The Last Theatre Show

Not really, but possibly the last show with my company, Pavement Productions: the upcoming End of the Pavement Micro New Works Festival. And it’s very strange. Very. There’s a genuine melancholy I’m feeling.

A theatre colleague wrote me this nice note a couple weeks ago and pointed out that I should be proud of what Pavement’s accomplished (we have always done premieres, which I am proud of, though I’ve always hankered to produce Sam Shepard’s “Angel City” for some reason). It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been 18 years. Not that we produced that entire time, but we did start in 1990, in a little underground art gallery improbably placed on the fourth or fifth floor of an old Portland office building. We had to take our set up in this David Lynchian freight elevator, they nearly shut the power off on the block on opening night, and our entire lighting set-up consisted of two slide projectors and a handful of flashlights with colored gels taped to them. Had I known what I was getting into, I probably never would have done it. So many accomplishments arise out of simple innocence…or ignorance. We’ve come a long ways, had a bucketful of fun, in true theatre tradition lost a bunch of money, and even had one bona fide hit (“Delusion of Darkness” sold out its entire six-week run).

In that time, friends and relatives have passed away, children have been born to colleagues and are now in school, we revitalized an abandoned theatre, worked with a women’s theatre group, pushed colorblind casting, turned a bookstore into a theatre, survived a total flop (at the box office, not artistically), and made some wonderful friends…really wonderful friends. It’s been a good trip. I’m ready to let go of the stress and exhaustion that goes with producing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel regrets too.

And I don’t know how I’ll feel when I shut off the lights for the last time. In some ways it’s my favorite moment as a producer: the show’s done, the strike’s over, everyone’s gone, and it’s just you and that empty theatre which you’ve gambled on. All the voices echo back in your mind’s ear, the half-hysterical laughing jag that seems to come with every show (right about tech week), the wonderful bullshit down times when you hang with your comrades and just smoke and tell the same stories, the simple pleasure of painting a floor black, the strange things the public sometimes does–there’s always something weird that’ll knock you back, thinking…what the…? And there’s always feathers to smooth and a crisis to handle and a last minute rewrite and an actor who freaks because they can’t find something or a machine that suddenly quits working the night the critic’s there or a reason to hold the show or the people who come late and pound on the door when they can’t get in. I’ve had cast and crew have nervous breakdowns, emergency hospitalizations, deal with family crises, and, time and again, do such splendid work under such trying circumstances that it still blows me away thinking about it. We don’t have a lot of heroes in this cynical age, but I’ve known a few people who’ve done absolutely heroic things.

And what fun it’s been to work with writers, to watch new plays being born and live through the process with them. To see their tense faces on opening night and then see them alight with relief after that first show. And how, for a brief time that you work on a play, really a couple months to put it together and usually about a month to run, you make this little family–your squadron, all weird and secretive and gossipy and incestuous and crazed and absolutely wonderful. (I often have the knack of being the last to know what’s going on, and it’s probably better that way.) Only those who’ve been there can ever really know. You take that with you the rest of your life, those friendships and war stories. And, like aging veterans, you delight in boring each other, recounting the peaks and valleys over and over again, because that’s all you have: part of the magic and heartbreak of live theatre is that it happens and it’s gone and it’ll never be the same again.

Sitting in a theatre. By yourself. Thinking: I did this. I made this happen. There’s nothing like it. Nothing. And then you reach for the light, flip it, watch it all blackout. Turn your back. Lock the door. And step forward into normal life, feeling like you’ve just survived a fall from an impossible height.

My friend was right: I have been lucky.

5 thoughts on “The Last Theatre Show

  1. and we have been lucky too, Steve. Those of us who have gotten to work with you. I feel honored. Really. I often refer to Dead of Winter as “The Show of My Life” when reminiscing to people who didn’t see it and even to those who did. A lot of life changing things happened to a lot of us during that run and I don’t believe that it was coincidence that we were all together-the specific group of us to act as cushions, sound boards and of course comic relief for each other. And truly for the first time in my life I played 2 rolls that I felt so connected with because you had written them so beautifully and they were directed so ingeniously in an ensemble with so much chemistry.I love your writing, Steve, and I love what Pavement Productions has done and is doing. I am thrilled to be a part of the last readings. I only wish I had climbed on board years ago! I have no doubt though, that things can only go up from here 🙂 Congratulations on all your accomplishments!

  2. But, but, in one of those shows you were…dead.Seriously, thank you very kindly. You’re way too kind.We loves doing the shows for the peoples, but some of the best parts are making the friends along the way and watching the talent flow. And every show seems to have some kind of peak where you sit back and go, oh yeah, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why it’s worth getting this tired….S

  3. Patterson: I enjoyed reading your thoughts on winding down your production company. But, really – how can you stop doing what you were born to do? I’ve been reading your stuff since 1983 and I doubt much will really change. Maybe a different production company, drop a hat or two and probably pick them right back up again – either way – your writing is the backbone of your soul and it will not be denied. I’ll enjoy watching you change “your scene” to the next one – whatever it is. Theatre will be given life and meaning through your words and passions long into the future. You might choose to give less of yourself in a particular role or spend less time doing a particular thing – it doesn’t much matter. You paint movies in our minds that have a life of their own. Enjoy your change. The curtain will rise again, there will be more lights and more floors painted black – and more crazy audiences and cast stories to absorb and enjoy. See you there.MorrisonP.S. When is your first movie going to be produced?

  4. Ladies and gentlemen…my agent.Seriously, thanks. As you rightly point out, it’s not an ending as much as it’s a new chapter. (But with any luck, I’ll never have to do box office again.)Yrs,Steve

  5. This might sound strange, but enjoy the melancholy. It’s a lovely feeling that comes only when reflecting w/some sadness on a joyous time.And like the others before, I agree, we have been lucky to have Pavement Productions around for these past 18 years. And I feel fortunate to have been along for the ride, even on the fringes.

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