Category Archives: Next of Kin

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:

 


Another Shade of Dark

My plays have never been known for being especially frothy. Blue is, apparently, my favored color–in clothing, language, and music. I suppose that reflects my outlook. Humor, however, serves an an antidote to the blues, on-stage and in life, so I try to find it even in the heaviest work. Another requisite in tackling the serious is to do it very, very well. I don’t know that I’ve succeeded in that, but, believe me, I have tried. Serious themes deserves the best, and I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering if I’ve done the work justice.

The last few years, I’ve largely focused more on the fantastic: plays exploring the psyche or utilizing magic realism or alternate realities, and I’m turning, also, to exploring the human condition through our relations to the arts, of late writing about music and photography. But, for a good number of years, I was known as the “war guy.”

That is, I wrote a series of plays–four in all–about war and its aftermath. Three explore the subject through the characters of journalists: Waiting on Sean Flynn (Vietnam); Liberation (Bosnia); and Depth of Field (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and 9/11). Reporters, serving as our eyes and ears during conflicts open a breathtaking, immediate window into war narratives. Plus I used to be a reporter–never a war correspondent, though (I get asked)–and I have great admiration for those who put themselves at risk to the show the world the cruelties of which we are capable. They’re also damned interesting people, which makes them fun to write about.

Flynn and Liberation have been successfully produced multiple times (and Liberation has been published by Original Works Publishing). Depth of Field remains in progress. I’ve finished a number of drafts, but I still haven’t quite cracked the code on that one. I haven’t given up, either.

The fourth play, Next of Kin, stands as a sort of coda to the trilogy, shifting the focus from reporters to soldiers and their families, whose vital stories I felt remained somewhat unaddressed by the other plays. Next of Kin, looking at Iraq, is also the most contemporary work. It’s a good, strong play, I think, which had a very successful staged reading last year with the splendid folks at Portland Theatre Works; I’m currently shopping the premiere to theatres around the country.

Though I never planned it, the plays developed their own arc. Flynn asks why we’ve come to war, and whether we should stay or go? Liberation, acknowledging we’re trapped in war, asks how much do we sacrifice to tell the story? Depth of Field asks whether, after surviving war and paying the price, why return. And Next of Kin asks what we do and who we are when its over.

Writing these plays has been, I think, a substantial, unique accomplishment. (I have kind of a dream of having them collected in a single volume someday. Maybe it’ll happen, though it’s hard to say, given the state of both theatre and publishing these days.) I didn’t set out to do it: it just happened. They’ve made me a few bucks along the way–not very much. But they have rewarded me, however, so richly in terms of experience, introducing me to people and places I’ll never forget (and never want to, even when the memories are ghastly).

They’ve given me a chance to work with brilliant directors, actors, and designers on a subject that seems to bond artists they way soldiers and reporters bond in the field: everyone knows this is a serious, important issue that demands our best, and the subject tends to strip away our bullshit because, let’s face it, it’s about living or dying, killing or being killed. When you work like that, you get down to the core of your collaborators, exposing who you really are, and it’s one of the primary reasons I have such deep affection and admiration for those who work in this tough, sometimes ephemeral business. If you’re lucky, you’ll learn to like your colleagues, and they become your friends; if you’re really lucky, you’ll come to love them.

The plays have also afforded me some of the most intense audience interactions of my career. During ther performance, the theatre feels beyond electric, the air supercharged. Total strangers, speaking to me after shows, have told me stories they may have never told their families. After a performance of Liberation, a Bosnian woman told me how she walked, barefoot, away from her hometown as its men and boys were being systematically slaughtered. And then she thanked me for having the courage to tell the truth. Never, ever have I felt so simultaneously honored and humbled. That moment remains a treasure I will carry to my end.

Finally, this subject has allowed me to talk to and exchange letters and e-mails with with veterans and war correspondents, which has been worth every minute of sweating through the work, worry, and heartache that comes with making theatre.

I feel these plays have deepened my soul. When I pick up the morning newspaper and read so-and-so many have been killed or wounded wherever they’ve been killed or wounded this day, the pictures and feelings that come to my mind may be different than yours. Not better or worse, just…different. If you have a heart, you can’t write about war without it changing you, and you can’t write about war effectively if you don’t have a heart. Sometimes I think it’s damaged me, you know? Just a little. Knowing a little too much about the worst humans can be and the most terrible things that can happen to us. Whatever I’ve learned and kept inside, It’s nothing compared to those who have been there, and it’s paid me back more than I could ever imagine.

This Memorial Day, as we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11th, I just want to take a moment thank all those who have served–and those who have reported the world’s self-inflicted catastrophes–for putting your very lives at risk. That’s it. A small and quiet acknowledgement that’s but a pebble in the ocean compared with your experience. With a special thanks, from as deep as I can reach, for those who have been so gracious to share your best and worst stories with me.

Here’s to the day when all our work becomes obsolete.


Good Way to Start a Morning


So I sit down with my coffee, and the paper’s already been opened to the Performance section of the Portland Oregonian’s Arts & Entertainment section, and there’s “Next of Kin” with a #1 pick on the Performance “High Five” list for shows to pick out.

Now that’s a way to start the day.

Given that they gave Chris’s show “Fishing for My Father” a pick last week, my batting average has been running pretty good.

Another show tonight and tomorrow night. I’m digging this.


A Good Day in Splattworld


It’s that time of year again, when the children wait expectantly for the presents to arrive…. Yes. I’m talking about the announcements of Regional Arts and Culture Commision’s (RACC) project grants for artists. This year, I’m tied to two projects which have won grants; the following descriptions are from the RACC site:

Portland Theatre Works Next of Kin LabWorks. Portland Theatre Works will produce an intense developmental workshop of Steve Patterson’s play Next of Kin, which had a well-received developmental reading in our FreshWorks program in October 2008. In the play, set in rural Oregon during the height of the Iraq War, Mike is a Marine Casualty Assistance Officer, who informs parents and spouses their loved one has been killed.

Chris Harder, Fishing For My Father. From my personal experience as an adopted child, meeting my biological father, and becoming a sperm donor myself, I am inspired to explore the complex quality of love that is shared between children and their fathers and how diverse circumstances influence who we are. By using fishing as a common thread I aim to discover the significance that shared moments and memory have in our lives.

In the case of Mr. Harder’s piece, I’m writing a quartet of monologues. (Chris and I worked together on The Centering, for which he won a Drammy Award as best actor.) So that means I have some writing to do, plus a rewrite of Next of Kin, plus two plays in January’s Fertile Ground New Works Festival (The Rewrite Man as part of the Pulp Diction new works reading series, and Riffs, a short play as part of Introducing…Playwrights West, readings from a new theatre company I’m involved with…called, not suprisingly, Playwrights West. You can buy tickets to both events through the Fertile Ground Web site.)

This is the nature of theatre. In 2007, I won the Oregon Book Award, tra la, my future was golden, all I had to do was wait for the offers to come cascading in, and…nothing happened. I got a lot of writing done this past year, but had not a single production. In 2010, well, I’m already exhausted thinking about it.

Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Harder and to Mr. Andrew Golla at Portland Theatre Works, and to all the other RACC recipients. If you want to check out the other granted projects, the info can be had at RACC Project Grants for 2010

Plus, depending on how things go, I might be writing a non-fiction book, and I have a bunch of new plays to market.

In other words, maybe I’ll get to sleep next year. A little. Maybe.

Good times.

S


"Next of Kin" Info

A little while ago, I noted that Portland Theatre Works will be presenting a free reading of my play “Next of Kin,” which is my first new full-length since “Lost Wavelengths” in 2006. Info on the production follows below. Just as a note: even though “Next of Kin” is an extremely heavy play, dealing with Iraq, the costs of war, veterans issues, and so on, it has a weird, sneaky thread of gallows humor running through it. The show is Monday, 10/20, at 7:00 PM in Profile Theatre, 3430 SE Belmont, Portland.

Hope to see you there….

Steve

—————

FreshWorks@Profile in October
October marks a return visit for Steve Patterson in FreshWorks. In 2006 we read his play Lost Wavelengths which went on to be selected for that year’s JAW Festival at PCS and which has now been nominated for an Oregon Book Award (see more on that below). This month we’re proud to present Next of Kin:

Mike is a Marine Casualty Assistance Officer who informs parents and spouses their loved one has been killed. Mike’s brother Rich is a Marine recruiter trying to fill his quotas. Their sister Angie was left at home to care for their father, a Vietnam Vet and former Marine, who now lies in a coma having attempted to kill himself. Reuniting over their father’s deathbed, they are forced to face the complex relationships they have with each other as they pick up the pieces their father left behind.
Portland playwright Steve Patterson, has written over 25 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other cities in the U.S. as well as in Canada and New Zealand. The Centering, a one-man play he co-wrote with Portland actor Chris Harder, has been featured at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and the Boulder Fringe Festival, and, in 2007, Mr. Harder won a Drammy Award for Best Actor for his performance of the play. His full-length works include Waiting on Sean Flynn, Malaria, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Turquoise and Obsidian, Bombardment, and Delusion of Darkness.

The cast will include Garland Lyons, Lindsay Matteson, and Nick Zagone.

Next of Kin by Steve Patterson
7 p.m., Monday, Oct 20th
Profile Theater at Theater!Theatre! (3430 SE Belmont St., Portland, OR)
FREE and open to the public

The FreshWorks program is designed to give playwrights to the opportunity to hear a draft of their play read by some of Portland’s finest actors. FreshWorks readings are free and open to the public.

These readings will take place at 7 p.m. on the 3rd Monday of every month in the Theatre Noir at Theater!Theatre! in southeast Portland. We’re very pleased to be partnering with Profile Theater in presenting this program.

Congrats to Steve Patterson and Francesca Sanders!
Steve and Francesca have both been named finalists for the Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama for the 2008 Oregon Book Awards. Steve’s finalist play Lost Wavelengths was given a FreshWorks reading in May of 2006 and Francesca’s play I Become a Guitar was developed through a workshop way back in May of 2004. Portland Theatre Works is a big fan of Steve’s and Francesca’s work and very proud to have been a part of the development of these 2 outstanding plays.


Coming: Next of Kin

Monday, October 20th, my play Next of Kin, about a military family dealing with the effects of the Iraq war, will have a reading at Portland Theatre Works. More details to come.


Life with Mick & Keef

Thinking much of the Glimmer Twins of late, back when they were young and, as Gore Vidal said, so ugly they were pretty. Recently finished the first draft of a new two-act drama called “Next of Kin,” which has do with a family reunited for a medical crisis. Sounds pretty pedestrian for me, given my onstage history with characters spontaneously exploding, turning into insects, and having telepathically induced orgasms (and that’s all in one play), but the family patriarch in the new play is a totally whacked Vietnam Veteran, hardcore helicopter pilot, and rabid Rolling Stones fan who named his kids after the band members; so I’ve been listening to the Stones more than usual.

I guess anyone who gives a damn about rock’n’roll (or whatever myriad forms popular music has mutated into) hooks into a certain band, and that music comes to punctuate moments of their lives. It’s not necessarily transferable: I start talking about the Stones, and I can see my wife’s attention…drift…elsewhere. As well it probably should.

But there is one Stones memory that haunts me. It was back in the early 80s, wintertime, and I was driving by night to Southern Oregon. In a space of about 50 miles, there are four mountain passes and valleys one has to negotiate, and the driving can get a bit tricky. It had to be past midnight. I’d stopped in a little town called Canyonville, loaded up on coffee at a truck stop (and, perhaps, I might have had another, substantially more powerful stimulant in my system as well). Anyway, put on “Sticky Fingers,” took a deep breath, and began climbing the first of the passes.

It was going pretty well, but, as I started climbing Mt. Sexton, the final pass, it began to snow. Millions upon millions of thick, drifting flakes, immediately beginning to stick. I could feel my tires not quite connecting–this was in an old, heavy Ford with rear-wheel drive–and I knew I not only had the pass to cross but a long, steep grade down the mountain, probably into a blizzard. White-knuckle driving if there ever was one, and then the Stones’ “Moonlight Mile” came on, it’s drifting, dreamy mood and rhythm seeming in concert with the snowflakes sweeping before my headlights, and it was like everything went…click. A perfect moment. Genuinely dangerous, stunningly beautiful. One you never forget. Forever, in the mind’s eye, the snow falling, the guitars keening, and Jagger whispering in your ear:

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow
With a head full of snow
In the window there’s a face you know
Don’t the nights pass slow
Don’t the nights pass slow