I Know How What It’s Like to be Dead

We’re three days out from opening “Dead of Winter.” I’ve been at the theatre much too much, terminal exhaustion is setting in, and I’m entering that space where everything either makes you laugh hysterically (literally…hysterically) or makes you feel like you’re going to fall apart…crack…tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. There are tons of decisions to be made and details to take care of, and you can’t find your pen. Then you can’t find your paper. Then when you find pen and paper you can’t remember what you were going to write down.

The good news is that, after writing the plays, hearing them read, hearing them read three million more times, hearing little snippets of them read over and over, seeing them staged, seeing little pieces of them staged over and over, repeat and rinse as needed, there are still moments that raise the hair on my arms. You get so numb to what’s happening that it’s almost impossible to gauge how it will feel to an audience exposed to it fresh and finished. I think it’s going to work. I think. I think, I think, I think….

No. I guess. And hope. But I don’t really have a clue. We are in grand mysteryland, and only performance will tell. As one of the characters in “Wet Paint” says: “It’s a ritual. I think you have to experience it for it to have meaning for you.”

Or something like that. Maybe she says “weasels ate my rowboat.” I can’t really remember. I know at some point last night, someone was talking about butchering an aardvark, and I’d swear I hadn’t written that. I kind of like aardvarks.

Does any of this make sense? Hell no. Which I think is exactly the point: when you die, it’s all dark, you’re confused, you can’t see, and then there’s a tunnel of white light, and you follow it, follow it, until it’s right in front of you, everything white, all the world white, blinding, encompassing light….

And you realize you’re staring up at a lighting instrument and the lamp has burned a hole in the gel.


Pre-Production Fever

One week out from Dead of Winter, and that weird, rising feeling of anticipation keeps crawling up my neck and taking me by surprise. I’ll be having a conversation with an ordinary (non-theatre) human being, and suddenly I’ll be in a darkened theatre, watching light cues to be. Or I’ll be taken by a sudden panic: whose bio do I still need? Did I forget any props? What about…?

What about everything, pretty much. Tomorrow we move into the space, build a set, hang lights and sound tech, and pretty much enact all the planning, e-mails, telephone calls, notes scribbled on Post-Its, intentions, visions, and compromises production entails. The funny part is just about the time you’re feeling the most tired, the production begins to feed you back. You give to it, it gives to you. The thrill of realization, of an idea in your head becoming reality (or at least theatrical reality).

It’s a strange moment, speaking as a writer. Because, once upon a time, you sat by yourself (or, often in my case writing in coffeehouses, in the company of strangers), and this dream, these series of images, these voices, came to you, and you wrote them down. You experienced them along with the characters. And then time passes for the fever to subside, and you look at the script again with a little distance. You can still feel the place it came from, but you can also be a bit more objective, and you begin to fix mistakes, clarify, shape. Then you begin the long process of sharing it with others, taking in their impressions, and adjusting further.

Finally, you give it to a director, actors, and techs, and the process sort of reverses. From text on a page, distilled from the mind’s images, images begin to take shape in real time. It’s like watching your own dream come to life and immerse you. It can let you down, but it can also sweep you away, your eye and mind synching up into a hyperreality that leaves you high.

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there. We are indeed getting there.

One week to launch.


P.S.: Check out the Dead of Winter video teaser at The Bluestockings and, if you like what you see (and/or it unnerves you), please pass on the link. You can, of course, buy tickets there too.

Liberation, at Last

Original Works Publishing is now taking pre-orders for:…my play about a newspaper office trying to stay open during the siege of Sarajevo. Dark, violent, full of gallows humor, and very well received by the critics over the years. “Liberation” premiered in 1999 at Portland’s Stark Raving Theatre, where it was directed by the fabulous Lisa L. Abbott (who, coincidentally, directs the upcoming “Dead of Winter”…see how I carefully worked that plug in? That’s art, baby.)

You can check out their write-up/order form on Original Works

Or you can check out Original Works MySpace page.


The Dead are Coming

“Dead of Winter,” that is. We’re working on it. Rehearsals are going very well, and Saturday we move into the space, at which point the action takes off until a week from Friday, when we unleash this sucker on the world. I know it’s my show, and I know everybody says this, but I really encourage folks to check it out because it has a really good feel to it.

Stay turned for a video on the Bluestockings site. Coming soon.



So you may have noticed that after midnight, the White Eagle posts stopped. Yes: we were all eaten by ghosts. The end.

Actually, around 1:30, it was kind of a like a taut stretch of twine snapped, and everyone became exhausted and called it a night. That’s no surprise: we’ve been in rehearsal until 11:00 PM almost every night for the last two weeks, and people were beat. When they left, they also took their laptops with them, hence no more blog posts.

And what about yours truly, dear reader? What happened when just the author and his lovely spouse were left in the White Eagle alone?

Sad to say…or maybe glad to say…nothing. That was because, even as blown-out tired as I was at that point, I suddenly realized something I hadn’t anticipated: I was never going to be able to sleep in this place. I’d lie there awake, listening for every stray sound. At one point, alone in the room, I could hear a bag of chips uncrinkling, so hypersensitive I had become. And it was like, hey, fun’s fun, but I have two more 80-hour weeks ahead of me. I have to crash.

So around 2:00 or 2:30, we said goodnight to the Eagle and its residents, transitory or permanent. In summation, we heard nothing except a rock’n’roll band coming up through the floorboards, saw nothing untoward, and experienced one (briefly) very cold restroom. We watched half of the “The Haunting” and told some good ghost stories. And we had some laughs and shared time with friends.

Is the Eagle haunted? Well…I’ll say this: there is a melancholy to that second floor, where so much history, some of it painful, went down. The McMenamins have lovingly restored it, with wit and a goofy charm, but there’s no hiding that sadness, that people spent their lives (and sometimes ended them) in those narrow, claustrophic rooms with tall ceilings that have weirdly ominous cracks. And I don’t know whether it’s the power of suggestion or a reality, but I couldn’t help but feel something’s going on there. What it is, I have no idea. But, honestly, I wasn’t sorry to leave. I was a little relieved, if for no other reason than I could soon sleep.

In short, if the White Eagle isn’t haunted, it ought to be.


P.S.: When we finally got home, I bundled up and went out back to have my customary pre-bedtime pipe of tobacco, a time I use to sort of mull over the day and sometimes write in my head. And I was sitting out there, sorting through the evening’s memories, when I thought: hell, it’s not that cold out here. I thought it’d be much worse. That’s when it hit me–bang: the cold I’d felt in the White Eagle’s restroom was far colder than the outside night air. And somewhere, I could feel someone…or something…snicker.See you at the show.

After Midnight

Quiet again. The band taking a break. We’ve been sharing ghost stories…personal ghost stories. Things that have happened to us or we’ve heard about. Some of them are quite good, such as…well, we don’t want to incriminate anybody. But it is notable that nearly everybody has a story, and the stories all sense of the veracity to it. An emotional truth.

Or maybe we’re all just good storytellers.

Reports are that restrooms are warm again. No clue what that’s about.

But it’s nice that it’s quiet. I think.



The band’s on a break, so it’s actually quiet at the Eagle. Still not much happening. But…we found the restroom on the left is much, much colder than the one one the right (if you’re facing north). There’s a Sam Shepard quote on the wall of the one on the right, so it’s clearly the theatre restroom. Of course, we have a bunch of people in this room, so it’s no surprise it’s cold out there. But, seriously. Colder.

Also, it’s nice to know that Sam’s room is around the corner. Not Sam Shepard. Sam the Handyman, who supposedly has never left the White Eagle…even though he left the rest of us some time ago.

Also the doors creak like hell.

More to come….


Welcome to the White Eagle

So…as some may have been following, Pavement Productions and The Bluestockings are staging Dead of Winter, a trio of ghost stories at Performance Works Northwest (opens Feb 1st). But we’re professionals, doing our research, so we’re here at the in(famous) White Eagle Tavern/Hotel. The White Eagle, of course, is supposed to be haunted. We’re staying in Room 3. The Birdsong room. It’s small. There are little birds painted on the walls. Bird…song. So far, no ghosts. No birds either. But then, the band downstairs may be chasing both of them away. We’ll see. But the place does have a weird feel to it. It may all be projection, but…we’ll see. Anyway, so far, no ghosts. Just theatre people. Which, of course, is scary enough.

Stay tuned.


Blogging with Ghosts

So it’s no news to regular splattworks readers that I’m co-producing Dead of Winter, three ghost stories written for the stage, with Portland’s The Bluestockings (we open February 1st, run through February 23rd, blah blah blah). But as kind of a fun rehearsal night off/group activity/weird adventure, I’m booked to stay Friday night at Portland’s notoriously haunted White Eagle Tavern, which has been lovingly restored as a hotel, and the cast and crew are going to drop by as my guests. We’ll tell some ghost stories, maybe watch the classic 1964, black and white version of The Haunting. And, of course, drink. Good times…we hope.

But, since the Eagle is set up with wireless Internet, we’re also hoping to blog live from the site, so, if you’re curious, check in with this blog starting around 9:00 PM tomorrow, and see what, if anything, happens. (That is, of course, assuming the equipment doesn’t suddenly cease to function for unexplainable reasons.) My suspicion is that we’ll have some fun and ghosts will be scarce, but I suppose you never know. This isn’t a public event–it’s a private party–but the blog is a way for those outside the cast and crew to vicariously join the festivities. So log on, turn the lights down, put on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and come along for the ride.

For the record, the story has it that the upstairs, where I’ll be, ahem, sleeping, is haunted by Rose, a prostitute who was murdered on the premises, and Sam, an alcoholic handyman sort of “adopted” by the original tavern owners and who spent most of his life, between and sometimes during binges, on-site. Sam also occasionally pulls a prank or two on the ground floor, but most of the spirits there are in bottles. There’s also a malevolent presence in the Eagle’s basement, but that’s off-limits to guests, and, having once visited it in the company of McMenamin’s resident historian, I can say I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in ever going down there again…if you get my drift. I don’t really know whether or not I believe in ghosts, but, having gone down there, I do believe I don’t want to go there again. Seriously.

My ancestors may be Irish, where ghosts come with the property deed, but some basements you just don’t want to mess with….

Finally, it’s worth noting that something strange seems to be in air this winter: Dead of Winter will be the third Portland production in a month’s time that has to do with ghosts, the other two being Third Rail Repertory’s Shining City and Theatre Vertigo’s Where’s My Money? (Both worth seeing.) And we’re all working independently of each other and didn’t really know about each other’s show’s paranormal aspects until the shows went up. How…odd.