Category Archives: Portland Center Stage

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

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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.


Okay, so eight playwrights walk into a city…

…and what happens?

Actually what happens is Open City, a project dreamed up by PlayGroup, Portland Center Stage’s ongoing playwriting workshop. In short, we all nominated eight locations in Portland, wrote them on paper, tossed the paper into a hat (or a mayonnaise jar…I can’t remember), drew our locations, then drew our number of players. And wrote. And it’s freakin’ cool. (Except my piece.)

The playwrights are: Althea Hukari, Shelly Lipkin, Ellen Margolis, Steve Patterson (I just wandered in from the street, looking for beer), Andrea Stolowitz, Patrick Wohlmut, Nick Zagone, and Matthew B. Zrebski. Matt’s directing. The cast is: Deirdre Atkinson, Ben Buckley, Timothy M. Hill, and Lara Kobrin.

It’s Monday, February 2, 2009, at 7:30pm at The Gerding Theater, Portland Center Stage at The Armory (that’s the big stage, folks). Admission is free. Plus it’s the cherry on top of the fabulous Fertile Ground City-Wide Festival of New Works, which means there’s a party afterwards. With beer. So wander in.


Disappearing Act

This one’s for my friends at Portland Center Stage….


Let’s Get Plowed

Warning: serious fun ahead.

Portland is about to launch an inaugration of its own: the Fertile Ground City-Wide Festival of New Work. From January 23rd to February 1st, theatres all over Portland have committed to staging new plays, from full productions to concert readings. It’s kind of like a South-by-Southwest music festival but for theatre, where you can buy a pass and theatre-hop for a couple weeks. Or you can by a button and get into shows at a discount. (You can also just buy tickets regularly, of course.) It’s a grand experiment, and the Portland theatre community, especially playwrights, hope it’s a smashing success that becomes an ongoing, annual event. No matter how it turns out, it’s great to see theatre companies take a chance on something new. For more info, go to Fertile Ground. Special thanks to Tricia Pancio (there’s imp herself, above right) for being the little-engine-that-could get this thing going. She’s worked her ass off, and Portland theatre community (and the whole city) owe her a big round of applause.

And…yes: I’ll have something in the festival. PlayGroup, the writers group I belong to at Portland Center Stage will present….

Open City by Althea Hukari, Shelly Lipkin, Ellen Margolis, Steve Patterson, Andrea Stolowitz, Patrick Wohlmut, Nick Zagone, and Matthew B. Zrebski
Portland Center Stage Playgroup

Festival Dates: Feb 2 at 7:30 pm

For this group show created by PlayGroup (whose previous escapades include The Clearing, Frenching the Bones and Ten Tiny Playlets) and directed by Matt Zrebski, each playwright pulled a Portland location and a cast size out of hat, then went to work on a short play inspired by those circumstances. The result, presented in rehearsed concert form, is a kaleidoscopic vision of the Rose City that adds up to a town we all recognize.

Venue: Main Stage, Gerding Theater at the Armory (128 NW 11th Ave)

And the fabulous Gary Garrison, Executive Director of Creative Affairs for the Dramatists Guild, will be visiting our fair city on Saturday 31, 2008, speaking at at Portland Center Stage’s Ellen Bye Studio Theater from 1:30-3:00 PM about all things playwright, followed by a town hall discussion about playwriting in Portland and Oregon in general.

More to come on that as well, but it’s a sign that (a) the Fertile Ground Festival is going to be one hell of a special event; and (b) Portland’s playwriting community is beginning to be recognized beyond the borders of Multnomah County.

As Hunter Thompson would say: good craziness.


Watch Me Pull a Drama Out of This Hat

Due to the ever persuasively urbane Mead Hunter, once again I’m stepping up on the auction block to offer my services for Commission! Commission! at Portland Center Stage’s JAW. The deal is, Portland Center Stage’s audience buys a swanky dinner and has a chance to bid on the services of the playwright of their choice. Once they, uh, buy you (“let me check yore teeths, son”), you interview them briefly on the subject they want you to write about (“I’d like something about nuclear winter that has…kittens in it”), and then you have about 20 minutes to bang out a play, which the actors have about 20 minutes to put together, and then the playlets are performed post-dinner. It’s definitely dangerous fun, like riding a BSA Lightning on freshly wet pavement at top speeds. In the dark. With your headlight out. The kicker this year is they’re opening the event, which is usually performed only for those who buy a dinner, up to the public, which means I have an opportunity to choke and embarass myself in front of even more people.

If you’d like to check out this combination art event/parlour trick, you can see the line-up of fine playwrights at: Commission! Commission! It’s nice company to be sweating bullets with. I don’t know what hell I’m doing there, but you ought to come to check out the other folk.

Steve