Category Archives: Dead of Winter

Winding the Shroud

It’s our final weekend of “Dead of Winter,” which looks like it’ll sellout anyway, but we did get a nice little last minute review from the Portland Tribune:

Dead of Winter
Lurking behind this evening of ghost stories is local playwright Steve Patterson, whose collaboration with actor Chris Harder led to a Drammy-winning one-man show in 2006.

Here, he presents three well-crafted tales that produce some genuinely chilling moments, helped by solid performances from Ben Plont and Trisha Egan and some simple but effective stage trickery. This is the final weekend.

— EB

8 p.m. FRIDAY and SATURDAY, Feb. 22-23, Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave., 503-777-2771, http://www.theblustockings.com, $10-$12

An odd run regarding the press. There were scads of shows opening this February, which is good, I suppose, in that it indicates the vibrancy of Portland theatre: for a mid-sized city, there’s just a hell of a lot of production going on here. We started off with a ‘top five’ pick from the Oregonian, and then they completely forgot about us until today (closing weekend, alas), when they gave us a listing but no review. Followspot, a Portland theatre blog, gave us a spot-on perfect review for the show. We did an interview on KBOO radio–thank you, Dmae Roberts–got listed in the Tribune in a favorable way, popped up with listings in a lot of small papers, and got a fun review from Lewis & Clark College’s student paper, The Pioneer Log. Got a lousy review from the Willamette Week (though sometimes that plays in your favor), and the Mercury ignored us except for a listing on their website and a brief mention in their blog. I can usually squeak out a little more press coverage than that, but I think there was just too much stuff going on; everyone was competing for ink.

We did do a lot of Internet marketing with the this piece (including a very popular short online video clip), and that and some pretty good word of mouth (which is always the most effective promotion channel) lead to a solid run with a couple sold-out nights and only one small house.
All in all, good times.


And the living become the dead….

This Saturday, “Dead of Winter” fades into the ether, with a tinge of brimstone and an echoing laugh. Tickets are going fast for the closer, so, if you want to see the show, I suggest you get your reservations in sooner than later as the house is small, and there’s a good chance we’ll sell out. Some press follows below. “Dead of Winter” has also received a “critic’s choice” note on Oregonlive.com. Call 503-777-2771 for reservations: tickets are $12 at the door, $10 for seniors and students. Or you can buy advance tickets for $10 at blustockings.com

Thanks everyone for your support (and for a wonderful cast and crew). After a couple of years of having my plays produced out of town, from Canada to New Zealand, it’s been great fun to come home again.

——————–

Followspot:
Three ghost-story style plays use familiar themes of séance, morgue, and clairvoyance. Still, tales presented from a different, often humorous, angle, making them intriguing and creepy. Sparse, specific design elements parallel style of show, leaving much to the imagination. Unusual location adds to haunting atmosphere. A fun and chilling evening.

An auience member:
Last night, I saw Dead of Winter, a collection of three short plays, ghost stories, really. It was like attending Le Grand Guignol in February. Each of the vignettes were short on gore and special effects, but still managed to be creepy as all hell and present a couple of good “jump” moments. I’d love to see this same crew put together something in a similar vein for Halloween. I’m a sucker for small-scale theater like this. I really enjoy seeing what can be done in a modest space, without a lot of flash to spend, with local playwrights and actors.

Oregonian:
“Dead of Winter” The Bluestockings (fresh off their invigorating “Spirits to Enforce”) team up with Pavement Productions to mount this trio of ghost stories by Portland playwright Steve Patterson. Opens 8 p.m. Friday, continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through Feb. 23, Performance Works Northwest, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave.; $10-$12; http://www.theblustockings.com, 503-777-2771.

Portland Tribune:
Lurking behind this evening of ghost stories is local playwright Steve
Patterson, whose 2006 collaboration with actor Chris Harder led to a
Drammy-winning one-man show.

Dead of Winter delivers deliciously lo-fi spooks
by Caitlin McCarthy // arts editor, Pioneer Log, on 02/08 at 07:45 PM

Ghost story plays should most certainly be staged at SE Foster and 67th Ave. Foster Road (the closer it gets to 82nd Avenue, the smuttier) is a haven for warehouses, laundromats and pawnshops, so prepare to be spooked when you finally stumble upon Performance Works Northwest, nuzzled between a Russian bakery and a Sav-a-Lot. The three different worlds presented in the theatre’s current production, collectively titled Dead of Winter, will transport you from the dreary, rain-soaked, and all-too-realistic land of Foster Road straight into the fantastic and beyond.

What do Jack the Ripper, séances and the talking dead all have in common? Besides all being rather bone chilling, each is the topic of Dead of Winter’s trio of ghostly plays. The production is a conjoined effort by two Portland theatre companies, Pavement Productions and The Bluestockings. Co-founder of Pavement Productions, Steve Patterson is the playwright; co-Artistic Director of the same company, Lisa Abbott, directs.

Audience members are made to practically walk through the small set to get to their seats in Performance Works NW’s converted garage—or is it a hangar?—of a stage. Fold-up chairs and old pews, replete with cushions for optimum comfort, are crammed onto one side, making it quite the intimate experience. Potential theatre-goers should not be scared away—this is lo-fi theatre at its best, and the stifling setting makes the psychological twinge of terror in the air that much more palpable.

All of these ghost stories work just as well as whodunit tales of mystery. It’s up to the audience to figure out whether the characters’ perceptions are reality or an intense, but purely psychological, mystical experience. In Whitechapel, we meet Camellia Johnson, an American transplant living in London’s Whitechapel district; one-time stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper. A pompous English boyfriend, a blind medium and a few very stubborn spirits pepper this ghost hunt for Mr. Ripper himself.

Rowdy ghosts feature in the second play, Wet Paint. Set in “A House in a Small Northwest Town,” it tells the story of Bev, trying but not succeeding to renovate the second storey of her old, supernaturally drafty house. A séance turns from a half-joking suggestion to a production of very real results. The last scene is the strongest, but only can it be seen to be believed.

The Body, more than the other two, straddles the line between what is real and what are merely the twisted inner workings of an exhausted coroner. His newest corpse looks a little too much like his recently dead wife, but everyone knows the dead tell no tales…

Dead of Winter revels in its lo-fi production, making impressively minimal use of light and sound to scare us silly. Less emphasis is put on fancy props while more is given to dialogue and expressions—this coupled with the intimate setting made it reminiscent of old radio programming.” This atmosphere was perhaps also helped by the general age range in the room: this play’s so good, only adults go to it! So, go ahead, grow up with the ghost stories of Dead of Winter.

Dead of Winter is showing through February 23, Thurs-Sat, 8:00 p.m. at Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Ave. $10 advance, $12 door, $10 student/senior; call 503-777-2771.


The Weight

I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ about half past dead;
I just need some place where I can lay my head.
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand, and “No!”, was all he said.

How do Chris Coleman, Allen Nause, Olga Sanchez,* or any other artistic director with a full season do it?

Which is to say, I’ve been a producer off and on since 1990, really forgotten how many shows I’ve helmed (of other writers works as well, not just mine), and every time I forget how much stuff goes into a show, how many phone calls, e-mails, meetings, late nights working on press. The director does the really heavy lifting of pulling the show together and making it work on stage, but the producer is there to focus on publicity, logistics, and coordination. And problem solving, if necessary. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Not so much because it’s such hard work but because it demands one be constantly present, paying attention and staying on top of details, large and small.

That said, “Dead of Winter” has gone well. We’ve struggled with the press–there are so many shows up and running or opening in Portland that everyone’s been competing for ink–but we have excellent word-of-mouth, and I think we’ll finish strong. This weekend looks to be filling up, and the final weekend tends to be solid because it’s the last chance to see the show. The cast and crew are having a good time, and audiences are enjoying themselves. As am I, though I’m wearing down.

Once the show closes, I can kind of breathe for awhile, focus on writing and submitting plays. In April, “Waiting on Sean Flynn” opens in Detroit, and in May “Rain,” a short piece I wrote for Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company’s “Seven Deadly Sins” show, opens, but “Flynn” is an established piece and “Rain” probably won’t require more than a couple line tweaks arising out of production. I’ll be producing again in June–TBA at this point–and that’s more than enough, but I just think of those folks who are looking down the road, opening one show while they’re starting production of another and programming next year’s season, and my eyes glaze. I get the thousand-yard stare. The phone rings and I just look at it, thinking: who are you? This time? What do you want from me?

That’s what producing will do to you. The trick–the real trick, I think–is maintaining your passion for the project while retaining a sense of humor and staying human with your fellow artists and audience. Then the burden becomes a gift. But I still marvel at the long-term, full-time producer. I know they have staffs to do much of what I do, but they also have obligations that extend far beyond mine.

I suspect, at this point, they do it partly out of compulsion, partly out of obligation, and partly, one hopes, out of love.
Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, And…and…and….
You can put the load right on me.

*For readers outside Portland, the aforementioned are the artistic directors of, respectively, Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, and Miracle Theatre Company.


Whole Lotta’ Dead

Ah. “Dead of Winter” completely sold-out last night–actually had to turn away two last minute theatre-goers without reservations, and the audience was with us every step of the way and left with smiles.

When you’re down in the trenches, trying to put this stuff together, it’s easy to lose sight of the rewards, but nights like that remind you what the struggle’s all about…and why working in theatre is so addictive.

Today, I’m just riding it.

S


A Word from the Audience


You can tell whether or not an audience likes a show not just from the amount and intensity of applause but also whether they’re smiling when the lights come up, how much chatter there is about the show, and how long they hang out in the space before dispersing, and so far audiences have been great with “Dead of Winter.”

Sometimes people will tell you if they like it or not (especially if they know you), and you can tell whether or not they’re being sincere or just polite. But it’s unusual to hear what an audience member directly thinks. The following is from a poster on livejournal, and I hope he doesn’t mind my reproducing his post (I’m assuming not since he put it on the Internet to begin with)…he even went so far as to include ticket info, and the guy has no connection to the cast or crew (whoever you are, thank you):

Dead of Winter
Last night, I saw Dead of Winter, a collection of three short plays, ghost stories, really. It was like attending Le Grand Guignol in February. Each of the vignettes were short on gore and special effects, but still managed to be creepy as all hell and present a couple of good “jump” moments. I’d love to see this same crew put together something in a similar vein for Halloween.

I’m a sucker for small-scale theater like this. I really enjoy seeing what can be done in a modest space, without a lot of flash to spend, with local playwrights and actors.

The venue was Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Avenue, off of Foster. The show runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through February 23rd. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and $10 for students and seniors. Thursdays are sliding scale. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.theblustockings.com. For reservations, call 503-777-2771.


Followspot Digs the Dead

Followspot

Dead of Winter
The Bluestockings
February 1 – February 23, 2008

Review by Thursday

Three ghost-story style plays use familiar themes of séance, morgue, and clairvoyance. Still, tales presented from a different, often humorous, angle, making them intriguing and creepy. Sparse, specific design elements parallel style of show, leaving much to the imagination. Unusual location adds to haunting atmosphere. A fun and chilling evening.


The Casket Opens….

Pretty blown out–this’ll be short, but Dead of Winter opened very successfully last night to a sold-out house and a very enthusiastic audience. All the cast and crew really pulled amazing things together this week–I remain in awe of all that actors and techs do and the elegant solutions designers come up with for problems that leave me clueless. (Though having been a producer for quite awhile, I occasionally resolve an issue or two.)

From a playwright’s point of view, it’s extremely satisfying to watch a play connect with the audience, to feel them leaning in, drawn by the story. And, in the case of this show, occasionally shrink back. It tells me the stories are solid and engaging.

And fun. You get so damned wrapped up in details that it isn’t until opening night that you remember what you enjoyed about writing the pieces and the enthusiastic response the piece originally prompted from your actors.

This journey began on a beautiful summery day, sitting in a coffeehouse garden and knocking ideas around with my partners in Pavement Productions and my new co-conspirators, The Bluestockings, and it took me to a literally dark and stormy night, with a full capacity crowd and extended applause.

Doesn’t get better than that.


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.

Steve


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.

SP

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.

Steve