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:


Walking Through Fertile Grounds

So. Fertile Ground. Yes.

For those outside Portland, the Fertile Ground Festival presents all-new work over a two-week period, written and produced in Portland. Damn, there a lot of good writers, directors, and actors in this town. In all, 68 pieces were featured in Fertile Ground, and it received national coverage from American Theatre Magazine. You’re going to be hearing a lot about Fertile Ground in years to come. Tricia Pancio Mead especially deserves credit for helping the ball get rolling.

I managed to see Sue Mach’s The Shadow Testament, Nick Zagone’s The Missing Pieces, Ellen Margolis’ Elsewhere, and Andrea Stolowitz’s Antartikos. They were all good, all richly imagined, and all completely different. All deserve further production, you producer types out there.

I probably would have seen other shows–there were at least three or more I would have liked to have caught–but I was in an accelerated rehearsal schedule for my own play, Immaterial Matters, which won CoHo Productions’ New by Northwest New Works Contest, with part of the prize being a staged reading of the play during Fertile Ground. My director, Brenda Hubbard, was sharp as hell, made great decisions, and was ruthlessly funny–which helps when you’re staging a play. And my cast was definitely the A-team: Torrey Cornwell, Jim Davis, Adrienne Flagg, Ritah Parrish, Andrew Shanks, and Ebbe Roe Smith. I list them alphabetically because they were all equal in strength and served the work so selflessly.

And the play, Immaterial Matters. I’ve written a bunch of plays at this point. Around 25 full-lengths, I think. I have to say this one has kind of a weird, golden quality about it. Writing it was a delight; every time I put my pen to paper, the words were there. (And to answer possible questions, yeah, I write first drafts in longhand, then type them up into a word processing program, usually editing as I go.)

The play came a deep, personal place, which I think I can talk about now that the play has been through its paces. In 2007, my mom died after a protracted illness. For some time afterward, not surprisingly, I was deep in a dimly lighted tunnel called grief. For both my parents, actually: my father died in 1994, but now I was facing life as a sort of orphan. Every day was like waking up underwater: everything seemed normal until you took your first breath, and then it was a struggle to the surface, and you’d spend the rest of the day treading water, trying not to sink down.

Finally, I said I’d deal with this death monster by looking directly at it, feelings be damned. So I did: my main character was an orphan who, by happenstance, falls into making post-mortem portraiture in the 1880s (it was a vogue at the time). I’ve been a photographer; so I know how the camera serves as a framing device, somehow placing one outside the picture at the same you’re focusing closely. It seemed like an apt metaphor for way one compartmentalizes one’s feelings; so they can be dealt with piece by piece. (If you try to deal with them altogether, it just crushes you.)

I thought it was a strong, unique play, but I wasn’t prepared by the avalanche of praise it received. I mean, if there were folks who didn’t like it, I wasn’t hearing from them. Entirely possible, but people will usually let you know…whether you want to hear it or not. I didn’t receive the usual “I didn’t understand the part” or “I thought may you should change….“ What I did receive was a lot of knowing looks, smiles, and nods, especially from professionals. If you could bottle and sell that feeling, you’d put smack out of business tomorrow.

The piece has such a weird, nighttime texture. It’s a discovery play that builds slowly, the longer the character keeps making the pictures, with each assignment another step in this weird journey until the weight of grief and inevitability of death overwhelm him, including his own loss of his parents. And, at the same time, it’s funny…audiences were definitely laughing. Which seems as it should be: that life is serious as a heart attack and still stupidly hilarious. Maybe especially when you’re having a heart attack.

Anyway, I ended up as pleased as I could be, and a couple theatres are already considering the piece, with a couple more agreeing to look at it. (And, just to prove it’s not invulnerable, one has shot it down already.) I hope all my plays get produced, of course. (Why else would I write them?) But this one I especially look forward to seeing realized, because I think it’s original and says something without preaching. And that’s not an easy trick. And I just want to go see it–which is why I got into writing plays in the first place.

Not long ago, my mom showed up in a dream–a rare guest appearance. She was her rascally self–complaining and full of problems, but funny and endearing, a way I hadn’t seen for a number of years, due to her illness. And I lay in bed for a long while upon waking, not doing anything, but feeling like some kind of debt had been paid, and some kind of separate peace had been achieved. It felt good and complex. Very Zen. Some kind of gift I’d given myself or received from elsewhere.

This has been Fertile Ground’s third year. I’ve participated in both previous years, and had a hell of a lot of fun. But this one, for me, have definitely been the best.

A Word from the Wiseguys

CoHo Productions’ reading of
“Immaterial Matters” gets itself a thumbs-up from the Portland Oregonian’s Marty Hughley…

Fertile Ground festival: more promising picks for new theater and dance

…and from uber-script wizard and all-around theatrical demigod Mead Hunter….

Fertile Ground 2011 opens….any minute now!

So I may be biased (a smidgen), but these guys you can trust. Their word is bond.

Thanks, guys!


Me Knees is Getting Wobbly…

…but in a good way.

My play “Immaterial Matters” plays Sunday and Monday night at 7:30. Forget me…please come see it for the incredible cast and director.

The problem is that grief blinds. People think different when the burying’s over. A soul’s just leaving, you do anything to keep hold of them. Once they’re done with ashes to ashes and paying off the doctor and the undertaker and the grave diggers and the preacher, the last thing they want to remember is the dying.-Reilly O’Rourke, Immaterial Matters

Immaterial Matters by Steve Patterson

Time Waits for No One, Not on My Side

Where’s the “off” button on this thing, anyway?

Sorry it’s been so long between postings, but, some time during early October, life accidentally bumped the hyperdrive switch, and I’ve been violently sucked into an uber-accelerated time vortex, and it’s been all I can do just to clutch the safety bar while my rattling little cart has climbed, dived, slid, and shuddered into the curves.

Hyperbole? Well, yes. But it has been busy. In addition to working 50+ hour weeks at my day job as a mild-mannered technical editor, I finished the working draft of Immaterial Matters–a new full-length drama I’ve very pleased with.

I’m helping Playwrights West, a new Portland theatre company, get off the ground (including building and launching a last-minute Web site to serve as a placeholder until we can build a better site).

I shot, framed, and hung a photo project for a production of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and served on a public panel discussing Sam’s work.

I reconnected with one of my oldest friends (then promptly dropped the ball when the schedule overwhelmed me–sorry, Scott), and I got together with Jack Boulware, a college/journalist buddy, in town to promote his terrific new book Gimme’ Someting Better (and more to come on that).

Deb and I managed to go see Bob Dylan and B.B. King, both beyond wonderful but Tuesday-night concerts which left me wasted the rest of the week.

I shot a portrait of a charming transvestite for Pulp Diction, a January new works reading series and part of Portland’s Fertile Ground New Works Festival, which includes my newish full-length play The Rewrite Man–which, of course, I had to rewrite.

I’ve made huge leaps forward with my guitar playing (I think), bought Deb a new Ibanez acoustic as an anniversary present (we’ve been jamming together, which has been wonderful), bought and broke in a new Vox amp (because Deb’s new guitar has an electronic pick-up, and I happily returned the great Roland amp she’d been loaning me), and, this week, completely lost my mind and bought an Epiphone Sheraton II semi-hollow body electric (more on that to come as well).

Plus the car blew up and needed major repairs, we had a small dinner party for my yearly winter dish, Beef Bourguignon, and, after writing three full-length plays in two years, I decided to take a break from playwriting…to write a non-fiction book (and stil more on that down the road, naturally). In my spare time, I managed to begin writing a song. Because, you know, I didn’t have enough to do.

Finally, three vetebras in my neck went out (stress, perhaps?), and I’ve pretty much been in constant pain for weeks, but I’ve been so busy that I couldn’t get to my doctor until this past week. (Getting better, thanks.)

Things, pleasantly, look to slow down in a little while–right after the PR I have to do for Playwrights West (also part of Fertile Ground), rehearsals for The Rewrite Man (and possible rewrite), two grants I should hear yea or nay on this month, a new round of play submissions, some work as a regional Dramatists Guild representative, photos I owe some friends, revamps of Playwrights West’s and my own Web sites, research on the new writing project, and then this upcoming “Christmas” event…whatever that is. Plus another couple play rewrites with looming deadlines.

So my apologies for the posts I haven’t written, phone calls and e-mails I haven’t returned, or any other balls I’ve managed to drop. I’ve been lucky to hang on to the pair I was issued years ago.

At some point, the fatigue morphs from agony to giddiness. At least that’s what they tell me: I’m still waiting.

In short, if I owe any of you stuff–scripts, pictures, calls, or new blog posts–please bear with me. I’ll get to it right after…. Well, it’s on my mind, okay?

My to-do list includes: “update to-do list.”


A Taste of "Immaterial Matters"

From the new play….

REILLY thrusts the paper at CRANE.


CRANE warily takes the paper.

“Three fires of incendiary origin–“

The other column.

“Clifford Beekly has been diagnosed with acute insanity–“

Further down.

“An unknown man found hanging in Mr. Wilson Crowley’s barn–“

Below the fold, Crane.

There’s nothing below the fold but obituaries.

Wrong. There’s nothing below the fold but customers.

The New Thing

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile for (I think) a reasonable reason: I’ve been writing. Seriously.

I took the morning off from writing and spent some time reading my friend Jack Boulware’s very sharp and funny book Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. You should check it out: it’ll make you want to immediately dye your hair green and stick a safety pin through your cheek.

I felt like I had the carte blanche to blow off the muse for the morning because yesterday I finished typing up Immaterial Matters, a new, full-length drama with which I am very, very pleased. I’m never a very good judge of my own work. First off, you’re always in love with a play when you’re writing it, even if it’s putting you through fits. Second, others often really like the stuff I end up a little indifferent to, and the work I become besotted with tends to be the stuff that generates an “eh” from others. I have no explanation for this, other than I have perverse taste. Sometimes, it ends up being vindicated; sometimes it just stays perverse.

But this one feels a little different. Writing’s generally hard, hard work, even when it goes well, but this thing was just a breeze from beginning to end. In fact, it was coming so easily that it began to freak me out—like I’d inevitably sit down with the notebook one day and be suddenly dry, dry, dry. Never happened. It was always there for me when I called upon it, which is a joy. It continually surprised me—another good sign—and, when I was typing it up (I write all my drafts in longhand, then type them, revising as I go), I’d slightly change a line, then pause and change it back to the original. This almost never happens.

So I don’t know. But I’m guardedly optimistic. As to the play itself: it’s set in 1880s, and it’s about a photographer, death, and a ghost.

And that’s about all I’m saying for now.