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.


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.

Just Plain Dead

There is no fatigue like theatre fatigue.

It’s like getting caught in a riptide. At night. In cold water. You just have to ride it and hope you’ll stay afloat until it lets go of you, and you can drift back to shore, which, depending on the show, will be opening or closing night.

Which is to say, I’m deep in the wild of rehearsals, press, phone calls, e-mails, and errands for Dead of Winter and, actually, having an absolutely wonderful time. (Only people who have been there understand the pleasure of hearing themselves say, “Do we have enough gels?”) If you don’t fight the riptide, you can enjoy the ride…like you can enjoy riding a motorcycle on wet pavement. It’s still tough, tiring work, but it has its pleasures, and one of those is watching the play (or plays, in this case) take shape, rolling into focus, the actors taking your words and building people out of them. I’ve been doing this for…for some time, let’s say, and I still marvel at images and sounds swirling around my head ending up as words on a page, then becoming characters who you care about, hate, laugh at, or, in the case of these ghost stories, creep the hell out of you. It’s seriously weird to be watching something I wrote and feeling the hair rise on my arms. At one point, if anyone had been looking at me instead of the actors, I probably would have seemed stricken because I was pretty much thinking: Jesus, what kind of sick bastard wrote this?

All good signs, but I’m way too close to it to judge. I do marvel, however, at the director’s craft, which makes all these various elements somehow come together. I have an idea how it works and I’ve directed a time or two, but it’s just fascinating to watch someone who knows what she’s doing (in this case, Lisa Abbott) make it synch up, connect, and work. I can roughly imagine how it’ll look, sound, and feel, but the director knows, and she’s shaping the clay in four dimensions. It’s amazing.

And I know my company, Pavement Productions, is the co-producer (with Portland’s The Bluestockings), but damn if this thing doesn’t feel like it has potential. The actors are working like hell, the designers are coming up with great stuff, and, well, I’ve said my piece about the director. When all the elements come together….

Though it sounds like a cliche, given that these are plays about ghosts, it feels like there’s something spooky going on here. Some kind of…voodoo. And that’s what theatre’s all about.

Now if I can just keep my head above water.

Nineteen days to go….

The Glory that is Denial

We’re having a pre-production meeting for “Dead of Winter” today, which is great–it’ll be wonderful to get the ship up and running, and all the pieces are coming together nicely. It also means that’ll no longer be able to pretend that I’m not going to be a producer again.

Don’t get me wrong: I love producing. It’s like hammering together a ship out of balsa wood and seeing if you can get it through the rapids. When it works, it’s immensely satisfying. When it doesn’t…well, it doesn’t. This is more a feeling of inevitability, like knowing you’re really going to see the surgeon or walking into the final exam room. Because the switch flips, and, suddenly, it’s not your life anymore. You belong to the play. When I think of holding down a job, all the plays I have in progress and to market, and just the obligations of paying bills and going to the grocery store, I hear this tremendous sucking sound at the back of my brain, and my eyes pull back in their sockets, and all my energy ebbs from a hole at the bottom of my spine.

Or something like that.

On the other hand, I can look forward to the stuff that makes it worthwhile. One would think those are opening nights, getting good reviews, and counting the final box office, but, really, the small moments remain with you. The ones hanging around outside with the smoking brigade and telling theatre war stories. They’re finding these unexpected moments during rehearsal when everyone rocks back at once and goes “yes!” And they’re even that nth hour during tech week when you’re so goddamned tired that you’re beyond tired (and there’s no fatigue like theatre fatigue, baby, unless maybe it’s having a loved one in the hospital), and, man, you just can’t hack it, and suddenly something funny–or maybe just borderline funny–hits you, and you completely go to pieces with hysterical laughter. The kind where you can’t breathe and you’re begging it to stop and your cast and crew are looking at you like, uh, he’s the guy in charge…we are so screwed.

And then there’s the bar. The post-show bar is a strange and beautiful thing, where people tell each other the damndest, personal, stuff. When I think back on a dozen of my favorite productions, I see my comrades in that vaguely sallow bar light, with cigarettes burning and empty beer glasses flecked with foam. Their arms are around each other. They’re laughing or bitching or some combination of the two. And that’s when I think, Patterson, you’re a very lucky guy.

Status Report

Here we are, coming down to the end of the year, and where the hell am I?

Well…busy. Upcoming production of “Dead of Winter” in Portland, come February. “Waiting on Sean Flynn” goes up in Detroit in March, and a short piece is scheduled to be part of a “Seven Deadly Sins” show in L.A. in May (my sin is greed, which I know practically nothing about). Reading 10-minute plays based on/insprired by Pere Ubu, an amazing stack of stuff with more coming in every day, for a reading and possible production next year. Plus a TBA production for June. Working on some other super secret for your eyes only projects that, ahem, of course I can’t reveal at the moment.

After a long bout of writer’s block–very uncharacteristic for me, been writing like a bastard. Since summer, first drafts of a surreal one hour, one-act called “Farmhouse”; a shorter one-act about politics tentatively called “Night Flight from Houston”; a serious two-act called “Next of Kin”; and a rather unhinged two-act called (wait for it)…”Rimbaud’s Daughter in Louisiana (or the Drunken Pirogue.” Christ. What the hell’s wrong with me?

A bunch of stuff out with theatres that I’m waiting to hear on (a feeling akin to being stuck on the tarmac sans AC in August), but it’s time to get back on the marketing bandwagon, so I figure I’ll take some of the Christmas holidays to get some queries stuffed in envelopes. When I look at the backlog, I must have at least four or five full-lengths that have been done and that I’m comfortable shopping around, and it’s time to hunt premieres for “Lost Wavelengths” and “Turquoise and Obsidian.” Of course, still searching for that elusive New York production. And, when I take a deep breath, I sometimes think about the joys of pursuing an agent, but then this kind of gray and purple, Jackson Pollock mist slithers into my brain and my eyes glaze over and my head lists slightly to the side and drool begins to drip from my open mouth….

Jesus, Patterson, we don’t have the slightest idea what the hell you’re talking about! You writers are so goddamned self-involved! Get back to…dissing politicians or something.

Okay. Scott McClellan, Bush’s former press secretary, is coming out with a new book in which he says, yeah, yeah, we all knew who outed Valerie Plame and it was the president and vice-president, and I stood in front of everybody and lied my ass off, but it was my job, all right, and, by the way, the president is a filthy liar. Liar, liar, liar.

But then, you already knew that.

Where DO you get your ideas?

First, in February I’m producing “Dead of Winter: Three Ghost Stories for the Stage”—we have auditions for the men’s roles this weekend—and I’m currently rereading “Oregon Ghosts” (seems we have a lot of them), so ghosts have been much on my mind of late.

Second, I love dreams. Here you put in a tough day doing…whatever it is you do, lay down your head, welcome oblivion…and suddenly it’s psychedelic cabaret, the nightly David Lynch film. (Because, let’s be honest, David Lynch films are movies about dreams being movies.)

Third, last night I’m dreaming that my house has a little ghost problem. I’m talking about it to a sympathetic friend, and, while we’re talking, doors and cupboards are opening and closing by themselves. Only they’re doing so in just a way that, well, it could be the wind. My friend is trying to get me to take this seriously, while I’m like, well, the wind thing. Denial lives strong in dreams. The door to the room eases shut in that subtle wind way, and my friend points. The antique glass doorknob is slowly turning back and forth. I open the door. No one there.

Meanwhile, much else is going on in the dream: we just got two puppies…and a horse. And all my friends are saying, man, that spider on your porch. Have you seen that thing? You should use that in one of your plays. (My real friends seldom say things like that.) But have you see that spider on the—?

All right! I go out on the porch to check out this spider, and instead there are two little old ladies out there. Sitting side by side. Each has a tiny puppy on their lap, and they’re petting them in synchronous motion. Maltese puppies. And these two ladies have these Maltesesque bowl haircuts of silver and small, round, gnomelike faces. They’re smiling at me, and the puppies are staring at me, cocking their heads, and the two ladies seem to be enwrapped in a gold, summery light, utterly gorgeous until I notice that the ladies are also faintly criss-crossed with spider webs. And I slowly look up to see, above them, a common gold and black garden spider, your typical two-inch Argiope …but this one’s about the size of a dinner plate.

And then, gentle reader, the alarm clock wakes me.