Playwrights West Presents a World Premiere: Claire Willett’s “Dear Galileo”

Dear Galileo thumbnail

On a beautiful August night, come explore the stars with….

Playwrights West—Portland’s professional theatre company composed of nine distinguished local playwrights—in association with CoHo Productions, proudly presents the World Premiere of Dear Galileo, written by Playwrights West’s Claire Willett and directed by Stephanie Mulligan. Dear Galileo opens Saturday, August 8, with a special VIP preview performance on Friday, August 7.

As Claire says, Dear Galileo is “a play about science, religion, fathers and daughters, sex, creationism, and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.”

What’s It All About?

Dear Galileo opens with a young girl asking big questions about the universe as she writes letters in her diary to one of history’s greatest scientists, Galileo Galilei. So begins a dialogue that bridges faith and science, wonder and doubt, and present and past, as three very different women in three different eras grapple with the legacies of their famous fathers:

  • In a small town in Texas, creationist author and TV pundit Robert Snow is at a loss when ten-year-old Haley’s newfound passion for science begins to pull her from the Biblical teachings of her upbringing.
  • In Swift Trail Junction, Arizona, home of the Vatican Observatory’s U.S. outpost, pregnant New York sculptor Cassie Willows arrives to find her estranged father, world-renowned astrophysicist Jasper Willows, is missing.
  • And in Renaissance Italy, Celeste Galilei lives under house arrest with her elderly father Galileo—the disgraced astronomer imprisoned for defying the Pope…and facing down the Inquisition by publishing one last book.

As the three stories weave towards convergence, each family’s destiny becomes inextricably bound with the others, linked across time by love, loss, faith, the search for identity, and the mysteries of the stars.

How Do We Get There?

Dear Galileo opens Saturday, August 8, at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St), and plays Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30, and Sunday afternoons at 2:00, through August 29. Friday through Sunday tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/educators/seniors. All tickets on “Thrifty Thursdays” are $15, and Thursday performances include post-show talkbacks, featuring some of Portland’s most innovative theatre artists.

When Do We Really Begin?

Playwrights West invites you to join us on Friday, August 7, for Dear Galileo’s VIP Preview Performance/Gala, where a $40 ticket offers a you-are-there seat to Portland theatre history and includes a post-show talkback, a gracious reception, and some terrific company.

Where Do We Find the Answers?

For more information and tickets, go to Playwrights West or contact CoHo Productions Box Office: 503-220-2646).

You Have More Questions? Keep Reading

Who Are We?

Dear Galileo features actors Nathan Dunkin, Kate Mura, Agatha Olson, Walter Petryk, Chris Porter, Gary Powell, and Nena Salazar. The production team includes Sarah Kindler (Scenic & Properties Designer), JD Sandifer (Lighting Designer), Ashton Grace Hull (Costume Designer), Annalise Albright Woods (Sound Designer), and Nicole Gladwin (Stage Manager).

Who Are The Creators?

Claire Willett is a proud member of Playwrights West and a founding artist of the Fertile Ground Festival. She was a finalist for the 2015 Jerome Fellowship at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis and was the 2011 Oregon Literary Fellow for Drama. Her other works include: Carter Hall (in development with Nashville songwriter Sarah Hart, thanks to a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council); Upon Waking; How the Light Gets In; That Was the River, This Is the Sea (co-written with Gilberto Martin del Campo); The Witch of the Iron Wood (co-written with local composer Evan Lewis); an original adaptation of W.H. Auden’s 1942 poetic oratorio For the Time Being; and The Demons Down Under the Sea, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” produced in October 2014 as part of Shaking the Tree’s production of The Masque of the Red Death (a collection of Poe shorts by the writers of Playwrights West).

Ms. Willett her first novel, The Rewind Files—a time-travel, science fiction adventure about Watergate, has just been released by Retrofit Publishing in Los Angeles. Ms. Willett is also a popular, widely read blogger at: It’s Kind of a Long Story. Like Dear Galileo, her blog is the voice of a fiercely intelligent, compassionate, and spiritually attuned writer, unafraid to take on big ideas.

Stephanie Mulligan is a stage director in both the professional and educational arenas. Her favorite recent shows include The Seven Wonders of Ballyknock, Almost Home, The Outgoing Tide, Jesus Saves, The Guys, Little Women: the Broadway Musical, The Music Man, Nickel and Dimed, The Wizard of Oz, Murder Is My Business, Love’s Labor’s Lost, The Laramie Project, and The Comedy of Errors. Stephanie has worked with (and learned from) such notable American directors as James Edmondson, Penny Metropulos, John Dillon, Aaron Posner, and Nancy Keystone. She has participated in international programming, collaborating with India’s Mahesh Dattani and Lillette Dubey, Vietnam’s Do Doan Chau and Dang Tu Mai, and Australia’s Cate Blanchette, Robyn Nevin, and Andrew Upton. Ms. Mulligan’s work with many fine local companies includes Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theatre, triangle productions!, Coho Productions, Artists Rep, Broadway Rose, and Portland Civic Theatre Guild.

Playwrights West, a professional theatre company founded in 2009 and composed of nine Portland playwrights known for the high quality of their work, focuses on presenting top-level productions of its members’ plays and supports the development of original work in Portland. The nine member playwrights are: Karin Magaldi, Ellen Margolis, Aleks Merilo, Steve Patterson, Andrea Stolowitz, Andrew Wardenaar, Claire Willett, Patrick Wohlmut, and Matthew B. Zrebski. Drawing upon a growing national movement of playwrights taking the reins for productions of their work, Playwrights West introduces Portland audiences to compelling, innovative theatrical experiences, presenting vital new plays by gifted local authors.

Why Are We Here?

  • In 2011, Dear Galileo was a finalist for the Fox Valley Collider Project, a Chicago-area initiative to support original works of theatre about math and science, and was developed with the support of a 2011 Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, a 2011 Oregon Literary Fellowship from Literary Arts, and a month-long artists residency at I-Park Artists’ Colony in East Haddam, CT.
  • In 2012, the play was produced as a staged reading in the Fertile Ground Festival by Artists Repertory Theatre, directed by Stephanie Mulligan, where the cast included Chris Porter (who returns in the role of Galileo).
  • In March 2013, Dear Galileo received a staged reading at Pasadena Playhouse in California as part of the Hothouse New Play Development Workshop Series, directed by Literary Manager Courtney Harper, with a cast that featured noted actors Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) as Jasper Willows and Lawrence Pressman (Doogie Howser M.D., American Pie, Transparent) as Galileo.
  • In Summer 2014, Willamette University in Salem—launching its new on-campus company, Theatre 33, with a summer of readings by Portland playwrights—selected Dear Galileo as their inaugural project.

Has Anything Like This Ever Happened Before?

Dear Galileo marks Playwrights West fourth full production in association with CoHo Productions, a premier supporter of new plays and original work.

Can Any One Person Explain It All?

No. But if you have questions, contact Steve Patterson.





Photographica: Late Afternoon and into the Past

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

A late winter afternoon–after a stretch of rain, the air still thick. Winter in the Pacific Northwest often limits you to shooting detail, given the long overcast stretches. But, when it clears, it gives you this full, rich light and color more akin to the semi-tropics, plus long shadows. Maybe the moisture content in the air; it somehow bends the light.

Here we have the golden hour plus: the warm light tinged with winter blues. The photo’s seem some post-production work, mostly to render it the way I saw it. Or at least how I remembered it. There’s no telling how far that can stray. Memory’s it’s own kind of filter.

The site–the Modish Building in downtown Portland–holds a special meaning for me. My first play–Controlled Burn–was produced on the fourth floor, in a sort of underground art gallery, with the artists squatting on site…not us, we came in as guests. Very punk, man! Kind of. They did throw some great parties. They also had limited gear available. The sound system was fantastic, and there must have been 50 cues, but our lights consisted of slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels over the lenses (and a silver plastic balloon that served to create a very cool watery effect). We took our set up in a rickety industrial elevator than ran so slow that you could reach out and touch the wall as it passed. We called if the David Lynch Memorial Elevator. We had to bring audiences up to the fourth floor in batches of ten. Luckily, the fire inspector never visited us.

With time, you learn. Back then, I had no idea. I remember Kyle Evans (who helped found Pavement Productions) and I attended PATA auditions when looking for actors. We knew nobody in the theatre community, nobody knew us, but they treated us as equals, and we ended up working with some very cool people like Sherilyn Lawson, Marty Ryan, and Catherine Egan (as a shamanistic dancer).

That’ll be 25 years ago this coming September. First play. Birth of Pavement Productions (I certainly had no idea that would last for 18 years). And my first review–the Oregonian compared me to a young Sam Shepard. They also said the play was kind of a mess–really, it was more performance art–and dubbed it “Uncontrolled Burn.” And thus the pattern: the critic give, and critic taketh away. Still, they couldn’t have made me happier unless they’d compared me to Beckett or Ionesco.

Funny that the piece really was a series of interconnected monologues, and I’m currently playing with a series of interconnected narrative poems–which could be performed as a series of monologues. I don’t know whether that means the circle comes round or I just have a limited number of ideas.

(Shot with a Canon 70D, 18-55mm zoom lens, processed in Adobe Lightroom.)

P.S.: This marks my blog’s 500th post.

The Sweatermakers Weaves a Sly, Subversive Spell

Andrew Wardenaar: Playwright

Andrew Wardenaar: Playwright

The Sweatermakers by playwright Andrew Wardenaar is a strange play. I think Andrew would freely admit that. But it’s strange because of its innovation: it refuses to be a comedy or drama—in a big way—by essentially being both. When it’s funny, it’s wildly funny, really going for it, and when it’s dramatic, it’s as serious as…. Well, that would be giving things away.

The play takes the audience on a ride, and, if one thinks of that as strange, it’s because it honestly does something that we see too little on stage: it takes chances. Big chances. And the script, director, cast, and designers rock it. You can see it in the audience when the lights come up. Their faces wear that bemused, slightly stunned smile that says: that was…a trip. And you know they’re going to be carrying those words and images with them for quite some time. Those words not only entertain: they pose questions about the society we’ve been woven into.

Since 2011, Andrew has been a member of Playwrights West (a Portland theatre company created and operated by playwrights, serving as a collective to the produce its members’ work). Andrew’s 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 helms the show. He’s 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.

Though Andrew’s a thoroughly seasoned theatre professional, with The Sweatermakers, he’s experiencing something playwrights never forget: his first fully staged production. We talked, and here’s what he says about his own journey.


SW ADD 1How did the play change from the beginning of the production process to opening night?

I have been working on this play for several years now, and it has seen numerous changes over the course of its development, but when it was just me and my laptop, most of the revisions altered the plot, or planted character seeds. Going into the production process brought several practical issues to the forefront, however. The Sweatermakers had always been a very presentational piece of theatre and aspects of it were thoroughly cinematic. That becomes a problem in a space as intimate as CoHo Theatre. Originally, the play hinged on the ability to hide things, but with audience on three sides, mere feet from the actors, such a thing would have proven impossible.

In lieu of hiding, we featured. The blackouts, a convention introduced to disguise the movement of the actors and the placement of the props, became an essential part of the play’s rhythmic language, and the sudden darkness became an essential part of the audience’s experience. Split scenes, which in earlier drafts were supposed to show what was going in different locations, necessarily bled into one another and began to interact. Everything became more organic, as was the case when the playing of the clarinet was replaced by the human sound of whistling. The play became about the actor in a simple space, which I believe is what makes the medium of theatre so deeply compelling. The embracing of simplicity doesn’t just address pragmatic concerns, it betters the storytelling.

Through the production process/rehearsals, did your ideas or feelings about the play changeSW ADD 5?

Absolutely! One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is getting to hear what others take away from your material. I’ve had tastes of this throughout my career, but usually in the form of questions at readings, or comments from colleagues that have looked at my work. To be exposed to the interpretation of a roomful of thoughtful artists night after night, though, drove home the fact that the ideas we playwrights touch on are just the beginning of the discussion with our collaborators and our audiences. In earlier drafts, I was hyper-focused on what I was trying to say with the piece. In the rehearsal room, and in performance, I am solely interested in what others are hearing.

Was there a point where you felt like: “wow…this is really happening”?

Yup. I’m still there. Mind = perpetually blown.

How did opening night feel?

Opening night is always terrifying for me as a director or designer, but to experience as a playwright, to be the artist that has created the foundation that the show is built upon, raises the anxiety even higher. It was exhilarating and mortifying, a trip that I’m still coming down from. But there sure is a grin on my face.

Did the other artists show you things about the play that you hadn’t seen before?SW ADD 7

I learned more about the play in the past four months, collaborating, than I did over the course of the past four years of writing in solitude. Every design meeting, rehearsal, and performance has been a rich learning experience.

Did the experience change you? If so, how?

Yes. Irrevocably. But I’m honestly not sure how to articulate it. To simply say that it improved my writing skills and producing knowledge is insufficient. There’s been a spiritual shift. One that I have not yet grasped.


Portland, Oregon, theatregoers have but three more chances to see the world premiere of The Sweatermakers: it closes Saturday, August 30th. The Sweatermakers plays at CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St, Portland, Oregon) at 7:30 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Friday and Saturday tickets are $25, or $20 for students and seniors. This Thursday’s show (August 28th) are at a special $10 for both online sales and walk-ups, in an effort to make new work accessible to all audiences. Tickets can be purchased through CoHo Productions, at (503-220-2646). For more information see Playwrights West:


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.




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 (503-220-2646). For more information see Playwrights West:

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.

Wild Horses

When I finish writing this, I’m going out, watering the flower pots on the patio, then taking a stroll around the garden to see who’s blooming. And I’ll have another cup of coffee. Not because I need the energy to survive another crushing, mad day, but just because I like coffee.

We put Pavement Productions, my theatre company, to bed last night. Sold out house, had to turn people away or risk a fire code violation. Good party afterwards. Loaded up the chairs and music stands into the big red pickup truck I inherited. Just as we got home, it began to sprinkle lightly. It was warm, a soft rain, and it was very, very quiet. Later, I went out on the back porch with the headphones and the Stones. I was going to smoke a celebratory cigar, but it just seemed too much, so I had a single pipe instead. Listened to “Wild Horses,” which I remembered playing over and over after the heartbreak of producing “Altered States of America,” a show the cast, crew, and I were very proud of and loved very much…as audiences seemed to as well…those that saw it. But there were too few of them, despite good reivews, and we took a bath, and, on Pavement’s profit-sharing model, for the first time in my producing career, I wasn’t able to pay my people. It was the most exquisite agony, like a protracted death, and I’d hear those lines:

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses, couldn’t drag me away

And I would cry. Sometimes. I’d play it until I was finally so exhausted I could sleep. But as I listened to it last night, it was like the soundtrack of a free-form film playing in my mind’s eye, images from shows past, friends faces–really wonderful irreplaceable friends, laughs at mistakes and the surreal moments that pepper life in the theatre, and the raptures of lights turning to magic, the perfect sound cue opening new levels of meaning, and actors, in the moment, finding their souls.

I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie
I have my freedom but I don’t have much time
Faith has been broken, tears must be cried
Let’s do some living after we die

The song sounded so perfect, so beautiful, that it washed away its past connotations, and a cord, taut and twisted, loosened. When the song ended, I shut off the CD player and just sat, listening to little but a light breeze, a barely audible rain, my own breath, distant traffic.

Everything was all right. I went to bed. Slept deeply. Woke up to a gentle overcast. Sat up. Took a deep breath. The world had kept turning, both the same and altogether new.

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 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

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.


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.

“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;, 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.

Wearing the Producer’s Hat

It’s pointy, like the ones they used to make bad kids wear at school, and it never quite fits right, always slipping down over your eyes at inopportune moments.

Last time I counted, I think I’ve produced 25 shows, only one of which failed to break even. I think that’s a decent track record for a frankly perilous endeavor. The last time around was so completely exhausting and disappointing–in terms of ticket sales, artistically it was excellent, which made the small audiences even more frustrating–that I put the pointy hat on the shelf for five years and concentrated on writing plays and letting others produce them.

Part of the reason, however, that I got into producing was that I just wasn’t seeing certain kinds of plays–strange, unkempt, orignal–being produced in Portland. There’s a lot more work being produced here these days; so much so that it’s hard to see everything one would like. This time, I’m dusting off the pointy hat because I want to produce something that seems like a total blast and an easy sell. In other words, I’m in it for the fun.

That is, next February, my company Pavement Productions is co-producing with Portland’s The Bluestockings three ghost stories I’ve written for the stage: Whitechapel, Wet Paint, and The Body. The whole evening will be called Dead of Winter (going up in February), and every time I tell someone about it, they get that weird sparkle in their eyes that tells me it’s a good idea (and people will come). When you can write the press release in your head, you’re on the right track.

The thing about producing is this: it will take you over. You are the go-to person when things go wrong, when little things need attention, and there are always details that have to be addressed, whether it’s making sure you make press deadlines or procure that goofy little prop no one seems to be able to find. It’s taught me a decent lesson about life, though: when you think you can’t give anymore, push a little harder, and you’ll find you have more to give. It’s an opening to a process bigger than yourself. That’s why it’s tough. That’s why it’s also rewarding. And when the pieces come together and things go right, it’s a wonderful, hard-charging high. As Neil Young sings: “With trunks of memories still to come.”

And there’s always that last moment, when the show is over and the set’s been struck, and you’re done with cleaning up the trash and boxing up the pieces, when you’re alone in the theatre for the last time and have to turn out the lights. That moment belongs to the producer alone. That moment can be worth the journey.