Setting Off Sparks

This really is a post for Portlanders, but, as it’s about a cool, artistically oriented event, other folks with like minds might find it interesting (and you might try it in your burg).
Monday night (May 20th), Playwrights West, a group of professional playwrights (of which I’m a member) based in Portland, is throwing a party. Yes, it’s a fundraiser for a full production of one of our playwright’s works (Licking Batteries by the wonderful Ellen Margolis), but it’s kind of turned into a celebration–a celebration of the joy of creating new work.
Dubbed Sparks, the evening features short pieces–either standalone short works or excerpts from longer works–from eight remarkable writers (and one bozo…me). It’s what we have to offer…our words, and some terrific actors have signed on to breathe those words to into being. And since we’re all getting together, there’ll be food and drink and a silent auction and good vibes: what could best be described as a party.
Here’s the fascinating thing to me, though. All of us in Playwrights West share a common purpose: to stage the new works of our members and to raise awaeness of the power and delight inherent in presenting premieres (and we’re just lucky to have access to some killer scripts). All of us are professionals who have had our works staged in many forms and venues, and, frankly, we all can write. (Present company excepted…or at least tolerated.)
But, man, what a lot of different voices. All really original, and all coming at the work from different angles, bringing unique voices and sensibilities into play.
So what the folks who attend Sparks will be able to experience is a terrific mosaic of ideas, images, power, and, well, light from these eight writers (and the bozo). In one place, at one time (and only at this one time under the same tent). The works range from new projects, still in progress, to new works about to be born as fully realized productions, such as an excerpt from Andrea Stolowitz’s Ithaka, which is about to open at Artists Repretory Theatre (where it won a commission), and, of course, Ellen’s Licking Batteries–the play we’re fully staging in August. And, if you drop by, you get to embrace these works–to celebrate their originality and diversity–with like-minded people…those who love new theatre. (You know who you are.)
Really, Sparks is a way to say: yes, new work counts. It keeps theatre alive, vibrant, surprising, ever changing. It’s vital. It matters. And we can do it really, really well, right here in Portland. Oh yes, we can.
So drive, walk, take the streetcar, and come on down to CoHo Theatre on Monday night. Have some food and drink and laughs. Maybe try out a cool new outfit. And take what promises to be an unforgettable ride with eight splendid, absolutely kick-ass writers (and one bozo).
Details follow. See you there….
Sparks: A Benefit Performance

By the writers of Playwrights West
Directed by Playwrights West Company Member Andrew Wardenaar
Date: Monday, May 20th
Time: Cocktail Hour & Silent Auction at 6 pm. Performance at 7 pm. Postshow reception at 8:30 pm.
Venue: CoHo Theatre (2257 NW Raleigh St)
Cost: $40; tickets online or at door (cash/check only) subject to availability. Seating is limited.
Purchase Tickets from:
Playwrights West, a professional theatre company composed of nine acclaimed local playwrights, announces Sparks, its first-ever gala benefit performance. This performance will feature short excerpts of works by all nine member playwrights, culminating in a world premiere excerpt of Playwrights West’s upcoming 2013 season performance, Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis. In addition to the performance, the evening will feature delicious food and wine and a silent auction.
Featuring excerpts from: Eating in the Dark by Debbie Lamedman; Consider the Ant by Karin Magaldi; Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis; Bus Stop by Steve Patterson; Ithaka by Andrea Stolowitz (opening May 28th at Artists Repertory Theatre); Jeepers by Andrew Wardenaar; Where There Is Darkness, Light by Claire Willett; The Chain and the Gear by Patrick Wohlmut; and Forky by Matthew B. Zrebski.

The Year of Living Tentatively

I think I took last year off.

I’m just coming to this realization. Mind you, it wasn’t intentional, nor was I entirely idle. I picked up a guitar nearly every day and practiced my ass off (because it was incredibly fun). Not that I improved all that much, but I still did it, damn it. I managed to make serious progress on the guitar book—wrote probably 120 pages, and roughed out a good portion of the book proposal (and I hate writing proposals). Cleaned up a bunch of plays, getting them in better shape. Did a load of theatre market research. In fact, I ended up doing a bunch of things I wanted to do. Writing or staging plays just wasn’t one of them.

The year started out so damned well. The staged reading of “Immaterial Matters” was probably one of the best of my career, and I was ready to roll big with that piece and a number of other, recent plays begging world premieres, scaling the theatrical battlements with cutlass and eyepatch.

And then…2011 happened. Not just to me, but to almost everybody I knew. It was like everyone took a long, elegant launch off the board…and then hit the water with a stunning belly flop, that immediately emptied the lungs and sent them sinking into the deep end.

In my case, I got sick. Some stomach virus or something that turned into three months of nausea and stomach pain, frightening weight loss, lots of tests, and too many doctors, all which amounted to…nothing. It just worked itself out. Then, just about the time I was starting to feel better physically, my dog died. Wham. The whole goddamn year was like that famous old sports footage of the football player who fumbles, and then keeps kicking the ball farther away each time he reaches for it. You’d wake up, stretch, reach for the door…and the doorknob would come off in your hand.

I have to admit: I generally do a lot of stuff, keep a lot of plates spinning. Always have; just the way I’m put together, I guess. I’ve often had people say: “I don’t know how you do it.” Which I kind of take a certain pride in, because I don’t really know how I do it either, other than: I just do it. Admittedly, there have been times when I’ve felt “I can’t keep doing this. Not at this pace.” But then I’d get another wind, another project, and I’d be off in another direction.

This was the year that didn’t happen. I couldn’t do it. And I didn’t.

Everybody seemed to be there. Pulling back. Retrenching. Fighting this or that thing, with a wobbly economy generally freaking the hell out of everyone. A very nervous year. All the surprises seemed to be bad. So the year became defined by things I didn’t do. I didn’t write new plays. I didn’t take new photographs. I didn’t have productions. I didn’t write much on the blog (which you may have noticed). I barely gardened, just letting the damned thing grow itself. The Northwest weather didn’t help. It wasn’t that it rained and was gray: it was that it rained and was gray more or less straight through to July. The weather seemed to imbue even hardcore, indestructible Oregonians with a besieged aura. What now? What next?

Finally, somewhere around the middle of September, I began to feel like I was getting a little mojo back. I wrote a few lyrics. I sent a few plays out. I took a few pictures. It was all kind of half-hearted, like I was forcing myself. Eventually, it started to feel more natural. I started to get ideas again. Jeff Beck came to town and inspired the hell out of me. (As Buddy Guy gave me a shot in the arm in early July–a memory I kept coming back to when I felt I was backsliding.) I figure I’ll be working on a new something theatrical fairly soon—the kind of piece that takes off, and then you’re running to keep up with it. I’m thinking about pictures again, looking back at old projects. I checked a gardening book out of the library. They’re all baby steps, which still make me a little edgy, but there’s a big difference between butterflies and straight-up dread.

Time to dig out Muddy Waters’ “Hard Again” album, the great man’s ninth-inning comeback, to see if I hear it differently. Last time I listened to it, in early 2011, man, it was just the blues.

Bombardment, Episode 21: Everything Stops

Splattworks concludes its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson.

Thank you all, over these last couple of weeks, for reading, for your support, and for your gracious comments. It has been a terrific pleasure watching the play’s readership rise and expand far beyond its humble beginnings, and it’s been great fun for me to spend time with the play again. Your comments, observations, etc., are welcome. If you would like to reach me off the blog, my e-mail is


The wind dies down. Lights gradually rise. CARMELITA and PLACID hunch over, hanging on the lines like prisoners shot at the stake. ARETHA and CORNO stand with their backs to the audience.

ARETHA/CORNO: Hello? Hello? Anyone there? Hello?

ARETHA and CORNO face the audience. Their shades are gone, their eye sockets hollow. Blood streams down their faces. They stagger forward, fingers outstretched, becoming caught in the lines.

ARETHA/CORNO: Hello? Can you hear me? Can you help me? I can’t see. Help me, I’m caught. I need help. Please. I’m caught. Please, please, please….

They continue calling “please” as they struggle with the cords. Their calls take on a synchronous, mechanical quality. A chant. An incantation. The sounds of planes begin, steadily rising. Chant and airplanes rise to crescendo. Blackout. Everything stops.

End of play.

Bombardment, Episode 20: A Cloud from Above

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments could arrive a day or so apart. So please be patient.


PLACID: Yes! Yes, you do! Remember? Remember his smile? His hair? Think how he felt. Filling up a room. How he kept you warm. How you were never cold.
CARMELITA: This is what we fought against. What we fought to stop.
ARETHA: My wrath.
PLACID: His smell. His taste. How he infected your senses. Remember how he playfully tugged your hair? Whispered your name into your neck? All the times you wondered if he loved you, if he loved you or was just pretending. Those lips told the answer.
CARMELITA: You don’t know what you’re doing. Stay away! We don’t want you!
CORNO: My lips on her neck.
PLACID: And the others. The ones who let you down. Who seduced you and used you. For your body. For your kindness. For your good will. Was he one of those?
CARMELITA: You weren’t there!
PLACID: Did he abandon you? Lead you into disaster? Knock you up and take your money? Take your pride? Leave you strung out in the tenement hotel room? Trust me, baby. Trust me. I love you. Look into your eyes and lie, lie, lie.
CARMELITA: We’re free of them, Placid! Don’t throw it away!
PLACID: Lying eyes. Lying lips. Lying tongues. Licking your hands. Licking your face. Probing your inner crevices. Your private secrets.
PLACID: What everybody wanted. What all the world wanted.
ARETHA: All the world.
PLACID: His touch saved. His touch relieved. Turned to fire. Turned to light. Steam. Wind. Feel it! Feel it, Carmelita!
CARMELITA: Don’t touch me!
PLACID: The swelling of your breasts. The trembling of your leg. The clenching of your calf.
ARETHA: The clenching of the calf.
PLACID: It’s there. It’s still there. You want him. You want him still.
ARETHA: You want him. I can feel it.
PLACID: His lips on your neck. His hands on your breasts.
CARMELITA: No, Corno–Placid! No, Placid!
CORNO: My hands on your breasts. My smile in your eyes.
PLACID: His weight and his scent, a cloud from above, and your body making way, moving on its own. Guided by his will. Beyond your control. Your legs spreading wide. At a touch. You can’t stop it. At a touch. He’s inside you! He’s inside you now!
CARMELITA: (Screaming) No!

Lights out.

[Next…the conclusion]