Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Bone Done Got Frenched


Playwright Willam S. Gregory came up with this rather off-center but inspired idea to have the Portland Center Stage playwrights group write short pieces about food and horror, tie it all up in a bouquet garni, and present it around Halloween under the title "Frenching the Bones." That's a culinary term regarding a technique for artfully removing meat from ribs, and you can fill in your own joke because those in the group have pretty much exhausted them all.

Anyway, the meal was served last night at Portland's CoHo Theatre, and it was quite well received. Had a pretty near full house, and you could feel the audience was riding right along with the plays, laughing, groaning, or gasping at exactly the right times. Kudos to the splendid playwrights involved, but special notes to Chef Gregory, Matt Zrebski who directed, and some very fine actors who gamely took on 28 roles in one evening. The meal was delectable, the presentation impeccable. The diners completely satiated.

In short, as the late William S. Burroughs would have said in a rasping, nasty voice dripping with sardonic menace: it was unspeakably toothsome.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gore-Tex Dreams

Traditionally—and who knows if tradition applies to weather anymore—the Northwest rainy season begins on Halloween night and ends April 15th. Oregon children trick-or-treat in Gore-Tex. That doesn’t mean it rains every single day, but...well, yes, it does.

And though it’s said true Oregonians don’t squint in the rain, the rainy season is really not all that much fun, and consecutive gray skies lend themselves to a certain introspection. Maybe that’s why so many Oregonians write. I knew a handsome old gent in Oregon logging country who said it was too risky to go to town because “there’s a widder behind every stump.” Much the same can be said of Northwest writers.

So it’s not surprising that we’re home to Powell’s Books, possibly the best independently owned bookstore in the U.S. (unlike The Strand, you can find things) or that winners of the Oregon Book Awards consistently produce work of such quality. But it may be surprising to know Portland is increasingly known as a home for new stage works. There are some very fine playwrights here—many of them are friends of mine—and artistic directors around the country are looking to Portland Center Stage’s JAW Playwrights Festival as a source for hot new plays and playwrights, with JAW plays and authors being picked up by the regional theatre circuit. My suspicion is that trend will not only continue but grow.

Another notable Portland characteristic, which I think fuels new work development, is that there’s a very strong DIY spirit here. Toss any three people together at a Portland coffeehouse—and we are rotten with coffeehouses—and you’ll end up with either a band, a restaurant, or, possibly, a theatre company. You can produce a play here for a fraction of what it costs elsewhere, and, if the local critics slaughter you, you don’t have to throw yourself in front of the MAX train—you just mope for awhile, listen to too much Elliott Smith, then begin writing again.

Oregon’s mountains, particularly the Coast Range, are unbelievably verdant, overflowing with life and pocketed with thickets rich with mood and mystery. If there’s a relationship between environment and psychology, perhaps it’s no surprise that Northwesterners inhabit equally complex inner worlds that sprout ideas the way fall rains breed mushrooms: overnight, whole landscapes change.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Life with Mick & Keef

Thinking much of the Glimmer Twins of late, back when they were young and, as Gore Vidal said, so ugly they were pretty. Recently finished the first draft of a new two-act drama called "Next of Kin," which has do with a family reunited for a medical crisis. Sounds pretty pedestrian for me, given my onstage history with characters spontaneously exploding, turning into insects, and having telepathically induced orgasms (and that's all in one play), but the family patriarch in the new play is a totally whacked Vietnam Veteran, hardcore helicopter pilot, and rabid Rolling Stones fan who named his kids after the band members; so I've been listening to the Stones more than usual.

I guess anyone who gives a damn about rock'n'roll (or whatever myriad forms popular music has mutated into) hooks into a certain band, and that music comes to punctuate moments of their lives. It's not necessarily transferable: I start talking about the Stones, and I can see my wife's attention...drift...elsewhere. As well it probably should.

But there is one Stones memory that haunts me. It was back in the early 80s, wintertime, and I was driving by night to Southern Oregon. In a space of about 50 miles, there are four mountain passes and valleys one has to negotiate, and the driving can get a bit tricky. It had to be past midnight. I'd stopped in a little town called Canyonville, loaded up on coffee at a truck stop (and, perhaps, I might have had another, substantially more powerful stimulant in my system as well). Anyway, put on "Sticky Fingers," took a deep breath, and began climbing the first of the passes.

It was going pretty well, but, as I started climbing Mt. Sexton, the final pass, it began to snow. Millions upon millions of thick, drifting flakes, immediately beginning to stick. I could feel my tires not quite connecting--this was in an old, heavy Ford with rear-wheel drive--and I knew I not only had the pass to cross but a long, steep grade down the mountain, probably into a blizzard. White-knuckle driving if there ever was one, and then the Stones' "Moonlight Mile" came on, it's drifting, dreamy mood and rhythm seeming in concert with the snowflakes sweeping before my headlights, and it was like everything A perfect moment. Genuinely dangerous, stunningly beautiful. One you never forget. Forever, in the mind's eye, the snow falling, the guitars keening, and Jagger whispering in your ear:

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow
With a head full of snow
In the window there's a face you know
Don't the nights pass slow
Don't the nights pass slow

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Waiting

This is a playwright’s life: wait.

It’s a continued sequence of moments to come. You’re always working, always thinking; nothing comes without the effort. But so much is predicated on that which you cannot know.

A good part is spent waiting for theatres to get back to you, and, even for the hottest playwrights, the answer is usually…no. Politely, but…no. A good day is…no, but send more. That particular dialogue can go on for years, but it’s better than plain…no. Getting a script back without a note means…hell no. (Luckily, it’s been awhile since that’s happened to me.)

A lot of times, especially in these days of electronic submissions, you’ll never hear back at all. Your script simply vanishes. Maybe it’s being done under an assumed name in Montevideo, but most likely it’s forgotten on a dead hard drive. Or you’ll hear back so long after sending it that you have to go back to your notes to figure when you sent it. At the moment, I’m attuned to this phase because I have a lot of stuff out right now.

Then there’s waiting for ideas, which do not come unless you look for them, but which never appear while you’re looking for them. They come in the space between, when your attention is elsewhere. If, however, you do not look, they will not appear unbidden. And they wonder why writers drink too much or smell of various varieties of smoke or totally melt down when they can’t find their lucky pen.

When the script is done, you wait to hear back from your first, trusted readers. Then you wait to have a workshop reading accepted. Wait for the reading date. Wait to see if it goes on to a public reading. Wait for that date. Wait for actors to show up for meetings, rehearsals, performances. Wait for the audience reaction. Wait for all your emotions to settle before rewriting. Wait for another reading. Repeat endlessly.

If your play is actually accepted for production, suddenly the opening date glows red on your calendar, and every day is a step closer to that point. Which takes forever. When you finally get there, you wait for the time to leave for the theatre. You wait on every streetlight, which will turn red as you approach the intersection. You wait for parking. Once in the theatre, you read and reread the program, waiting for the lights to go down. (And you crush the hand of your significant other in those last few seconds before total darkness.)

Then, if you’re lucky, for ten minutes or an hour or two hours, you are waitless.

Finally, after the damn thing opens, you wait on the reviews, which is like waiting to get your biopsy back.

This is why every playwright should own a copy of Tom Petty’s song “The Waiting.” It's built off a cliché, but it’s a good one:

The waiting is the hardest part

Every day you see one more card

You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

The waiting is the hardest part

The Show Must Go On

I awoke this morning to the radio announcer saying the Santa Ana winds were dying down and kind of took a deep breath: much misery to come in California, but maybe containment can begin.

Meanwhile, right in the apparent indie art vortex of the universe (I guess they're talking about Portland in New York or something), here's some info regarding "Frenching the Bones," a fun, one-night show I'm involved with, written up on Mead Hunter's witty Pu Pu Platter blog:

Tuesday, October 30th...mark your calendars. It's free and it's going to fill up quickly. And the plays are, uh, well, absolutely the best possible way.

So a good part of San Diego County burns down and the media annoints Portland as the Next Big Thing; I predict property values will go up.*


[Note: Not to be interpreted as flip. I can't tell you how much California's disaster pains me. San Diego County is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, rich in history and talented folks. Here's wishing them safety and recovery.]

Monday, October 22, 2007

Orange Bracelet in the Wind

When I was a small boy, about six, we moved to San Diego and, after a couple more years, to Escondido, then a small town in North San Diego County. Now, it’s all pretty much one city, from Spring Valley, where I started grade school, to ‘Dido where I finished it, and, if current Santa Ana conditions continue as predicted, much of it’s about to burn.

I lived there during the high Sixties, in a Navy town where soldiers shipped out to Vietnam and the Miramar Marines flew their shark-throated Corsair jets over the freeway. Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” was big on the radio, and I remember it booming out of my cousin’s convertible as we cruised the warm Southern California night, with the bowl of San Diego lights glittering below. The other popular song at the time was “Light My Fire.” Tonight, those roads are likely closed except for emergency vehicles.

I was never a big Beach Boys fan, but I knew whereof they sang. A true SoCal kid, I developed an impressive talent for falling off of surfboards, skateboards, roller skates, and bicycles with sissy bars and banana seats. When I wasn't falling off of moving objects, I was riding in them. I watched, fascinated, as Hell’s Angels lined up at the drive-through of the local A&W Root Beer Stand. I lay sleepily in the backseat after swim class and peered out the rear window as the Buick made long, lazy turns, for a glimpse of the white cross atop Mt. Helix. I clung to the seatbelt, stuck in the middle of a giant traffic jam, while baton-swinging cops chased Vietnam War protestors between the car bumpers.

And, on a dark, terrible night, I watched my father weep at the TV as Bobby Kennedy bled to death on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel, four hours north in L.A.

Those idyllic Sixties, man.

Then there were fires. The weather would turn strange and unsettling, like something had gone seriously wrong with reality, and the wind would begin blowing. Hot. Dead dry. Spinning empty cups across parking lots. And that night, the TV news would take a break from Mekong Delta firefights and be simply about fires. Real ones. Right then, in Southern California.

One year, I think it was ’68 when everything seemed to be aflame, the Santa Anas blew on and on, and in the middle of the night we stood on our sleepy Escondido street with all our neighbors and watched an orange bracelet shimmer atop a hill. I can remember the adults saying, if it comes over that ridge. If it makes it over that ridge. Our ridge.

To an eight-year-old kid, this was impossibly exciting, and a part of me was rooting for the fire: you can do it. Come on, baby. But another part understood that breaching that ridge would be the worst thing imaginable, the end of everything, and that fear reached down and prayed to whatever indefinable, non-denominational God I had. That ridge was our Mekong Delta, our Ambassador Hotel.

The firefighters stopped the fire on that hill, were heroes--real heroes, not props for a photo op, and, when the wind died down, we went back to barbecuing hamburgers in the back yard and planning fishing trips to alpine ponds.

Tonight, some eight-year-old will stand in his or her front yard and watch another orange bracelet on a hilltop. It will seem like a movie, like television. It won’t be. It will be equally thrilling and terrifying.

Choose wisely, kid. And good luck.

Monday Has Broken

"Draw bamboos for ten years, become a bamboo, then forget all about bamboos when you're drawing." --Georges Duthuit--

There's a perfect light just before the sun goes. When colors deepen and saturate. As with most moments of grace, it's fleeting. But it's worth waiting for. Once a day. Twice if you, you know, get up to see the sun rise too. Though that's less relaxing because you need to be awake and everything. Else you're just as likely to suddenly jolt awake, you've missed the perfect moment, and there's drool on your chin. Sunrise, coffee...forget it. Not the same.

Did I mention that perfect light thing?

*Dull thud as head hits the desk*

"See your future. Be...your future. Make...make it! Make your future. I'm a veg, Danny." --Ty Webb--

Friday, October 19, 2007

Know Your Audience

If you're a producer, you see the audience from several vantages: as they're lining up at the box office, as they're being seated, one-on-one when they present problems (lost, late, drunk, wanting to use the can 30 seconds before curtain), and, if you choose, from the seats next to them.

If you're a playwright, you tend to experience them anonymously as another audience member (or you hide and peek at them through curtains or the tech booth window). Playwrights seldom take bows. Once in awhile, usually when you've written something that really sings, the cast may acknowledge you during their curtain call, which feels somewhere between being honored and having your cover blown. Some playwrights react to this by glowing or preening, while others seem to retract into their clothes, becoming ever-so-tiny; I tend to nod, smile, and wave while wearing a thousand-yard stare.

But the producer and playwright share a common thought: who are all you people?

Which is not to say we're not grateful you're there. Believe me: we are, whether there's 300 of you or four. It just seems like some kind of magical trick, conjuring up strangers with this goofy thing you've essentially made up, and it's impossible to separate the experience from what has gone before, all the things the audience will never know about: the weird discomfort of fund raising, the intricate dance of casting, the late nights stuffing press releases in envelopes and remembering to put on the postage, and the inevitable moment during rehearsals where everyone's exhausted and someone says just the right thing at the right time and everyone collapses into hysterical laughter and you have to call a break. (Sometimes those will stay with you longer than any other memory from a show.)

And, of course, there's the 2:00 AM panic attacks, waking into hyperventilation--did I remember and what about and did I call and what time did we schedule?--followed by a hand-trembling, solitary cup of herbal tea rattling a teacup and saucer in a darkened room, headphones cranked until your ears ring. (I keep a copy of "Wild Horses" cued up--I think it's that bit: "no sweeping exits or off-stage lines/could make me feel bitter/and treat you unkind." I'm sure every producer/playwright has their own 2:00 AM music, and that it runs a gamut from "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" ["...everything's going my way..."] to "Psycho Killer." ["...I hate people when they're not polite..."].)

Eventually, the fatigue will overtake you, a ferocious riptide, and it's a fatigue that I can only liken to dealing with a life-threatening crisis. Only it's self-inflicted, and we do it for fun. You finally fall asleep to a shifting, blurring montage of expectant faces, rustling programs, and extinguishing cell phones.

God bless you, but who are all you people?

Then the lights go down, and it doesn't matter: we're all in it together.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flashback: Winter Cascades

rain on evergreens.

trying to start the fire, more and more newspaper, burning, curling faces of politicians, until the kindling finally catches. still wearing your coat until the cabin begins to warm. light a pipe with a heavy, cherry-flavored tobacco. pour a glass of brandy. put on some slow, sad Brahms, shut off the light. watching chill rain, waiting on snow. the feeling coming back to your hands and feet. wet boots steaming before the fireplace. alone. relieved you're alone, but also wishing someone was there. the fit never quite right. here on top of a mountain, thinking of the city, and, if in the city, dreaming of the mountain. never able to be just where you are. waiting for something to possess you, an outside event or idea. ever hanging. forever standing on your toes. and then suddenly, through the fogged window: snow in circles, rush of silence. weight of the brandy, pulling down into cushions. smell or burning pine. skillets on the walls. books. fishing tackle. phone, unplugged. desk with writing tablets, pens. no computers.

rising heavily, feeling the brandy vertigo come and pass, and opening the door to the soft hiss of snow, already filling in your footprints. no need to lock the door, closing it softly, and feeling the forest move around you. a slow-turning vortex of dark green memory. turning, turning, with all the faces past, the lost moments, ghost memories or piercing lost opportunties.

write something. save yourself from yourself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Guided by Voices

No one asks me to teach playwriting. That’s probably because my academic credentials qualify me to shout rude questions at weary press secretaries, not misguide young minds. It’s just as well since my answer to inquiries such as “How do I get a play produced?” is “Write a good one.” That’ll be _________ dollars.

But if some misguided administrator actually asked me to teach a seminar or something, I guess I’d title it “Listening to Voices” simply because I know a play has a chance if I can hear the voices of distinctive characters.

That’s all a playwright has, really. You can develop any number of scenarios, but how those play out depend on what kind of people your characters are, and the only way you can tell them apart is by the way they speak. Suppose your character stows away aboard a spacecraft. You’re in for one kind of play if, when discovered, your character says:

Please, man, please. All I ever wanted to be was an astronaut. But everybody said I was, you know, stupid. I won’t touch anything. Honest.

As opposed to a character who says:

Well, hell, you found me. Guess we’re stuck with each other. Might well rock’n’roll. Have a snort. But be careful. I get stingy with my supplies when I get past the Van Allen belt.

Not that I’d recommend writing either play; we have too many spacecraft stowaway dramas as it is, right? It’s just that in a dialogue-driven medium such as theatre, voice is destiny. Once it was customary to refer to playwrights as the “gods of theatre” (and a lot of us are irritated about being demoted to “necessary evil” in some quarters), but the truth is we’ve always pretty much been stenographers to the unconscious.

Which is to say, at least for me, I don’t have the slightest idea where the voices come from. I can tell, however, when they aren’t cooperating because everyone ends up sounding the same. It’s one of the most common problems I see as a producer reading scripts; not only do the characters not have distinct personalities, but they’re not speaking to each other. Reading those plays is rather like getting cornered at a party by a monomaniac. Pretty soon, you can feel your smile muscles cramp as you glance at the clock or oh-so-casually look around from someone to rescue your ass.

A play’s a play, and an essay’s an essay.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Two Links on the Honor Roll

I wanted to point out two interesting links on my page's "The Honor Roll" (a phrase I blatantly stole from Hunter Thompson's book dedications). One is "Gunner Palace," which is a documentary about Iraq well worth seeing. It doesn't have a particular political axe to grind; it simply shows what life is like for one company of grunts operating around Baghdad.

The other is "Fight to Survive" which is a blog compiled by guys serving in Iraq and, as a kind of companion piece to "Gunner Palace," tells of their average days, from the mundane to the absolutely ghastly. It's been quiet of late, but it's worth going back to read past posts. Soldiers' voices are always worth listening to and ring much truer than the noxious rhetoric that flows unendingly from politicians and talking heads.

"Happiness is Iraq in my rear view mirror."



Sunday, October 14, 2007

In Portland: An Invite to a Special Theatrical Event

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I’m writing to invite you to a rather special theatrical event. For 15 years, I’ve been working on a three-act drama Turquoise and Obsidian, which has been through countless drafts and private workshop readings, and had a public reading in 2003. Miracle Theatre Company has been kind enough to host Pavement Productions, my production company, in a concert reading of the finished script (if theatrical scripts are ever truly finished). The reading, on Sunday, November 4th, at 7:00, is free and has a wonderful cast slated, and it would be an honor to share the fruits of a long, fascinating process. Details follow below.

Thanks very much,

Steve Patterson
Pavement Productions


Pavement Productions presents a free reading of Portland playwright Steve Patterson’s original play Turquoise and Obsidian on Sunday, November 4th at 7:00 PM at Miracle Theatre Company, 525 SE Stark Street, Portland, Oregon. No reservations required. Scheduled cast includes Keith Scales, Mindy Logan, Rebecca Martinez, Noah Jordan, Roberto Astorga, and David Loftus.

Fifteen years in the making, Turquoise and Obsidian is a three-act drama about Zachary, a literature professor who becomes obsessed with the idea that he will die on the Day of the Dead in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The author of a celebrated critical analysis of Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel Under the Volcano (the protagonist of which dies on the Day of the Dead in Cuernavaca), Zachary feels trapped in a web of correspondences between the novel and his life. When he disappears into Mexico, his wife follows after him, setting off a story within a story involving Mexican politics, hidden Aztec culture, and a love story that, literally, encompasses the beginning and end of time.

Directed by Lisa L. Abbott, who has seen the play through many private readings and workshops with a veritable who’s who in Portland theatre, and a 2003 public reading featuring Keith Scales, Lorraine Bahr, and David Meyers, Turquoise and Obsidian involves six cultures (Irish, American, Mexican, Spanish, Native American, and Aztec), three languages (English, Spanish, and Nahuatl), and 500 years of history. Steeped in magical realism and a respect for native traditions, the creation of Turquoise and Obsidian was made possible by the Portland Civic Theatre Guild awarding Patterson its inaugural Theatre Fellowship, which allowed him to travel to Cuernavaca, experience the Day of the Dead first hand, and visit the original settings of Under the Volcano (including a stay in the apartment where Lowry wrote much of the novel—the building now being a hotel).

In 1984, Under the Volcano, considered one of the 20th Century’s greatest novels, was made into a film directed by John Huston and starring Albert Finney.

Since 1990, Steve Patterson has written more than 30 plays. Known for its rich word play, surreal imagery, and willingness to explore the unknown, his work has been performed in Portland, Chicago, Tampa, Austin, Los Angeles, Boulder, and other American cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His plays Bombardment and Altered States of America have been finalists for the Oregon Book Award, and, in 1998, Stark Raving Theatre won a $10,000 grant from the Flint Ridge Foundation for production of his play Liberation. In 2003, Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company's production of Liberation was cited by Theatre for an Honorable Mention as one of that year's best productions in Los Angeles. In 2006, his play Lost Wavelengths had a mainstage reading at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival. Mr. Patterson's other plays include: The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Controlled Burn, Delusion of Darkness, Deuces, Malaria, Shelter, Temptation, Curl of Smoke, and Waiting on Sean Flynn. Both Delusion of Darkness and Waiting on Sean Flynn have been performed in the Tampa Performing Arts Center, the largest performing arts facility in the Southeastern United States. With Chris Harder, he co-authored The Centering, for which Harder won a 2007 Drammy for Best Actor. He is a member of Portland Center Stage’s PlayGroup Playwrights Workshop, the Dramatists Guild, and a former board member of the Northwest Playwrights Guild. He also the Co-Founder, Co-Artistic Director, and Resident Playwright of Pavement Productions.

Lisa L. Abbott, Co-Artistic Director of Pavement Productions, has directed Pavement's shows since 1997, including Life and Death on the American Road, Between the Sheets, and Curl of Smoke. Her work is known for its insightful character development, fine ensemble playing, creative use of theater space, and skillful integration of lighting and sound effects. Ms Abbott's work as a director has focused on the development of new scripts, including Lost Wavelengths at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West Festival and What Mad Pursuit at Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon. Her Portland directing credits include: The Centering for Chris Harder, A Grimm Late Night for Spectre Productions; and Liberation and Waiting on Sean Flynn for Stark Raving Theatre. Ms. Abbott has also directed in Chicago and Denver, where her credits include: Wolfbane; In Stiches; Interview, Audience; Slow Dance on the Killing Ground; and The Indian Wants the Bronx. Ms. Abbott has a MFA from the University of Portland, and has been an AEA Stage Manager and a guest director for the Chicago Dramatists' Workshop.


Miracle Theatre, sometimes known by the Spanish translation of its name Teatro Milagro, is the only Hispanic theater production company in the Pacific Northwest. Its home is in Portland, Oregon, though it often tours regionally and nationally. It was founded in 1985. The theater operates through three arms: the Miracle Mainstage, with English language productions at the company's theater in South East Portland;, Teatro Milagro, the international touring company, with bilingual English/Spanish productions; and Bellas Artes, a multidisciplinary company that stages community-based events, such as annual Dia de Los Muertos, Posada festivals, and educational programs. The Miracle Theater generally produces about a half dozen productions of original and revival plays annually, along with related programs.

Pavement Productions is a small, independent Portland production company that specializes in developing and producing new plays. It has been especially successful in producing "anthology" shows composed of short plays written by a number of playwrights around specific themes. These have included Behind the Eyes, Between the Sheets, and the very popular Life and Death on the American Road. In association with The Bluestockings, Pavement plans to co-produce Dead of Winter, a trio of ghost stories for the stage, in February 2008.

For more information, contact Steve Patterson at 503-312-6665 or

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jonesing the Glow

I don't know if it happens to other playwrights or theatre practitioners (or audience members for that matter), but, once in a while, when all the elements of a piece are really clicking, the actors are locked in the moment, the audience is with you, the tech and sound is just perfect, and the play slips into this perfect groove, something strange happens to my perception. It's almost like everything in the theatre disappears except the action onstage, and colors seem to take on this weird, heightened glow, a hyperreal halo. The impact of language intensifies. The emotion deepens. It's almost like you're experiencing an altered state of consciousness, like a dream or fever or hallucinogenic drug, wherein everything seems so very much more powerful and gorgeous than...anything.

I really can't explain it. I notice it more watching my own work, not because it's so damned wonderful or whatever but because I think that moment taps into the unconscious mind, just as the original writing--when it's working--arises from under the surface. But I've experienced it watching other people's plays as well. It's the shiver factor, when art cuts through your ordinary perception and reaches down into your soul. And you...shiver.

It doesn't happen often. It never lasts. But, my God, when it's there, it justifies all the endless rewrites, the rejections, the clunky rehearsals, the behind-the-scenes bullshit, and the lousy reviews. And it hooks you.

I remember coming home from seeing one of my productions, and it was just one of those charmed nights where everything--everything--worked. You coul see it on the faces of the audience--a dazed, flushed, happieness. A vaguely unreal aura seemed to surround me, follow me home from the theatre, and there I was standing in the kitchen, doing the dishes to burn off the excess energy, when I saw my face reflected in the kitchen window, and face looking back said: let's do that again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Actors in My Head

I’m occasionally asked what else I do in theatre—as if writing and producing plays isn’t enough. More specifically, people want to know if I act. No. I do not. And there should be many, many people grateful for this decision. I have directed and did okay, but I’d much rather leave that work to people who are trained, capable, and actually enjoy having everyone entrust their artistic integrity in their care. But I do not, should not, could not act. Not with a cat, in a hat, or in a black box.

There are, however, a whole troupe of actors living in my head, and they come out regularly (and under scale) when I write. That is, when I’m writing a play, I not only see a stage in my head, but I see actors playing the parts, and I feel like I’m all those actors playing those parts, and, when it’s going very well, the difference between actor and character and myself disappears; so that I’m actually the people in the play experiencing the events in the play as though they’re real. This is called putting your borderline personality disorder to work.

But it can whack you once in awhile. In my play “Waiting on Sean Flynn,” there’s a harrowing scene that still freaks me out when I read it or see it performed where one character nearly gets shot in the head and then reacts afterwards with stunningly savage violence. I remember writing it in a very nice coffeehouse with tasteful art on the walls and windows looking out on a perfect summer’s evening, with all the pretty, happy people walking by, flirting and showing their very attractive flesh. And there I was hunched over a notebook, probably with my eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare, hunkered down on a hot LZ (landing zone) and jamming a .45 into the mouth of a Vietnamese soldier who’d just been holding the same gun to my head seconds before. No wonder I’ll occasionally look up from writing to see someone watching me fearfully; without knowing it, I’ve been glowering at them like Billy Bob Thornton in “Slingblade.” “I’ll have another espresso, uh-huh.”

After writing that scene, I was sweating and feeling like I couldn’t get my breath. My cashier seemed to be yards away as I paid my bill and speaking from some place that muffled her voice. I walked the streets of Northwest Portland with this sense that all these people, laughing and having fun and trying to remember if they had tucked condoms in their purse or wallet, had absolutely no idea what had just happened, that I’d just nearly been killed, just nearly killed someone, and that maybe I wasn’t entirely—heh heh—in my right mind. I spent the next couple hours sitting alone on my front porch and listening to The Doors.

“Waiting on Sean Flynn” had a reading in L.A. earlier this year, and I heard back from the director that one actor said he’d “give his right nut” to play that role. Oh, dear actors: be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dept. of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Now that we're all rejoicing that Sen. Larry ("I'm not gay, I'm really really not gay") Craig of Idaho is going to, uh, stick it out in the Senate until 2009 (thus providing endless punchlines), we'd like to share the recipe for Larry's favorite dish. You'll think this is satire, but it's for real. From some Senate recipe collection...remember, cook's choice!

Super Tuber is a great snack that uses one of my favorite vegetables: The Idaho Potato. Of course, I suppose any type of potato could be used, but I cannot guarantee that a Super Tuber made with anything but a true Idaho potato would taste as good. Sincerely, Larry E. Craig, United States Senator

1 hot dog, cook's choice
1 Idaho baking potato, 7 to 10 ounces
Mustard for dipping, any style
Other condiments as desired such as cheese sauce, sour cream, chili, chives, bacon pieces or black olives.

Wash and dry potato. Rub with shortening or butter. With an apple corer or small knife, core out the potato center (end to end). Push hot dog through the center. Bake until potato is cooked through.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Like a laaaaasser beeeeeam

I received an e-mail asking, that "There are so many of you..." line above the counter on your page...where is that from? It sounds so familiar, but....

Not suprising; the reference definitely falls into the obscure category. It's a line from "Rejoyce," a Jefferson Airplane song inspired by James Joyce's "Ulysses." From the notorious "After Bathing at Baxters" album.

To wit:


Chemical change like a laser beam
you've shattered the warning amber light
Make me warm
Let me see you moving everything over
Smiling in my room
You know you'll be inside of my mind soon.

There are so many of you.
White shirt and tie, white shirt and tie,
white shirt and tie, wedding ring, wedding ring.

Mulligan stew for Bloom,
The only Jew in the room
Saxon's sick on the holy dregs
And their constant getting throw up on his leg.

Molly's gone to blazes,
Boylan's crotch amazes
Any woman whose husband sleeps with his head
All buried down at the foot of his bed.

I've got his arm
I've got his arm
I've had it for weeks
I've got his arm
Steven won't give his arm
To no gold star mother's farm;
War's good business so give your son
And I'd rather have my country die for me.

Sell your mother for a Hershey bar
Grow up looking like a car
There are so many of you;
All you want to do is live,
All you want to do is give but
Some how it all falls apart

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Meet the Oysters

Tennessee Williams said there are three great storybook cities in America: New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco, and, as usual, Tennessee was exactly right. I've been lucky enough to live in New York and New Orleans, and every time I visit San Francisco, I want to move there.

I recently found a 20-year-old postcard of the French Quarter with a fading blue arrow drawn to one of the buildings. I had sent it to my parents to show them where I was living. In a postcard. On the back, I'd written: "It's better than New Jersey."

I only lived a year in the Big Easy. The economy was wretched, and I was back in radio, a notoriously uncertain industry. "Good morning. We've changed our format. You're all fired." Yet, that year left me awash in images, like a bucket of slides dumped on a light table. Put a loupe to any one of them, and a story begins.

Here we're looking dueling oyster bars. A New Orleans oyster bar means they pluck 'em fresh from the Gulf, and they're still alive when the guy behind the bar slips the knife in the shell and pops 'em open right on the bartop. I preferred the Acme to Felix's. The Acme was unpretentious, down home, had great red beans and rice every Monday, and was where I first encountered oysters in their natural state. It was Mardi Gras, and I'm certain I'd never have made it through without a couple margaritas, but there they were, six of 'em lined up in front of me. No plate. Just shells and a fork.

"What do I do with with them?" I asked the oyster barman. He looked at me like, you poor Yankee bastard. Then he patiently explained that you take little sauce from this tin, a little sauce from that tin, a little horseradish, put it on the oyster, then tip that shell up and let 'er go.

No, really. What do I do with them? But I'd had a few drinks, so, what the hell. I wasn't sure whether everyone at the bar was going to laugh at me or not, but I did as instructed, and the taste was...fresh oysters on the half shell, pungent and sharp and beautiful. If you don't care for oysters, I'll never be able to explain it. If you love oysters (and there doesn't seem to be a middle ground), you will know. You never forget that first time.

I immediately ordered another half-dozen. And a margarita. And I slipped an Acme Oyster Bar matchbook in my pocket.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

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.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Down the rabbit hole...

For some time, I've admired the blogs other folks have set forth using this elegant and versatile format, and I thought, what the hell, give it a shot. So even though I've had a long-running blog on Livejournal and, for the past year, on MySpace, here we journey out into the great Internet wilderness, to endeavor, as have so many before us, to blather mindlessly on matters of no particular importance.

I'll try and write. Promise.

First, an introduction. Writing should come fairly easy to me as, indeed, I'm a writer. I'm a recovering journalist, having put time in the automated deadlinemachine, but these days I try to stick to more respectable forms; hence, I'm a playwright. Clearly, I'm not in it for the money.

I kind of fell backwards into theatre, which is good because I probably would have run the other direction if I knew what I was getting into. At the time, I was writing fiction and came up against terrible writers block. So I was thumbing through this marvelous book of photographs by Richard Misrach called "Desert Cantos" and they seemed to suggest stories to me. Rather than write typical fiction, I decided to write first-person sketches, one for each picture. It was a great exercise, and I liked the result but didn't know what to do with it. My mistake was taking it to a director friend and asking what he thought. "I think we should stage this," he said.

And we did. In a Portland guerrilla art gallery on the fourth floor of a nearly condemned building, the tech for my first play consisted of two slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels taped to them. A bulb on one of the projectors burned out ten minutes before opening.

Nonetheless, people came, and I got a decent review which compared me to a young Sam Shepard, which still induces swooning. So I thought, what the hell, write something where people talk to each other. So I did, and "Bombardment" was the result. Stark Raving Theatre in Portland premiered it in 1991. We did pretty damn well with the audience, and the critics crucified--CRUCIFIED--us. A year later, "Bombardment" was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, which taught me a great deal about the promise of theatre and the limitations of critics.

Now...what...17 years after the projector bulb burned out, I've written something like 30 plays, (if you count all the one-acts), had stuff produced internationally, had some great reviews (and some more not-so-great ones), been a finalist for the Oregon Book Award again, and recently broke the LORT glass ceiling. So maybe I won't have to go back to journalism.

Still a goddamn newsy, though, so, in addition to theatre and art, I'll probably blather on about politics and current events, especially as the election nears. For me, election time is like the World Series, Superbowl, and Calavaras Jumping Frog competition all rolled into one.

Welcome to the splattland....

Steve "splatt" Patterson