Bootycandy with Fuse Theatre, The Mysterious Affair At Styles with Linestorm Playwrights, Gender-fication with 360 Labs, and as a Cultural Advisor for Hair with Staged. jamesrdixon.com

Tracy Cameron Francis is a  first-generation Egyptian-American director, interdisciplinary artist, and producer. She is currently the Artistic Director of Boom Arts and formerly was the co-founder and artistic director of Hybrid Theatre Works in New York which focused on international collaboration and social justice. She was a 2017 TCG Rising Leader of Color fellow, is a core member of Theatre Without Borders  and currently serves on the steering committee for the newly formed Middle East and North African Theatre Makers Alliance . She holds a B.A. from Fordham University in Middle Eastern Studies and Theatre, is a member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab and an associate member of SDC

Robert Guitron is a father, partner, son, brother, Latino, award-winning choreographer, dancer, composer, jewelry designer, director, actor, certified welder, bonsai artist, and fellow human. He is the Artistic Director and Co-founder of Polaris Dance Theatre since its inception in 2002.  In the past 43+ years, he has worked in the dance, stage and film industry creating work, performing and choreographing around the world for many prestigious dance companies and performing arts organizations. Aside from his repertory work, his credits and accolades come from his involvement in many outreach programs, operatic performances, musicals, music videos, and collaborations with corporations, artists and charitable organizations. Polaris Dance has been a part of Fertile Ground for the past decade bringing Portland’s dance community together under Polaris Dance Theatre’s roof with the Goovin’ Greenhouse — the festival’s dance hub of the festival within the festival. Robert  is at his happiest both professionally and personally when he gets to share his life-long passion for dance, music, and the arts; and is humbled and honored to be with this group of artists and contributing to Fertile Ground in this capacity.

Heath Hyun Houghton is a Korean American actor, writer and director.  He is a MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Goddard College and holds a BA in Theatre Performance from Humboldt State University.  He also studied Korean dance and performance styles in Jinju, South Korea with USD Modern Dance. His writing has been published in Spring Time Magazine and The Pitkin Review.  He has contributed lyrics to albums released by Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and The Turnips.  His plays have been seen as staged readings in South Korea, California, Michigan and Portland, OR.  He works as an arts educator and competitive gymnastics coach and instructor.

Nicole Lane is a relationship designer connecting people to content in ways that resonate, and a bridge-builder bringing together people, communities and ideas. Across her life and various careers—from marketing and community-building for the arts and nonprofits, to teaching middle school and motherhood— the through line is consistent. For her it all comes from the same place: connection.  Her work always seeks to bring people and ideas together to elicit meaningful outcomes that lift everyone involved. Since 2004—and in addition to the past 12 years with Fertile Ground—she’s worked at Artslandia, Artists Repertory Theatre, many other arts nonprofits, and on a variety of artistic endeavors with artists, creators and musicians.

For over 20 years, Bianca McCarthy (Panel Facilitator) has been passionately committed to the arts & culture landscape of Portland. She has been in development, marketing and communications, for everyone from the Oregon Zoo, to Oregon Ballet Theater, to Schoolhouse Supplies. She has served as the Executive Director for Echo Theater Company for the past six years. When not at Echo, this LatinX/Black femme is also a producer, emcee, and performer.

Matthew Miller is a proud member of LineStorm Playwrights, PDX Playwrights, and the Portland Civic Theatre Guild, and currently serves as vice president of the Portland Area Theatre Alliance. Miller has written and produced several pieces in the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Works and lives in Portland with his husband, Chris, their dog, Paca, and their cat, Mashed Potatoes.

Jeanette Mmunga is a 19-year-old college student and one of three youth co-founders of I Am M.O.R.E. (Making Ourselves Resilient Everyday). She grew up in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Born into a family who had known only war and running away from violence, her people were called “wakimbizi,” which means “runaways,” so she grew up managing constant trauma, and fighting against the powerful influences of witchcraft, and starvation, malaria and sexual abuse. As the co-founder of I am M.O.R.E. Jeanette found her voice and has become bold, resilient and empowered. As a professional empowerment speaker, she has inspired audiences of hundreds. Jeanette’s deepest desire is to use her journey and creativity as a way to remind others, especially young women of color, that they are enough. Learn about I Am M.O.R.E.

Tess Raunig (they/them/theirs) is a Portland based actor, musician, writer, and teaching artist.  They live with multiple disabilities, and they identify as a queer, non-binary trans person.  They are originally from Missoula Montana, and earned their Bachelors degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Montana.  Tess teaches voice, songwriting and choir at PHAME Academy, an arts school for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.   As an actor, they have worked with companies such as Artists Repertory Theatre, Oregon Children’s Theatre, and Couch Film Collective .  An accomplished musician, they are in a theatrical folk pop band called Sasha and The Children, and Acchord, an a’capella group comprised of trans and non-binary folks.  When they aren’t performing or teaching, Tess enjoys drinking tea, and hanging out with their cat child, Sasha.  And yes, the band is named after Sasha kitty.

Dré Slaman, a San Diego native, is an Arab American actor who received her MFA from Northern Illinois University and has also studied at the William Esper Studio and the Moscow Art Theatre. She has been in Portland for 10 years and has been seen on the screen and stages throughout the city. Also an entrepreneur, she is the Founder and COO of local company Farm to Fit –  Portland’s Healthy Meal Delivery Service.  Dré served on the PATA Board of Directors from 2013-2018, and is President Emeritus.  She has been joyfully been working with Fertile Ground since for the past six years.

Samson Syharath is a Laotian-American performer, director, educator, playwright, and theatre producer. He received a BA from the University of Arkansas Fort Smith. After studying at the Portland Actors Conservatory, he helped start Theatre Diaspora, a nonprofit committed to celebrating and creatively advocating for the Asian American/Pacific Islander experience through stage work and post show discussion. He is also a member of the Accountability Collective and the EDI Committee Chair with the Portland Area Theatre Alliance. He received the Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship and was named part of the Theatre Communications Group Rising Leaders of Color Cohort in 2017.

Valerie Yvette Peterson has been a writer, author, director and poet, here in Portland for over 30 years. Her writing seeks to bring awareness to social/anthropological issues in acknowledging the adversities present in communities of color that are impacting life every day, in the lives of women.  She has written countless plays and poems, and her work has been featured in the Portland Observer, Stereotype Co. Blog, Dr. Melinda Silva’s podcast and many others. For the past six years, Valerie has been an Associate Producer for the Annual MLK Jr. Keep Alive the Dream Celebration here in Portland, which is the second largest MLK celebration in the country. Valerie holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and is certified as a CBT Mental Health Facilitator. 

A former music journalist, Mark Woodlief (he/him/his) has served and facilitated the Portland theater scene since 2013, with part-time stints in the Portland Center Stage box office and at Artists Repertory Theater. In the first half of his life, Mark was an avid, enthusiastic runner. Diagnosed with the progressive neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1994, he now quips, “I used to run five miles in 25 minutes. Now I can’t run five feet.” Mark also dismantles his ableism by embracing the principles of disability justice.