And then Huck said, "The walls keep melting, Aunt Polly."

I’m happy to report that Portland Theatre Works will present a public reading of my two-act play “Rimbaud’s Daughter in Louisiana (Or the Drunken Pirogue)”…which has the honor of having the longest title I’ve ever come up with. It’ll be Monday, April 15…details to come. And, lest you ask, it’s free.

My longtime director pal Lisa Abbott calls the play “On the Verge” on drugs, but I prefer to think of it more as “Huck Finn” on acid…if Jim was a cynical Cajun woman and Huck was an insane French expatriate who’s convinced she’s Arthur Rimbaud’s abandoned daughter.

Whichever, it’s the first comedy I’ve ever written about symbolist poetry and the closing of American West. I know everyone else already has; so I’m catching up.

Many thanks to Portland Theatre Works for putting up with me again. The info’s not on their Website yet, but I’m sure I’ll be flogging it shamelessly.



You’ve Been Doing What?

It’s been so long since I’ve posted, I feel like I’m at confessional.

But, really, it’s not like I haven’t been doing stuff. In fact, I have so many writing projects going that I’m drowning in them and can’t keep track of them all…a couple play rewrites, the guitar book, research on a couple new plays ideas that are just terribly weird. Which all may be bad or good, I’m not sure. Either way, the ink’s been flowing.
Of late, I’ve been writing long, narrative, free verse poems that may be…. Well, I’m not sure what they’ll be. Poems or prose poems for literary magazines? Performance monologues? Some kind of concert/chorus reading with actors, music, multimedia, helicopter fly-bys? It’s still in flux. But so far, there’s 35 of them, so I’m going to have to do something with them.

And, just to prove it, here’s one (still a rough), formatted to be read as a monologue. Or a prose poem. Or something. Whatever the hell it’ll be, I’m having a great time. And that’s good. Innnit it?

The weekend old cars, restored and polished, fill the mall. People passing see their reflections lengthen, distorted in lacquered, shining features. So far from the road. Like lobsters in dark tanks, white banded claws. A small PA plays Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane. The latter clearly a bit of attention to period detail, or a vaguely subversive sense of humor. Hang out, maybe they’ll sneak in Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” as shoppers drift from temptation to temptation, purses and wallets pulsing cold blue, signs come and go, come and go. Half the shoppers seem to have just come from a board meeting, the others from a session of weight training or swimming, chlorine-scented hair.

Woman in a turquoise sheath dress, as though lost on the way home from church, sells ice cream bars from a yellow cart, a line of children waiting while their parents check email on smart phones. She wears flats with discreet orthopedic wedges, the days on her weary feet, patiently waiting for their nightly soak as their owner rocks the remote

Little girl, dressed in some combination of cultures, little black zip-up coat, running shorts and saddle shoes, concentrates deeply when presented with choices. Very serious, this one. Asking questions regarding the nature of chocolate, hard or creamy, plain or French vanilla, her mother finally making a decision, which the girl accepts so readily that one wonders if that wasn’t what she wanted after all. Not knowing there’s a good chance that someday the roles would reverse

She sees them all, the impossibly nice or difficult—sometimes the same couple. But largely, a swath of the utterly ordinary, who, in her younger days, when her hair was long and straight, and she wore vests that jingled, she would have labeled plastic people. She saw them now as the shipwrecked, thrashing for their life preservers, waiting for anything to rescue them.

Above her, banks of tube lights behind translucent colored screens shone in alternating bands of color, pointing to an artificially vanishing horizon: a mural of land and sea, right out of the renaissance. The rest dark wood and painted fiberboard, disguising the mall’s warehouse like bones. And she wonders how they came to choose the painting, how they decided the sea would lead to higher consumption levels, for nothing here had been left to chance, every shine or surface carefully imagined.

At the end of days, after giving her feet their well-earned treat, she sits in her deliberately wild garden, watching sparrows and finches fight at the feeder until the night comes, city lights painting cloud bellies a dull magenta. And then the sirens sing.

Through the Scope

My dad passed away back in the 90s, and, then, about six years ago, my mom became too infirm to live by herself, and I bundled her up and moved her to Portland. She died five years ago, this evening.

Naturally, I miss her. Every day. In her prime, she was a force of nature. But last Friday night, for the first time ever, I felt relieved she was gone, because, above nearly all things, she loved children, and what happened back in Newtown, Connecticut, would have truly crushed her.

When I went through the frankly wrenching experience of packing up her stuff and selling the homestead, one of my chief concerns was securing my dad’s guns. He’d been an armorer during World War II, and, though he hated war, he retained a fondness for firearms. Cleaning rods and polishing oil lived in his dresser drawer. Out in the country, it was no big deal to take a summer afternoon, line some tin cans up against a hill, and test your skill. Flat out, it was fun, and it was something dad and I did together, knocking off a lot of tin and brass, and having a wonderful time. First off, though, he drilled safety into my head, and made sure I knew the difference between a real gun and the stuff we see on television. Around our house, carrying a gun in a careless manner was a serious offense.

So, when I was cleaning up the house, I made sure I found all five firearms, secured them, and, at home, tucked them into the back of a closet, where I pretty much forgot about them, until my wife told me, honestly, about how uneasy having them made her feel. It took me a little time to wrap my head around it, but, when local gun shops expressed no interest in them–they were neither rare or valuable, I gave them up when the police had one of their regular gun turn-in events.

It was easy. A form to sign. The policeman and I chatted a bit about the pieces, their history and so on, they way guys talk about cars or sports or guitars, and we both took time to admire the old double-barrel shotgun with twin triggers. Then it was done, and we drove away. And it felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.

Not that I give a damn about having guns: I’ll be perfectly fine if I never shoot another one in my life. But the tie to my dad was so strong, that it felt like saying goodbye to him all over again. That’s part of the mythos that surrounds firearms, particularly for men, and one reason why people become so attached to them. No matter how sane, pacifistic, and level-headed one is, that’s a dark little hunk of history in your hand. And it’s seductive.

But I when came to the end of last Friday, if there was anything positive I could salvage from, basically, one of the worst days in America, it was that those guns were gone, and they could never end up in the hands of someone with the circuitry slowly frying in his head. In short, they’d never hurt anybody. And, you know, they never did.

Sometimes, when the myths grow too dangerous and powerful, it’s time to retire those myths. Time to choose a civil society over fear. Time to grow up.

So…where’s my virtual theatre?

It’s weird…I’ve been thinking about this for years, but I’ve still yet to see it. Maybe the tech isn’t there yet. But….

We have all these wonderful small theatres, scattered from Portland to Cairo, Mumbai to Osaka, doing scrappy, crazy new work, and fighting to pull in, say, 100 people a night. Virtual reality kind of raised its weird, pseudo-immersive head for awhile, got everyone excited, then…faded away. So…what?

So, wouldn’t it be great if you could set up a multiple camera rig, shoot small plays completely live, and sell tickets for viewers through the Internet? Not for a tape of something (or a clip on youtube), but a piece that viewers can only see live, streaming, as it happens, and, in doing so, essentially widen edgy theatre’s breadth?

I mean, they have deals where, you know, Royal Shakespeare or symphony performances are shown in movie houses. But I’m thinking the equivalent of Netflix streaming, except it has to happen live. It wouldn’t be the same experience as sitting in a theatre, of course, with an actor practically sweating on you. But what an intriguing idea for taking, say, something completely experimental, and extending it’s range far beyond some tiny theatre tucked into some industrial wasteland, where you have to beg all your friends to venture into the night. And then you get killed by an ice storm.

I suppose it’s the equivalent of “where’s my flying car”…but the idea still fascinates me. Out of all the people the Internet can reach, it seems like there must be a way to pull in more than…100 folks a night. And scale the ticket price down to a level where someone (or a couple thousand someones) might pony up a couple bucks simply out of curiosity. As it is, little theatres often gamble with sliding scale just to get bodies in the seats. You figure out the price point for renting the gear, achieving the bandwidth, and see if there’s a point where, hell, a viewer pays $2 or $3 bucks to participate in something that will never happen again the same way…which is part of theatre’s magic. I mean, just between Facebook and Twitter, how many potenital viewers could you reach?

Eh…whatever. I’m out of the producing biz these days anyway, focusing on writing plays, but that “virtual theatre” idea has haunted me for a decade or more. So…here I am, throwing it out for…whatever reason. I guess because it’s been bugging me. It’s probably stupid and impossible and all that…but working insanely hard for nothing to create an evening of…experience…of something that can only happen once…is that any less stupid or impossible?

It sure is fun, or else we wouldn’t keep doing it.


There are artists, and, let’s face it, there are Artists.

What divides the two? Talent, mostly. But great artists seem to have an innate integrity. I wouldn’t say dignity, because, some artists are, by nature, a little less than digified, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. But there’s a sense that they comfortably inhabit their own skin, and they’re cool with who they are and what they can do. And they love their work. When they’re not doing it, they might get a little…ornery. Comes with the territory. When they’re doing what they live for, the passion shows through, and, just by watching them, you can taste a bit of what they’re feeling.

Which brings us to Mr. Levon Helm, who passed today. Normally, I’d say “who died today,” but I’ve noticed that in blues circles, the gents say “he passed.” And Levon was all about the blues.

He was, of course, the drummer and one of the lead vocalists (along with Richard Manuel and Rick Danko) of The Band, and he was set for history had he never done another thing. But he did. After The Band hung it up in 1976, he formed the Levon Helm RKO All-Stars, and later reunited much of The Band, though Richard Manuel’s heartbreaking suicide really put an end to all that. He also proved to be a fine actor, notably stealing the hell out of a pivotal scene in “The Right Stuff” when Sam Shepard, playing Chuck Yeager, asks him for a stick of Beeman’s gum.

In 1998, Levon developed a lump in his throat, and it turned out to be the worst kind. Not entirely surprising, given he could rip through a pack a cigs in a flash and kept a good stock of sipping whiskey on hand. He could have had his larynx removed, but he opted on having just the tumor excised, followed by radiation treatments. Why? So he could keep his vocal cords. His voice was a little weak for a spell, but it eventually came back, and he kept on drumming and singing his ass off for another 14 years. And he never seemed happier than when he was on stage.

Brass tacks, this was the guy who sang “The Weight.” He sang a lot of other songs too, most of them plain wonderful, and full of life and humor, freighted with a hard-won realism and livened with a Puckish wit. But if there was ever an indelible mark, it was his three-kick intro to “The Weight” followed by that wry, knowing, wily Southern voice, rich, worn, and weary, singing:

I pulled into Nazareth
Feelin’ ’bout half-past dead

(The Nazareth in the song, by the way, was supposedly not the Nazareth where Jesus and his pals hung out, but, rather, Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of Martin guitars. Which, if Christ returns like they say, wouldn’t be a bad place to look for him.)

That and the song below, which, basically, is so full and powerful and goddamn tragic that it has become part of the canon. This the is last time all of the original Band played it, on Thanksgiving at San Francisco’s Winterland, at the legendary Last Waltz, and if you want to hear the magic that comes with a great artist connecting with his audience, listen for the crowd response to the wind-up for the final chorus.

So, you know, it hurts when the artists we love pass on. But Levon Helm and The Band seemed to keep one foot in this world, and one the other side, digging down into what Greil Marcus calls the “old, weird America,” and, though I’m sure he wasn’t happy about taking a final curtain call, Levon probably found his way through it with a heart and soul as big and brassy and strong as the songs he lived.

So…thank you, Mr. Helm: for many blurry nights, a few rough mornings, and all the spaces in between. Nobody’s ever going to forget you or your work. And I think that’s about all an artist can ask for, whether they start their title uppercase or not.

The Flood

nights walking Eugene, Oregon, steam from the streets
New York crisp in autumn, posters peeling from the buildings
strolling a cigar through New Orleans dusk with the lights coming up
birds sing all night in the trees round Jackson Square
the Portland downpour soaking the soul
Rome glittering with scooters
California slides into chablis

Upcoming New Play: "Next of Kin"

Last year, Portland Theatre Works won a RACC grant to workshop my two-act drama “Next of Kin.” Currently, we’re hard at work on that project, and there will be three nights of public, staged readings on August 19, 20, and 21. The process is going well, the director and cast are excellent, and the play is beginning to feel very, very good; so I wanted to take a moment to put it on your radar. Below is some information on the play and production.

“Next of Kin”–typically for me–is dark, intense, and for mature audiences (due to language and subject matter), but I’m hoping it has its share of humor too. We’re having a kick working on it, and here’s hoping you can share the results with us.




Portland Theatre Works

Summer LabWorks Explores Duty and Family

Portland Theatre Works is excited to present Steve Patterson’s play Next of Kin for three workshop performances August 19-21 at Theater!Theatre! in SE Portland. Next of Kin was read in Portland Theatre Works’ FreshWorks series in October of 2008 and selected for our more intensive LabWorks program for further development.

Mike is a Marine Casualty Assistance Officer who informs parents and spouses their loved one has been killed. Mike’s brother Rich is a Marine recruiter trying to fill his quotas. Their sister Angie was left at home to care for their father, a Vietnam Vet and former Marine, who now lies in a coma having attempted to kill himself. Reuniting over their father’s deathbed, they are forced to face the complex relationships they have with each other as they pick up the pieces their father left behind.

Portland Theatre Works has an on-going relationship with Steve and his work. In one of our very early FreshWorks reading in May 2006 we presented Lost Wavelengths, which was subsequently selected for that summer’s JAW Festival at Portland Center Stage, and later won the 2008 Oregon Book Award’s Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama. We’re very happy to be able to revisit Next of Kin and to give further support to the development of this play.

The cast includes Tony Cull, Lindsay Matteson, and Casey McFeron. The director is Andrew Golla.

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His full-length works include Waiting on Sean Flynn, Malaria, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Turquoise and Obsidian, Bombardment, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his play Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage’s JAW/West festival. The Centering, a one-man play he co-wrote with Portland actor Chris Harder, has been featured at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and the Boulder Fringe Festival, and, in 2007, Mr. Harder won a Drammy Award for Best Actor for his work in the play. Mr. Patterson’s play Liberation was published by Original Works Publishing in 2008. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and former member of Portland Center Stage’s PlayGroup playwriting workshop. His play Lost Wavelengths won the 2008 Oregon Book Award, and, in 2009, and, in 1997, he was the inaugural recipient of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship. In 2009, he became the Dramatists Guild’s co-representative for Oregon. He is a founding member of a new Portland theatre company, Playwrights West.

Portland Theatre Works is dedicated to developing new work for the theatre by energetically supporting those who create that work. The FreshWorks series offers monthly staged readings of developing scripts followed by a mediated audience talk-back. LabWorks offers rehearsed workshops that bring the playwright into a sustained collaboration with directors, dramaturges, actors, and audience–with everyone helping the script develop toward a full production. The actors will give a fully staged, script-in-hand, performance with minimal costumes, props, and set pieces.

Next of Kin by Steve Patterson
7:30 p.m., Thu.-Sat., August 19th, 20th, and 21st
Profile Theater space at Theater!Theatre! (3430 SE Belmont St., Portland, OR)
Tickets: $10 General Admission, $5 Students/Seniors
Tickets available at the door.

This workshop of Next of Kin is funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Work for Art.

This project is also funded by contributions to Portland Theatre Works. All Portland Theatre Works programs, including FreshWorks and LabWorks, are substantially supported by our contributing members. Without these contributions we would cease to exist. Please consider becoming a contributing member!