An Affection for Vertigo


Lights go down
It’s dark, the jungle is
Your head can’t rule your heart
A feeling is so much stronger
than a thought
Your eyes are wide
And though your soul
It can’t be bought
Your mind can wander

Hello, hello!
¡Hola!
I’m at a place called Vertigo
¿Dónde está?
It’s everything I wish I didn’t know
Except you give me something
I can feel….

Having been at this theatre game for awhile, I’ve seen companies come and go. There were a bunch of us working off our asses in the great Portland theatre expansion of middle 1990s, breaking heads and taking down numbers, and generally thinking we were hot shit. Maybe we were. At least for awhile, it seemed like the center of the city’s edgy set split between Stark Raving Theatre and Theatre Vertigo. I was in the Stark camp (quite proudly), one of several more or less resident playwrights. Stark was all about new plays. Vertigo was doing newish plays (not always but often Portland premieres) mixed with reinventions of established works. They took (and take) no prisoners. Weirdly enough, because the Vertigoites are probably too hip too admit to digging U2, but it’s almost like the song “Vertigo” was tailored for them (which is why I’m sprinkling around the lyrics).

Your love is teaching me
Your love is teaching me
How to kneel!

Somewhere in there, Sowelu split from Stark and added a new flavor of ensemble-driven work. It was a pretty heady time. My company, Pavement Productions, kind of floated through their orbits, like some wayward, jerry-rigged spaceship. I had the pleasure of working with Vertigo on their 24-hour play extravaganzas, and had a small hand in working on A Bright Room Called Day. Generally, we all went to each others’ plays, and actors, directors, and designers floated from company to company. And we spent a good amount of time hanging out in bars and exchanging ideas.

Now I look around, and Vertigo’s kind of the last one standing. The actors, directors, and designers who cut their teeth there are working our flagship theatres, such as Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, and Miracle Theatre Company. But Vertigo’s still at it. A substantial accomplishment. So I just wanted to take a minute to tip my hat: no matter what Vertigo’s doing, you can pretty much count on it poking your brain with a sharp stick. Their current show, Romance, I probably won’t see since as I’ve kind of developed an aversion of Mamet’s bullshit (though I heartily recommend his book of essays Writing in Restaurants for writers of any discipline, and I’ve heard Romance is ruthless and funnier than hell; it certainly has a killer cast). I am really looking forward to Freakshow later in the season, directed by Tom Moorman, who has a head full of ideas that are clearly driving him insane–in a good way.

I’m just glad they’re still out there, stirring things up. There are plenty of other Portland theatres doing good work, but I have a strange little soft spot for the weird spinning beast that started in a bizarre, chilly space on N. Russell with impossible seating, and the many fine artists and friends who have and continue to work under the Vertigo umbrealla. Portland theatre is better because of them.

All of this
All of this can be yours
All of this
All of this can be yours
All of this
All of this can be yours
Just give me what I want
And no one gets hurt

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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