Category Archives: absurdist theatre

The Sweatermakers Weaves a Sly, Subversive Spell

Andrew Wardenaar: Playwright

Andrew Wardenaar: Playwright

The Sweatermakers by playwright Andrew Wardenaar is a strange play. I think Andrew would freely admit that. But it’s strange because of its innovation: it refuses to be a comedy or drama—in a big way—by essentially being both. When it’s funny, it’s wildly funny, really going for it, and when it’s dramatic, it’s as serious as…. Well, that would be giving things away.

The play takes the audience on a ride, and, if one thinks of that as strange, it’s because it honestly does something that we see too little on stage: it takes chances. Big chances. And the script, director, cast, and designers rock it. You can see it in the audience when the lights come up. Their faces wear that bemused, slightly stunned smile that says: that was…a trip. And you know they’re going to be carrying those words and images with them for quite some time. Those words not only entertain: they pose questions about the society we’ve been woven into.

Since 2011, Andrew has been a member of Playwrights West (a Portland theatre company created and operated by playwrights, serving as a collective to the produce its members’ work). Andrew’s play Live, From Douglas was featured in Portland Theatre Works’ 2009 LabWorks workshop. Another of his plays, Spokes, premiered in 2008 as part of a compilation of short works entitled Me, Me, Me and Ewe. His other works include The Next Smith, Anachronous, The Attendant and Good One, God. Mr. Wardenaar is also a director and recently graduated with an MFA at the University of Portland.

Director Matthew B. Zrebski helms the show. He’s a multi-award winning playwright, composer, script consultant, teaching artist, and producer-director whose career has been defined by new play development. He has served as the Artistic Director for Youth Could Know Theatre, Theatre Atlantis, and Stark Raving Theatre—all companies specializing in new work—and, since 1995, has mounted over 40 world premieres. He holds a BFA in Theatre from the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

The Sweatermakers’ cast includes: Jen Rowe, JR Wickman, Ben Buckley, and Sharon Mann. Designers include: scenic design by Tal Sanders, lighting design by J.D. Sandifer, sound design by Em Gustason, and costume design by Ashton Grace Hull.

Though Andrew’s a thoroughly seasoned theatre professional, with The Sweatermakers, he’s experiencing something playwrights never forget: his first fully staged production. We talked, and here’s what he says about his own journey.

 

SW ADD 1How did the play change from the beginning of the production process to opening night?

I have been working on this play for several years now, and it has seen numerous changes over the course of its development, but when it was just me and my laptop, most of the revisions altered the plot, or planted character seeds. Going into the production process brought several practical issues to the forefront, however. The Sweatermakers had always been a very presentational piece of theatre and aspects of it were thoroughly cinematic. That becomes a problem in a space as intimate as CoHo Theatre. Originally, the play hinged on the ability to hide things, but with audience on three sides, mere feet from the actors, such a thing would have proven impossible.

In lieu of hiding, we featured. The blackouts, a convention introduced to disguise the movement of the actors and the placement of the props, became an essential part of the play’s rhythmic language, and the sudden darkness became an essential part of the audience’s experience. Split scenes, which in earlier drafts were supposed to show what was going in different locations, necessarily bled into one another and began to interact. Everything became more organic, as was the case when the playing of the clarinet was replaced by the human sound of whistling. The play became about the actor in a simple space, which I believe is what makes the medium of theatre so deeply compelling. The embracing of simplicity doesn’t just address pragmatic concerns, it betters the storytelling.

Through the production process/rehearsals, did your ideas or feelings about the play changeSW ADD 5?

Absolutely! One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is getting to hear what others take away from your material. I’ve had tastes of this throughout my career, but usually in the form of questions at readings, or comments from colleagues that have looked at my work. To be exposed to the interpretation of a roomful of thoughtful artists night after night, though, drove home the fact that the ideas we playwrights touch on are just the beginning of the discussion with our collaborators and our audiences. In earlier drafts, I was hyper-focused on what I was trying to say with the piece. In the rehearsal room, and in performance, I am solely interested in what others are hearing.

Was there a point where you felt like: “wow…this is really happening”?

Yup. I’m still there. Mind = perpetually blown.

How did opening night feel?

Opening night is always terrifying for me as a director or designer, but to experience as a playwright, to be the artist that has created the foundation that the show is built upon, raises the anxiety even higher. It was exhilarating and mortifying, a trip that I’m still coming down from. But there sure is a grin on my face.

Did the other artists show you things about the play that you hadn’t seen before?SW ADD 7

I learned more about the play in the past four months, collaborating, than I did over the course of the past four years of writing in solitude. Every design meeting, rehearsal, and performance has been a rich learning experience.

Did the experience change you? If so, how?

Yes. Irrevocably. But I’m honestly not sure how to articulate it. To simply say that it improved my writing skills and producing knowledge is insufficient. There’s been a spiritual shift. One that I have not yet grasped.

 

Portland, Oregon, theatregoers have but three more chances to see the world premiere of The Sweatermakers: it closes Saturday, August 30th. The Sweatermakers plays at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St, Portland, Oregon) at 7:30 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Friday and Saturday tickets are $25, or $20 for students and seniors. This Thursday’s show (August 28th) are at a special $10 for both online sales and walk-ups, in an effort to make new work accessible to all audiences. Tickets can be purchased through CoHo Productions, at www.cohoproductions.org (503-220-2646). For more information see Playwrights West: http://www.playwrightswest.org/sweatermakers/

 


An Open Letter on Playwrights West’s “The Sweatermakers”

Sweathermakers - BenA number of years ago, I banded together with other professional playwrights in Portland to launch a theatre company: Playwrights West. We operate using a unique model—over a ten-year period, we fully produce a play by each playwright member, one play per year. And we feature some of Portland’s best talent, striving to create plays that rise to the playwright’s expectations—basically, giving that writer a chance to fully realize their vision. (We also do some cool group projects that incorporate all the writers’ work…watch for some stuff coming up Fall 2014.) Staging all world premieres, we present original work that Portlanders will see first and can’t see elsewhere (that is, until other theatre company snap up the plays…because they will).

We’ve produced fine plays by Patrick Wohlmut (“Continuum”) and Ellen Margolis (“Licking Batteries”), and this year we embark on our third production: “The Sweatermakers” by Andrew Wardenaar (opening Friday, August 8, 2014).

And here’s where that “original” part comes in. You can’t call “The Sweatermakers” a comedy—though parts of it are very funny—and you can’t call it a straight, typical drama, given its slightly skewed, absurdist feel that’s both grounded and somewhat…magical. It plays its own individual tune.

In brief, the story goes: a brother and sister make beautiful sweaters that mysteriously arrive to comfort the recently bereaved. The two live in their own, sheltered world, and though it’s comforting, it can also be confining. When especially beautiful material arrives for an obviously special sweater, Brin—the sister—can’t help herself and ventures out to find its recipient. And things…get…weird.

It’s a thoughtful, beautifully calibrated story, with a fine cast, designers, and director (Matthew B. Zrebski), and it feels like one of those shows that haunt you for years. The ones that you suddenly find yourself thinking of, out of nowhere. Plays that won’t leave you alone.

Obviously, I urge you to check it out (formal show information follows below). All of Playwrights West’s shows have been excellent (and all entirely different from one another). But this one feels like it’s got a little bit of special…mojo. It’s quirky, but it has gravitas. In Portland, we know quirky. And memorable.

With Playwrights West, Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival, the Fertile Ground Festival, and the many gifted (and adventuresome) writers in town, along with a highly literate audience and a great talent pool that loves working on new shows, Portland feels more and more like a home for developing new plays. Sure, we’ve become famous for gourmet roasted coffee, microbrews, farm-to-table food, and great independent stores, like Powell’s Books, Music Millennium, and Portland Nursery. But what could be more unique and artisanal that cooking new original plays? In our own little laboratory. One of these days, we’re going to open up the Sunday New York Times to see an article on Portland’s original theatre scene. It’s happened with our indie music. It’s coming with new theatre work.

I invite you to be there first and check out “The Sweatermakers.” Plus it’ll be Andrew’s first full production, and, man, there’s nothing as wild as that. If you’re not from Portland, keep an eye on this guy. He’s got chops.

(And, yes, I have a show coming up. On Saturday, September 6, Willamette University will present a reading of my play “Immaterial Matters,” which won a new play contest at CoHo Theatre a couple of years ago and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. It’s damned quirky. http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/life/2014/06/14/new-theater-enters-summer-three-free-staged-readings/10455975/)

Best,

Steve

—————————–

The Sweatermakers

A World Premiere Production Written by Playwrights West’s Andrew Wardenaar

Playwrights West in association with CoHo Productions presents The Sweatermakers, a world premiere drama by Andrew Wardenaar. The Sweatermakers marks the third year in Playwrights West’s ten-year mission to present quality, professional productions of its members’ works.

The Play

It’s one of the worst days of your life. A package arrives. It contains a beautiful, handmade sweater, perfect for you. And maybe, for a moment, you find solace. But where did it come from? Who made it? Confined to their own secluded world, Brin and Henry—a remarkably close sister and brother—craft beautiful sweaters, designed to comfort those in need. One day, exquisite material arrives. It’s so striking that Brin can’t help but wonder whom it’s destined for. The question haunts her until she breaks the rules and ventures out to find its recipient. And the siblings’ perfect, self-contained but restrictive world, begins to unravel….

Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, The Sweatermakers—woven with humor, psychological insight, and magic realism—affectionately explores our need for human connections, the change those connections bring, and their sometimes painful consequences.

The world premiere of The Sweatermakers marks Mr. Wardenaar’s first full-length production. In 2012, the play won the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s playwriting contest, and they subsequently presented it as a staged reading during the 2013 Fertile Ground Festival.

The Details

The Sweatermakers opens August 8, 2014, and runs through August 30 at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St, Portland, Oregon). It plays 7:30 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tickets are $25, or $20 for students and seniors. All seats on Thrifty Thursdays are $15. Tickets can be purchased through CoHo Productions, at www.cohoproductions.org (503-220-2646). For more information see Playwrights West: http://www.playwrightswest.org/sweatermakers/

The Artists

Playwright Andrew Wardenaar has been a member of Playwrights West since 2011. His play Live, From Douglas was featured in Portland Theatre Works’ 2009 LabWorks workshop. Another of his plays, Spokes, premiered in 2008 as part of a compilation of short works entitled Me, Me, Me and Ewe. His other works include The Next Smith, Anachronous, The Attendant and Good One, God. Mr. Wardenaar is also a director and recently graduated with an MFA at the University of Portland.

Director Matthew B. Zrebski is a multi-award winning playwright, composer, script consultant, teaching artist, and producer-director whose career has been defined by new play development. He has served as the Artistic Director for Youth Could Know Theatre, Theatre Atlantis, and Stark Raving Theatre—all companies specializing in new work—and, since 1995, has mounted over 40 world premieres. He holds a BFA in Theatre from the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

The Sweatermakers’ cast includes: Jen Rowe, JR Wickman, Ben Buckley, and Sharon Mann. Designers include: scenic design by Tal Sanders, lighting design by J.D. Sandifer, sound design by Em Gustason, and costume design by Ashton Grace Hull.


Samples from the Other Side

The Splatterverse now includes excerpts from some of my plays, in case anyone wants to do some casual reading.

Rather than pick the most dramatic points in the works, I thought it more interesting to find moments that caught the flavor or spirit of the play, the characters, or the situation. If nothing else, I hope they’re vaguely entertaining:

 


Bombardment, Episode 21: Everything Stops

Splattworks concludes its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson.

Thank you all, over these last couple of weeks, for reading, for your support, and for your gracious comments. It has been a terrific pleasure watching the play’s readership rise and expand far beyond its humble beginnings, and it’s been great fun for me to spend time with the play again. Your comments, observations, etc., are welcome. If you would like to reach me off the blog, my e-mail is splatterson@mindspring.com

[EPISODE 21]

The wind dies down. Lights gradually rise. CARMELITA and PLACID hunch over, hanging on the lines like prisoners shot at the stake. ARETHA and CORNO stand with their backs to the audience.

ARETHA/CORNO: Hello? Hello? Anyone there? Hello?

ARETHA and CORNO face the audience. Their shades are gone, their eye sockets hollow. Blood streams down their faces. They stagger forward, fingers outstretched, becoming caught in the lines.

ARETHA/CORNO: Hello? Can you hear me? Can you help me? I can’t see. Help me, I’m caught. I need help. Please. I’m caught. Please, please, please….

They continue calling “please” as they struggle with the cords. Their calls take on a synchronous, mechanical quality. A chant. An incantation. The sounds of planes begin, steadily rising. Chant and airplanes rise to crescendo. Blackout. Everything stops.

End of play.


Boombardment, Episode 19: Dying Without Your Grace

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments could arrive a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 19]

CARMELITA: You’ll fight the killers and crazies and soldiers with their guns? You’ll fight the mothers defending children? Urchins with bony, grimy fingers? Beggars and blown up men on scooterboards? You’ll fight and fight ’til there’s no one left to fight?

The cords wind around them, sewing them into their armchairs. Lights begin to flash. Wind rises.

PLACID: It’s. . .life. It’s time. The way it goes.
CARMELITA: It’s not the way it goes. You can break it. You can let them in.
PLACID: I know them. They’ll kill me.
CARMELITA: You have to lead them, Placid. You’re like them. Understand them. They’ll sense that. Trust you. They’ll be grateful.
PLACID: It’s been going on so long!
CARMELITA: Time means nothing to a leader. They’ll crown your head with laurels. They’ll give you all you want in a way that you deserve. Out of gratitude. Out of love. Reward them, Placid. And they’ll reward you. Give them not the back of your hand, but your palm.
PLACID: (Looks down at the cords.) It’s too late.
CARMELITA: It’s not too late. Get up. Lead them.

PLACID makes a move but the cords tie him in. Lights flash faster. Wind grows louder.

CARMELITA: Placid? Placid!
PLACID: It’s the law!
CARMELITA: It’s a lie, Placid. It means nothing. You can do it.
PLACID: It’s too hard!
CARMELITA: No, Placid. It’s so easy.
PLACID: They’ll kill us! I’m afraid!
CARMELITA: Don’t say it!
PLACID: It’s too scary! We need them!
CARMELITA: Don’t say that! Don’t let them know!
PLACID: It’s too hard! It’s too scary! We need them back!
ARETHA/CORNO: We don’t want to come back.
CARMELITA: They don’t want to come back.
ARETHA/CORNO: We been wrong too long.
PLACID: You have to come back! They’ll kill us if you don’t!
ARETHA/CORNO: We’ve come. We’ve gone.
CARMELITA: This is wrong, Placid!
PLACID: We’re scared! You have to take care of us!
ARETHA/CORNO: We can’t see the way for you.
PLACID: You have to! We’ll die! We’ll die without you!
ARETHA/CORNO: We have ended.
PLACID: We’ll die without your grace!
ARETHA/CORNO: We want but silence.
PLACID: But they’ll get in! They’ll get your stuff! Your dress and your pipe!
ARETHA: My dress.
PLACID: They’ll carry it off! Cut it up for bandages!
CARMELITA: Placid!
CORNO: My pipe.
PLACID: Your pipe and your shoes! Come look at your shoes!

Lights flash violently. Wind howls.

CORNO: My suit. My tie.
PLACID: It’s yours! See? Come back and take it!
CARMELITA: This is wrong! This is crazy!
PLACID: But you want him.

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 15: Phosphorescent Love Lines

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 15]

CARMELITA’s handling of the pipe becomes a caress.

CARMELITA: Corno. What a name. Cornpone. Cornball. Quick with a joke. Oh yeah. That time in her bed. Some joke. Guess he treated me decent. Decent as she did. She could be nice. On occasion. Course, she needed me. She had everything she wanted, everything she thought she needed. She ended up more alone than she’d ever been. Blindsided by the unanticipated: she didn’t need a maid. She needed a friend. Oh, but Corno. He couldn’t let that go. What if, finding a companion, she didn’t need him? What if she found other ways to be? Found the conduct she revered was as arbitrary and capricious as that she disdained. Why the very foundations of this house might tremble! So Corno just. . .rearranged the players. Put you over there, me over here. Did what he did best. What we all loved him for. He “took care” of things. Problem was, we loved him best when he “took care” of someone else.

CARMELITA begins rubbing pipe against her face, her neck.

CARMELITA: The way she looked at him in those days, Placid. You should have seen her. Her eyes, alive. Had to see him. All of him. He knew it. He had the thing. The magic. He knew and wasn’t afraid to show he knew. Not like ones who never knew, or ones who kept it inside. He shone. In a way that said we all could shine. As long as he shone brightest. I still smell him. His library, his den. His smell through the carpets, books. This pipe smells of him. Not his tobacco. Him. I imagine his hand against the bowl. The way his hand loved the things he held. The way love glowed trailed from his fingertips. Phosphorescent love lines drawn upon all he touched. Upon my skin. When he touched me.

CARMELITA slips the pipe down her neck. Lower. She slowly sinks behind PLACID’S armchair.

[To be continued]


Bombardment, Episode 14: Thoughts Traveling in Straight, Efficient Lines

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments may occur a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 14]

CARMELITA: What am I worried about? We got all this stuff! Got a hacksaw and a tire iron and a hi-res panel screen and a convertible and a wet bar and a garlic press and a Lear Jet and all of David Bowie’s records. Got Classics comics and Cliff Notes. Got a flutter in my left anterior ventricle, so I get to take these purple and white pills that make me feel nice and everybody treats me gentle. Got government bonds and municipal bonds and junk bonds, the whole collection. IRA, ERA, MIA, CIA, PCP, EI, EI, O. Let’s do something! For God’s sake, let’s do anything! Let’s. . .go somewhere, see something, get into trouble, save ourselves, make love, make war, make extended negotiations leading to partition of our shared territory, wait twenty years, and reunify amid much fanfare! Let’s do something, do something, do something! Wall Street sucks! Wall Street sucks! (Screams.)
PLACID: The market’s shaky.

CARMELITA repeatedly stabs the air with the knife. Takes off her shoes, places them side-by-side on the table, and stabs the knife into the table so it stands between the toes of the pumps.

CARMELITA: Die, die, die, beast!

CARMELITA picks up CORNO’s pipe.

CARMELITA: Maybe I should take up the pipe. What do you think? A woman smoking a pipe, that’s rare. A mark of distinction. Women acting like men, stretching boundaries of freedom. Suit. Bowler and arm garters. Yass, yass. I think I feel different already. Forceful. Controlled. Thoughts travel in straight, efficient lines. Not muddled up with curves and loops. Why, there’s so much I can do with this pipe. Conduct a meeting. Declare closure. Shred documents. Paint out faces. Rearrange atoms. Nullify time. Why, there’s nothing I can’t do with this pipe. Nothing except. . .things I would have no interest in doing anyway. You there! Bend over and grab those ankles!

[To be continued]