Two Links on the Honor Roll

I wanted to point out two interesting links on my page’s “The Honor Roll” (a phrase I blatantly stole from Hunter Thompson’s book dedications). One is “Gunner Palace,” which is a documentary about Iraq well worth seeing. It doesn’t have a particular political axe to grind; it simply shows what life is like for one company of grunts operating around Baghdad.

The other is “Fight to Survive” which is a blog compiled by guys serving in Iraq and, as a kind of companion piece to “Gunner Palace,” tells of their average days, from the mundane to the absolutely ghastly. It’s been quiet of late, but it’s worth going back to read past posts. Soldiers’ voices are always worth listening to and ring much truer than the noxious rhetoric that flows unendingly from politicians and talking heads.

“Happiness is Iraq in my rear view mirror.”

Indeed.

Steve

In Portland: An Invite to a Special Theatrical Event

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I’m writing to invite you to a rather special theatrical event. For 15 years, I’ve been working on a three-act drama Turquoise and Obsidian, which has been through countless drafts and private workshop readings, and had a public reading in 2003. Miracle Theatre Company has been kind enough to host Pavement Productions, my production company, in a concert reading of the finished script (if theatrical scripts are ever truly finished). The reading, on Sunday, November 4th, at 7:00, is free and has a wonderful cast slated, and it would be an honor to share the fruits of a long, fascinating process. Details follow below.

Thanks very much,

Steve Patterson
Pavement Productions

PAVEMENT PRODUCTIONS, HOSTED BY MIRACLE THEATRE COMPANY, PRESENTS TURQUOISE AND OBSIDIAN

Pavement Productions presents a free reading of Portland playwright Steve Patterson’s original play Turquoise and Obsidian on Sunday, November 4th at 7:00 PM at Miracle Theatre Company, 525 SE Stark Street, Portland, Oregon. No reservations required. Scheduled cast includes Keith Scales, Mindy Logan, Rebecca Martinez, Noah Jordan, Roberto Astorga, and David Loftus.

ABOUT THE PLAY
Fifteen years in the making, Turquoise and Obsidian is a three-act drama about Zachary, a literature professor who becomes obsessed with the idea that he will die on the Day of the Dead in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The author of a celebrated critical analysis of Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel Under the Volcano (the protagonist of which dies on the Day of the Dead in Cuernavaca), Zachary feels trapped in a web of correspondences between the novel and his life. When he disappears into Mexico, his wife follows after him, setting off a story within a story involving Mexican politics, hidden Aztec culture, and a love story that, literally, encompasses the beginning and end of time.

Directed by Lisa L. Abbott, who has seen the play through many private readings and workshops with a veritable who’s who in Portland theatre, and a 2003 public reading featuring Keith Scales, Lorraine Bahr, and David Meyers, Turquoise and Obsidian involves six cultures (Irish, American, Mexican, Spanish, Native American, and Aztec), three languages (English, Spanish, and Nahuatl), and 500 years of history. Steeped in magical realism and a respect for native traditions, the creation of Turquoise and Obsidian was made possible by the Portland Civic Theatre Guild awarding Patterson its inaugural Theatre Fellowship, which allowed him to travel to Cuernavaca, experience the Day of the Dead first hand, and visit the original settings of Under the Volcano (including a stay in the apartment where Lowry wrote much of the novel—the building now being a hotel).

In 1984, Under the Volcano, considered one of the 20th Century’s greatest novels, was made into a film directed by John Huston and starring Albert Finney.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Since 1990, Steve Patterson has written more than 30 plays. Known for its rich word play, surreal imagery, and willingness to explore the unknown, his work has been performed in Portland, Chicago, Tampa, Austin, Los Angeles, Boulder, and other American cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His plays Bombardment and Altered States of America have been finalists for the Oregon Book Award, and, in 1998, Stark Raving Theatre won a $10,000 grant from the Flint Ridge Foundation for production of his play Liberation. In 2003, Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company’s production of Liberation was cited by Theatre Y2K.com for an Honorable Mention as one of that year’s best productions in Los Angeles. In 2006, his play Lost Wavelengths had a mainstage reading at Portland Center Stage’s JAW/West festival. Mr. Patterson’s other plays include: The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Controlled Burn, Delusion of Darkness, Deuces, Malaria, Shelter, Temptation, Curl of Smoke, and Waiting on Sean Flynn. Both Delusion of Darkness and Waiting on Sean Flynn have been performed in the Tampa Performing Arts Center, the largest performing arts facility in the Southeastern United States. With Chris Harder, he co-authored The Centering, for which Harder won a 2007 Drammy for Best Actor. He is a member of Portland Center Stage’s PlayGroup Playwrights Workshop, the Dramatists Guild, and a former board member of the Northwest Playwrights Guild. He also the Co-Founder, Co-Artistic Director, and Resident Playwright of Pavement Productions.

ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Lisa L. Abbott, Co-Artistic Director of Pavement Productions, has directed Pavement’s shows since 1997, including Life and Death on the American Road, Between the Sheets, and Curl of Smoke. Her work is known for its insightful character development, fine ensemble playing, creative use of theater space, and skillful integration of lighting and sound effects. Ms Abbott’s work as a director has focused on the development of new scripts, including Lost Wavelengths at Portland Center Stage’s JAW/West Festival and What Mad Pursuit at Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon. Her Portland directing credits include: The Centering for Chris Harder, A Grimm Late Night for Spectre Productions; and Liberation and Waiting on Sean Flynn for Stark Raving Theatre. Ms. Abbott has also directed in Chicago and Denver, where her credits include: Wolfbane; In Stiches; Interview, Audience; Slow Dance on the Killing Ground; and The Indian Wants the Bronx. Ms. Abbott has a MFA from the University of Portland, and has been an AEA Stage Manager and a guest director for the Chicago Dramatists’ Workshop.

ABOUT THE THEATRE COMPANIES

Miracle Theatre, sometimes known by the Spanish translation of its name Teatro Milagro, is the only Hispanic theater production company in the Pacific Northwest. Its home is in Portland, Oregon, though it often tours regionally and nationally. It was founded in 1985. The theater operates through three arms: the Miracle Mainstage, with English language productions at the company’s theater in South East Portland;, Teatro Milagro, the international touring company, with bilingual English/Spanish productions; and Bellas Artes, a multidisciplinary company that stages community-based events, such as annual Dia de Los Muertos, Posada festivals, and educational programs. The Miracle Theater generally produces about a half dozen productions of original and revival plays annually, along with related programs.

Pavement Productions is a small, independent Portland production company that specializes in developing and producing new plays. It has been especially successful in producing “anthology” shows composed of short plays written by a number of playwrights around specific themes. These have included Behind the Eyes, Between the Sheets, and the very popular Life and Death on the American Road. In association with The Bluestockings, Pavement plans to co-produce Dead of Winter, a trio of ghost stories for the stage, in February 2008.

For more information, contact Steve Patterson at 503-312-6665 or splatterson@mindspring.com

Jonesing the Glow

I don’t know if it happens to other playwrights or theatre practitioners (or audience members for that matter), but, once in a while, when all the elements of a piece are really clicking, the actors are locked in the moment, the audience is with you, the tech and sound is just perfect, and the play slips into this perfect groove, something strange happens to my perception. It’s almost like everything in the theatre disappears except the action onstage, and colors seem to take on this weird, heightened glow, a hyperreal halo. The impact of language intensifies. The emotion deepens. It’s almost like you’re experiencing an altered state of consciousness, like a dream or fever or hallucinogenic drug, wherein everything seems so very much more powerful and gorgeous than…anything.


I really can’t explain it. I notice it more watching my own work, not because it’s so damned wonderful or whatever but because I think that moment taps into the unconscious mind, just as the original writing–when it’s working–arises from under the surface. But I’ve experienced it watching other people’s plays as well. It’s the shiver factor, when art cuts through your ordinary perception and reaches down into your soul. And you…shiver.

It doesn’t happen often. It never lasts. But, my God, when it’s there, it justifies all the endless rewrites, the rejections, the clunky rehearsals, the behind-the-scenes bullshit, and the lousy reviews. And it hooks you.

I remember coming home from seeing one of my productions, and it was just one of those charmed nights where everything–everything–worked. You coul see it on the faces of the audience–a dazed, flushed, happieness. A vaguely unreal aura seemed to surround me, follow me home from the theatre, and there I was standing in the kitchen, doing the dishes to burn off the excess energy, when I saw my face reflected in the kitchen window, and face looking back said: let’s do that again.

The Actors in My Head

I’m occasionally asked what else I do in theatre—as if writing and producing plays isn’t enough. More specifically, people want to know if I act. No. I do not. And there should be many, many people grateful for this decision. I have directed and did okay, but I’d much rather leave that work to people who are trained, capable, and actually enjoy having everyone entrust their artistic integrity in their care. But I do not, should not, could not act. Not with a cat, in a hat, or in a black box.

There are, however, a whole troupe of actors living in my head, and they come out regularly (and under scale) when I write. That is, when I’m writing a play, I not only see a stage in my head, but I see actors playing the parts, and I feel like I’m all those actors playing those parts, and, when it’s going very well, the difference between actor and character and myself disappears; so that I’m actually the people in the play experiencing the events in the play as though they’re real. This is called putting your borderline personality disorder to work.

But it can whack you once in awhile. In my play “Waiting on Sean Flynn,” there’s a harrowing scene that still freaks me out when I read it or see it performed where one character nearly gets shot in the head and then reacts afterwards with stunningly savage violence. I remember writing it in a very nice coffeehouse with tasteful art on the walls and windows looking out on a perfect summer’s evening, with all the pretty, happy people walking by, flirting and showing their very attractive flesh. And there I was hunched over a notebook, probably with my eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare, hunkered down on a hot LZ (landing zone) and jamming a .45 into the mouth of a Vietnamese soldier who’d just been holding the same gun to my head seconds before. No wonder I’ll occasionally look up from writing to see someone watching me fearfully; without knowing it, I’ve been glowering at them like Billy Bob Thornton in “Slingblade.” “I’ll have another espresso, uh-huh.”

After writing that scene, I was sweating and feeling like I couldn’t get my breath. My cashier seemed to be yards away as I paid my bill and speaking from some place that muffled her voice. I walked the streets of Northwest Portland with this sense that all these people, laughing and having fun and trying to remember if they had tucked condoms in their purse or wallet, had absolutely no idea what had just happened, that I’d just nearly been killed, just nearly killed someone, and that maybe I wasn’t entirely—heh heh—in my right mind. I spent the next couple hours sitting alone on my front porch and listening to The Doors.

“Waiting on Sean Flynn” had a reading in L.A. earlier this year, and I heard back from the director that one actor said he’d “give his right nut” to play that role. Oh, dear actors: be careful what you wish for.

Dept. of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Now that we’re all rejoicing that Sen. Larry (“I’m not gay, I’m really really not gay”) Craig of Idaho is going to, uh, stick it out in the Senate until 2009 (thus providing endless punchlines), we’d like to share the recipe for Larry’s favorite dish. You’ll think this is satire, but it’s for real. From some Senate recipe collection…remember, cook’s choice!

Super Tuber is a great snack that uses one of my favorite vegetables: The Idaho Potato. Of course, I suppose any type of potato could be used, but I cannot guarantee that a Super Tuber made with anything but a true Idaho potato would taste as good. Sincerely, Larry E. Craig, United States Senator

Ingredients
1 hot dog, cook’s choice
1 Idaho baking potato, 7 to 10 ounces
Mustard for dipping, any style
Other condiments as desired such as cheese sauce, sour cream, chili, chives, bacon pieces or black olives.

Wash and dry potato. Rub with shortening or butter. With an apple corer or small knife, core out the potato center (end to end). Push hot dog through the center. Bake until potato is cooked through.

Like a laaaaasser beeeeeam

I received an e-mail asking, that “There are so many of you…” line above the counter on your page…where is that from? It sounds so familiar, but….

Not suprising; the reference definitely falls into the obscure category. It’s a line from “Rejoyce,” a Jefferson Airplane song inspired by James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” From the notorious “After Bathing at Baxters” album.

To wit:
Rejoyce

Chemical change like a laser beam
you’ve shattered the warning amber light
Make me warm
Let me see you moving everything over
Smiling in my room
You know you’ll be inside of my mind soon.

There are so many of you.
White shirt and tie, white shirt and tie,
white shirt and tie, wedding ring, wedding ring.

Mulligan stew for Bloom,
The only Jew in the room
Saxon’s sick on the holy dregs
And their constant getting throw up on his leg.

Molly’s gone to blazes,
Boylan’s crotch amazes
Any woman whose husband sleeps with his head
All buried down at the foot of his bed.

I’ve got his arm
I’ve got his arm
I’ve had it for weeks
I’ve got his arm
Steven won’t give his arm
To no gold star mother’s farm;
War’s good business so give your son
And I’d rather have my country die for me.

Sell your mother for a Hershey bar
Grow up looking like a car
There are so many of you;
All you want to do is live,
All you want to do is give but
Some how it all falls apart

Meet the Oysters

Tennessee Williams said there are three great storybook cities in America: New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco, and, as usual, Tennessee was exactly right. I’ve been lucky enough to live in New York and New Orleans, and every time I visit San Francisco, I want to move there.

I recently found a 20-year-old postcard of the French Quarter with a fading blue arrow drawn to one of the buildings. I had sent it to my parents to show them where I was living. In a postcard. On the back, I’d written: “It’s better than New Jersey.”

I only lived a year in the Big Easy. The economy was wretched, and I was back in radio, a notoriously uncertain industry. “Good morning. We’ve changed our format. You’re all fired.” Yet, that year left me awash in images, like a bucket of slides dumped on a light table. Put a loupe to any one of them, and a story begins.


Here we’re looking dueling oyster bars. A New Orleans oyster bar means they pluck ’em fresh from the Gulf, and they’re still alive when the guy behind the bar slips the knife in the shell and pops ’em open right on the bartop. I preferred the Acme to Felix’s. The Acme was unpretentious, down home, had great red beans and rice every Monday, and was where I first encountered oysters in their natural state. It was Mardi Gras, and I’m certain I’d never have made it through without a couple margaritas, but there they were, six of ’em lined up in front of me. No plate. Just shells and a fork.

“What do I do with with them?” I asked the oyster barman. He looked at me like, you poor Yankee bastard. Then he patiently explained that you take little sauce from this tin, a little sauce from that tin, a little horseradish, put it on the oyster, then tip that shell up and let ‘er go.

No, really. What do I do with them? But I’d had a few drinks, so, what the hell. I wasn’t sure whether everyone at the bar was going to laugh at me or not, but I did as instructed, and the taste was…fresh oysters on the half shell, pungent and sharp and beautiful. If you don’t care for oysters, I’ll never be able to explain it. If you love oysters (and there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground), you will know. You never forget that first time.

I immediately ordered another half-dozen. And a margarita. And I slipped an Acme Oyster Bar matchbook in my pocket.

Wearing the Producer’s Hat

It’s pointy, like the ones they used to make bad kids wear at school, and it never quite fits right, always slipping down over your eyes at inopportune moments.

Last time I counted, I think I’ve produced 25 shows, only one of which failed to break even. I think that’s a decent track record for a frankly perilous endeavor. The last time around was so completely exhausting and disappointing–in terms of ticket sales, artistically it was excellent, which made the small audiences even more frustrating–that I put the pointy hat on the shelf for five years and concentrated on writing plays and letting others produce them.

Part of the reason, however, that I got into producing was that I just wasn’t seeing certain kinds of plays–strange, unkempt, orignal–being produced in Portland. There’s a lot more work being produced here these days; so much so that it’s hard to see everything one would like. This time, I’m dusting off the pointy hat because I want to produce something that seems like a total blast and an easy sell. In other words, I’m in it for the fun.

That is, next February, my company Pavement Productions is co-producing with Portland’s The Bluestockings three ghost stories I’ve written for the stage: Whitechapel, Wet Paint, and The Body. The whole evening will be called Dead of Winter (going up in February), and every time I tell someone about it, they get that weird sparkle in their eyes that tells me it’s a good idea (and people will come). When you can write the press release in your head, you’re on the right track.

The thing about producing is this: it will take you over. You are the go-to person when things go wrong, when little things need attention, and there are always details that have to be addressed, whether it’s making sure you make press deadlines or procure that goofy little prop no one seems to be able to find. It’s taught me a decent lesson about life, though: when you think you can’t give anymore, push a little harder, and you’ll find you have more to give. It’s an opening to a process bigger than yourself. That’s why it’s tough. That’s why it’s also rewarding. And when the pieces come together and things go right, it’s a wonderful, hard-charging high. As Neil Young sings: “With trunks of memories still to come.”

And there’s always that last moment, when the show is over and the set’s been struck, and you’re done with cleaning up the trash and boxing up the pieces, when you’re alone in the theatre for the last time and have to turn out the lights. That moment belongs to the producer alone. That moment can be worth the journey.

Down the rabbit hole…

For some time, I’ve admired the blogs other folks have set forth using this elegant and versatile format, and I thought, what the hell, give it a shot. So even though I’ve had a long-running blog on Livejournal and, for the past year, on MySpace, here we journey out into the great Internet wilderness, to endeavor, as have so many before us, to blather mindlessly on matters of no particular importance.

I’ll try and write. Promise.

First, an introduction. Writing should come fairly easy to me as, indeed, I’m a writer. I’m a recovering journalist, having put time in the automated deadlinemachine, but these days I try to stick to more respectable forms; hence, I’m a playwright. Clearly, I’m not in it for the money.

I kind of fell backwards into theatre, which is good because I probably would have run the other direction if I knew what I was getting into. At the time, I was writing fiction and came up against terrible writers block. So I was thumbing through this marvelous book of photographs by Richard Misrach called “Desert Cantos” and they seemed to suggest stories to me. Rather than write typical fiction, I decided to write first-person sketches, one for each picture. It was a great exercise, and I liked the result but didn’t know what to do with it. My mistake was taking it to a director friend and asking what he thought. “I think we should stage this,” he said.

And we did. In a Portland guerrilla art gallery on the fourth floor of a nearly condemned building, the tech for my first play consisted of two slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels taped to them. A bulb on one of the projectors burned out ten minutes before opening.

Nonetheless, people came, and I got a decent review which compared me to a young Sam Shepard, which still induces swooning. So I thought, what the hell, write something where people talk to each other. So I did, and “Bombardment” was the result. Stark Raving Theatre in Portland premiered it in 1991. We did pretty damn well with the audience, and the critics crucified–CRUCIFIED–us. A year later, “Bombardment” was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, which taught me a great deal about the promise of theatre and the limitations of critics.

Now…what…17 years after the projector bulb burned out, I’ve written something like 30 plays, (if you count all the one-acts), had stuff produced internationally, had some great reviews (and some more not-so-great ones), been a finalist for the Oregon Book Award again, and recently broke the LORT glass ceiling. So maybe I won’t have to go back to journalism.

Still a goddamn newsy, though, so, in addition to theatre and art, I’ll probably blather on about politics and current events, especially as the election nears. For me, election time is like the World Series, Superbowl, and Calavaras Jumping Frog competition all rolled into one.

Welcome to the splattland….

Steve “splatt” Patterson