Category Archives: theatre production

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.

 

 

 

 


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 www.cohoproductions.org (503-220-2646). For more information see Playwrights West: http://www.playwrightswest.org/sweatermakers/

 


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

—————————–

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.


What’s New with the splatterverse?

Extensive entries have been added to the Theatre Resources section, and most of my play pages now include excerpts. Plus the page for my play Bombardment includes links to posts that serialize the entire play (which, unfortunately, is stark raving daft).

Thanks,

Steve

 


The Night before the Flight


Here we are, just about to launch the serialization of my play Bombardment. It’s kind of like the night before the mission. Which means I need to speak with the troops.

So. To my potential readers, I hope you have fun. It’s a weird kind of fun, but still….

As for potential theatre-makers who read it, I know that by publishing the play through a blog, I’m more or less giving it away. But, for what it’s worth, here are my ground rules, which admittedly operate on the honor system (not particularly appropriate for our times, but one can hope).

I own the copyright on this thing, flat out. If some of you actually want to do something with it–put it on as a reading or production–you can do so royalty-free. I do ask that you inform me first of the production, and, if comes to pass, I’d appreciate your sending me reviews, playbills, publicity materials, and the like (electronic documents will be fine). If you put it on, make a few dollars, and want to share some with the playwright, great–that would be kind and gracious. Not because I’m greedy or expect to ever make money off this play, but because artists of all levels deserve to be compensated for their work.

What I ask you not to do is this: don’t produce the play under a different title or with a different author’s name; don’t produce it without citing me as the author; and don’t change the words or scenes.

Use of the play does not extend to film or broadcast. Plays are meant to be performed. Live. In front of a live audience. If you shoot a short segment for Youtube or the like, say for publicizing the play, please contact me first, and please don’t run it without my permission. And if anyone’s crazy enough to try to film this monster, we need to talk.

Finally, Bombardment is play for mature audiences, given its language, ideas, and imagery (particularly its violence, sexual content, and nudity). If you’re underage, really, you shouldn’t be producing it. If you must, please first consult with a responsible adult. And, not to sound pretentious or make the play sound overly important, if you’re an artist living under a repressive regime, please use caution before committing to the play. I don’t think it could get anybody busted, but I’d feel like hell if it did. It’s just a play. (Sort of.)

In other words, I hereby waive any responsibility for any trouble this play gets you into. Seriously.

If you have questions or want to send me comments, I can be reached at splatterson@mindspring.com

I guess that’s it. Tune in tomorrow, when the Bombardment commences. The engines are warmed up.

[To be continued]


The Last Theatre Show


Not really, but possibly the last show with my company, Pavement Productions: the upcoming End of the Pavement Micro New Works Festival. And it’s very strange. Very. There’s a genuine melancholy I’m feeling.

A theatre colleague wrote me this nice note a couple weeks ago and pointed out that I should be proud of what Pavement’s accomplished (we have always done premieres, which I am proud of, though I’ve always hankered to produce Sam Shepard’s “Angel City” for some reason). It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been 18 years. Not that we produced that entire time, but we did start in 1990, in a little underground art gallery improbably placed on the fourth or fifth floor of an old Portland office building. We had to take our set up in this David Lynchian freight elevator, they nearly shut the power off on the block on opening night, and our entire lighting set-up consisted of two slide projectors and a handful of flashlights with colored gels taped to them. Had I known what I was getting into, I probably never would have done it. So many accomplishments arise out of simple innocence…or ignorance. We’ve come a long ways, had a bucketful of fun, in true theatre tradition lost a bunch of money, and even had one bona fide hit (“Delusion of Darkness” sold out its entire six-week run).

In that time, friends and relatives have passed away, children have been born to colleagues and are now in school, we revitalized an abandoned theatre, worked with a women’s theatre group, pushed colorblind casting, turned a bookstore into a theatre, survived a total flop (at the box office, not artistically), and made some wonderful friends…really wonderful friends. It’s been a good trip. I’m ready to let go of the stress and exhaustion that goes with producing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel regrets too.

And I don’t know how I’ll feel when I shut off the lights for the last time. In some ways it’s my favorite moment as a producer: the show’s done, the strike’s over, everyone’s gone, and it’s just you and that empty theatre which you’ve gambled on. All the voices echo back in your mind’s ear, the half-hysterical laughing jag that seems to come with every show (right about tech week), the wonderful bullshit down times when you hang with your comrades and just smoke and tell the same stories, the simple pleasure of painting a floor black, the strange things the public sometimes does–there’s always something weird that’ll knock you back, thinking…what the…? And there’s always feathers to smooth and a crisis to handle and a last minute rewrite and an actor who freaks because they can’t find something or a machine that suddenly quits working the night the critic’s there or a reason to hold the show or the people who come late and pound on the door when they can’t get in. I’ve had cast and crew have nervous breakdowns, emergency hospitalizations, deal with family crises, and, time and again, do such splendid work under such trying circumstances that it still blows me away thinking about it. We don’t have a lot of heroes in this cynical age, but I’ve known a few people who’ve done absolutely heroic things.

And what fun it’s been to work with writers, to watch new plays being born and live through the process with them. To see their tense faces on opening night and then see them alight with relief after that first show. And how, for a brief time that you work on a play, really a couple months to put it together and usually about a month to run, you make this little family–your squadron, all weird and secretive and gossipy and incestuous and crazed and absolutely wonderful. (I often have the knack of being the last to know what’s going on, and it’s probably better that way.) Only those who’ve been there can ever really know. You take that with you the rest of your life, those friendships and war stories. And, like aging veterans, you delight in boring each other, recounting the peaks and valleys over and over again, because that’s all you have: part of the magic and heartbreak of live theatre is that it happens and it’s gone and it’ll never be the same again.

Sitting in a theatre. By yourself. Thinking: I did this. I made this happen. There’s nothing like it. Nothing. And then you reach for the light, flip it, watch it all blackout. Turn your back. Lock the door. And step forward into normal life, feeling like you’ve just survived a fall from an impossible height.

My friend was right: I have been lucky.


Waiting on Sean Flynn All Over Again


And I’m happy to say that due to advance ticket sales from veterans’ and anti-war groups, “Waiting on Sean Flynn” has just been upgraded from a 150-seater to a 500-seater.


Roots

Until this winter, I hadn’t worked as a producer since 2003, when Pavement Productions, my little indie production company, staged my play “Altered States of America.” We were still riding high from producing a hit–“Delusion of Darkness”–and figured we’d kill, we had a good rep with the critics, we were doing a big “important” show dealing with big “important” topics.

And we died. Critical reaction was lukewarm. Audiences were small. A couple times we cancelled shows because the cast outnumbered the audience (learned my lesson there–we run even if we’re empty to keep the chops up). There were a multitude of reasons the show failed, none of them artistic, which just kills your soul more than doing a show that sucks. I’d go home each night and listen to “Wild Horses” over and over until I was exhausted enough to sleep. At the end of the run, for the first time working as a producer, I couldn’t pay my cast or reimburse my backer. It was no fun. (“Altered States of America” went on to be a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, so there was some vindication there, but it was bittersweet.)

So I hung up my producer hat, not really knowing if I’d ever wear it again, but I ended up taking it off the shelf because the time was right, the situation right, I had the right collaborators, and because of the reason I got into the theatre in the first place: there was a show I wanted to see done and no one else in town would do it (for plenty of good reasons that had nothing to do with the piece). So we did “Dead of Winter” on a small scale, at the right ticket prices, and we did very well, sold out a bunch of nights, spent some wonderful theatre time together with a sweet little theatre family, and, indeed, had a bucketful of fun.

I was going through my archives this weekend, trying to find some documents, and it certainly didn’t feel like 17 years of work, the impressions and memories of productions back to the beginning still vibrant. And it struck me, having now been produced in theatres big and small, with padded seats and metal folding chairs, with state-of-art instruments and clip lights, that what theatre really comes down to is a one-to-one transaction between production and audience member. Whether you’re getting a nice paycheck or you’re writing the checks, what matters is the transmission. And that can happen in a fantastic performing arts center with a carpeted lobby and brass water fountains or it can happen in a tiny dance studio around the corner from a barbeque bikers joint. It can be a big weighty drama that burns the audience down or fun, entertaining stories. What matters is the experience. The relationship. It’s intimate and intense, and it’s different every time. And then it’s gone. Over. Never to be repeated the same way. You give it life then let it go.

I like having my work staged in big professional theatres, and I like getting a check and not having to be anything but the playwright (like that isn’t enough work). But it’s good to go back to the place you started because it reminds you why you began, why you’ve kept at it, what it’s all about.

What is it all about? Well, hell, if you could name it, you wouldn’t have to do it.


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 Oregonlive.com. 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 blustockings.com

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.

——————–

Followspot:
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.

Oregonian:
“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; http://www.theblustockings.com, 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.