Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I Know How What It's Like to be Dead

We're three days out from opening "Dead of Winter." I've been at the theatre much too much, terminal exhaustion is setting in, and I'm entering that space where everything either makes you laugh hysterically (literally...hysterically) or makes you feel like you're going to fall apart...crack...tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. There are tons of decisions to be made and details to take care of, and you can't find your pen. Then you can't find your paper. Then when you find pen and paper you can't remember what you were going to write down.

The good news is that, after writing the plays, hearing them read, hearing them read three million more times, hearing little snippets of them read over and over, seeing them staged, seeing little pieces of them staged over and over, repeat and rinse as needed, there are still moments that raise the hair on my arms. You get so numb to what's happening that it's almost impossible to gauge how it will feel to an audience exposed to it fresh and finished. I think it's going to work. I think. I think, I think, I think....

No. I guess. And hope. But I don't really have a clue. We are in grand mysteryland, and only performance will tell. As one of the characters in "Wet Paint" says: "It's a ritual. I think you have to experience it for it to have meaning for you."

Or something like that. Maybe she says "weasels ate my rowboat." I can't really remember. I know at some point last night, someone was talking about butchering an aardvark, and I'd swear I hadn't written that. I kind of like aardvarks.

Does any of this make sense? Hell no. Which I think is exactly the point: when you die, it's all dark, you're confused, you can't see, and then there's a tunnel of white light, and you follow it, follow it, until it's right in front of you, everything white, all the world white, blinding, encompassing light....

And you realize you're staring up at a lighting instrument and the lamp has burned a hole in the gel.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Pre-Production Fever

One week out from Dead of Winter, and that weird, rising feeling of anticipation keeps crawling up my neck and taking me by surprise. I’ll be having a conversation with an ordinary (non-theatre) human being, and suddenly I’ll be in a darkened theatre, watching light cues to be. Or I’ll be taken by a sudden panic: whose bio do I still need? Did I forget any props? What about…?

What about everything, pretty much. Tomorrow we move into the space, build a set, hang lights and sound tech, and pretty much enact all the planning, e-mails, telephone calls, notes scribbled on Post-Its, intentions, visions, and compromises production entails. The funny part is just about the time you’re feeling the most tired, the production begins to feed you back. You give to it, it gives to you. The thrill of realization, of an idea in your head becoming reality (or at least theatrical reality).

It’s a strange moment, speaking as a writer. Because, once upon a time, you sat by yourself (or, often in my case writing in coffeehouses, in the company of strangers), and this dream, these series of images, these voices, came to you, and you wrote them down. You experienced them along with the characters. And then time passes for the fever to subside, and you look at the script again with a little distance. You can still feel the place it came from, but you can also be a bit more objective, and you begin to fix mistakes, clarify, shape. Then you begin the long process of sharing it with others, taking in their impressions, and adjusting further.

Finally, you give it to a director, actors, and techs, and the process sort of reverses. From text on a page, distilled from the mind’s images, images begin to take shape in real time. It’s like watching your own dream come to life and immerse you. It can let you down, but it can also sweep you away, your eye and mind synching up into a hyperreality that leaves you high.

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there. We are indeed getting there.

One week to launch.


P.S.: Check out the Dead of Winter video teaser at The Bluestockings and, if you like what you see (and/or it unnerves you), please pass on the link. You can, of course, buy tickets there too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Liberation, at Last

Original Works Publishing is now taking pre-orders play about a newspaper office trying to stay open during the siege of Sarajevo. Dark, violent, full of gallows humor, and very well received by the critics over the years. "Liberation" premiered in 1999 at Portland's Stark Raving Theatre, where it was directed by the fabulous Lisa L. Abbott (who, coincidentally, directs the upcoming "Dead of Winter"...see how I carefully worked that plug in? That's art, baby.)

You can check out their write-up/order form on Original Works

Or you can check out Original Works MySpace page.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Dead are Coming

"Dead of Winter," that is. We're working on it. Rehearsals are going very well, and Saturday we move into the space, at which point the action takes off until a week from Friday, when we unleash this sucker on the world. I know it's my show, and I know everybody says this, but I really encourage folks to check it out because it has a really good feel to it.

Stay turned for a video on the Bluestockings site. Coming soon.


Saturday, January 19, 2008


So you may have noticed that after midnight, the White Eagle posts stopped. Yes: we were all eaten by ghosts. The end.

Actually, around 1:30, it was kind of a like a taut stretch of twine snapped, and everyone became exhausted and called it a night. That's no surprise: we've been in rehearsal until 11:00 PM almost every night for the last two weeks, and people were beat. When they left, they also took their laptops with them, hence no more blog posts.

And what about yours truly, dear reader? What happened when just the author and his lovely spouse were left in the White Eagle alone?

Sad to say...or maybe glad to say...nothing. That was because, even as blown-out tired as I was at that point, I suddenly realized something I hadn't anticipated: I was never going to be able to sleep in this place. I'd lie there awake, listening for every stray sound. At one point, alone in the room, I could hear a bag of chips uncrinkling, so hypersensitive I had become. And it was like, hey, fun's fun, but I have two more 80-hour weeks ahead of me. I have to crash.

So around 2:00 or 2:30, we said goodnight to the Eagle and its residents, transitory or permanent. In summation, we heard nothing except a rock'n'roll band coming up through the floorboards, saw nothing untoward, and experienced one (briefly) very cold restroom. We watched half of the "The Haunting" and told some good ghost stories. And we had some laughs and shared time with friends.

Is the Eagle haunted? Well...I'll say this: there is a melancholy to that second floor, where so much history, some of it painful, went down. The McMenamins have lovingly restored it, with wit and a goofy charm, but there's no hiding that sadness, that people spent their lives (and sometimes ended them) in those narrow, claustrophic rooms with tall ceilings that have weirdly ominous cracks. And I don't know whether it's the power of suggestion or a reality, but I couldn't help but feel something's going on there. What it is, I have no idea. But, honestly, I wasn't sorry to leave. I was a little relieved, if for no other reason than I could soon sleep.

In short, if the White Eagle isn't haunted, it ought to be.


P.S.: When we finally got home, I bundled up and went out back to have my customary pre-bedtime pipe of tobacco, a time I use to sort of mull over the day and sometimes write in my head. And I was sitting out there, sorting through the evening's memories, when I thought: hell, it's not that cold out here. I thought it'd be much worse. That's when it hit me--bang: the cold I'd felt in the White Eagle's restroom was far colder than the outside night air. And somewhere, I could feel someone...or something...snicker.See you at the show.

After Midnight

Quiet again. The band taking a break. We've been sharing ghost stories...personal ghost stories. Things that have happened to us or we've heard about. Some of them are quite good, such as...well, we don't want to incriminate anybody. But it is notable that nearly everybody has a story, and the stories all sense of the veracity to it. An emotional truth.

Or maybe we're all just good storytellers.

Reports are that restrooms are warm again. No clue what that's about.

But it's nice that it's quiet. I think.


Friday, January 18, 2008


The band's on a break, so it's actually quiet at the Eagle. Still not much happening. But...we found the restroom on the left is much, much colder than the one one the right (if you're facing north). There's a Sam Shepard quote on the wall of the one on the right, so it's clearly the theatre restroom. Of course, we have a bunch of people in this room, so it's no surprise it's cold out there. But, seriously. Colder.

Also, it's nice to know that Sam's room is around the corner. Not Sam Shepard. Sam the Handyman, who supposedly has never left the White Eagle...even though he left the rest of us some time ago.

Also the doors creak like hell.

More to come....


Welcome to the White Eagle some may have been following, Pavement Productions and The Bluestockings are staging Dead of Winter, a trio of ghost stories at Performance Works Northwest (opens Feb 1st). But we're professionals, doing our research, so we're here at the in(famous) White Eagle Tavern/Hotel. The White Eagle, of course, is supposed to be haunted. We're staying in Room 3. The Birdsong room. It's small. There are little birds painted on the walls. So far, no ghosts. No birds either. But then, the band downstairs may be chasing both of them away. We'll see. But the place does have a weird feel to it. It may all be projection, but...we'll see. Anyway, so far, no ghosts. Just theatre people. Which, of course, is scary enough.

Stay tuned.


Thursday, January 17, 2008


...pass the tequila...sugah....

Shine a Light

Blogging with Ghosts

So it's no news to regular splattworks readers that I'm co-producing Dead of Winter, three ghost stories written for the stage, with Portland's The Bluestockings (we open February 1st, run through February 23rd, blah blah blah). But as kind of a fun rehearsal night off/group activity/weird adventure, I'm booked to stay Friday night at Portland's notoriously haunted White Eagle Tavern, which has been lovingly restored as a hotel, and the cast and crew are going to drop by as my guests. We'll tell some ghost stories, maybe watch the classic 1964, black and white version of The Haunting. And, of course, drink. Good times...we hope.

But, since the Eagle is set up with wireless Internet, we're also hoping to blog live from the site, so, if you're curious, check in with this blog starting around 9:00 PM tomorrow, and see what, if anything, happens. (That is, of course, assuming the equipment doesn't suddenly cease to function for unexplainable reasons.) My suspicion is that we'll have some fun and ghosts will be scarce, but I suppose you never know. This isn't a public event--it's a private party--but the blog is a way for those outside the cast and crew to vicariously join the festivities. So log on, turn the lights down, put on Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and come along for the ride.

For the record, the story has it that the upstairs, where I'll be, ahem, sleeping, is haunted by Rose, a prostitute who was murdered on the premises, and Sam, an alcoholic handyman sort of "adopted" by the original tavern owners and who spent most of his life, between and sometimes during binges, on-site. Sam also occasionally pulls a prank or two on the ground floor, but most of the spirits there are in bottles. There's also a malevolent presence in the Eagle's basement, but that's off-limits to guests, and, having once visited it in the company of McMenamin's resident historian, I can say I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in ever going down there again...if you get my drift. I don't really know whether or not I believe in ghosts, but, having gone down there, I do believe I don't want to go there again. Seriously.

My ancestors may be Irish, where ghosts come with the property deed, but some basements you just don't want to mess with....

Finally, it's worth noting that something strange seems to be in air this winter: Dead of Winter will be the third Portland production in a month's time that has to do with ghosts, the other two being Third Rail Repertory's Shining City and Theatre Vertigo's Where's My Money? (Both worth seeing.) And we're all working independently of each other and didn't really know about each other's show's paranormal aspects until the shows went up. How...odd.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I'm only printing the following from the Talking Points Memo blog because it makes my comments seem semi-smart. Despite this, it's interesting.



Obama: Reagan Changed Direction Of Country In Way Bill Clinton Didn't
By Greg Sargent - January 16, 2008, 3:19PM
This is interesting -- Obama is turning up the volume of his argument with what he terms Clinton style "incremental" change, arguing that Ronald Reagan fundamentally changed the direction of America in a way Bill Clinton didn't. Obama made his case in a sit-down interview with officials from the Reno Gazette-Journal...

Some will find Obama's words about Reagan overly kind. And this is the first time I've heard him mention Bill Clinton in the context of saying such generous stuff about Reagan.

But Obama is also making an argument about the readiness of the electorate for change, comparing today's desire for a new direction with the electorate's mood in 1980. In this context, Obama is presenting himself as a potentially transformational figure in opposition to Hillary, who, Obama has been arguing, is unequipped to tap into the public's mood due to her coming of age in the sixties and her involvement in the political battles of the 1990s.

Juxtaposing Reagan and Bill Clinton in this way, however, decidedly takes his argument to a whole new level.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Straight from the Huckatollah

A bit ago, when I was handicapping the candidates (not that they don't seem capable of handicapping themselves), I sorta kinda maybe suggested that Mike Huckabee was, how shall we say, a little out of touch with reality (i.e., completely Looney Tunes).

Today this story comes out, and if you weren't scared of Huckleberry Hound before, now's the time to dust off the passport....Huck: We Need To Amend The Constitution, Bring It In Line With God
By Eric Kleefeld - January 15, 2008, 1:00PM

At a Michigan campaign event last night, Mike Huckabee gave an interesting reason for why he wants to amend the Constitution to ban both abortion and gay marriage: Otherwise, the Constitution would be in conflict with God.

Huckabee first observed that some of his opponents don't want to amend the Constitution on both of these topics. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God," Huckabee said. "And that's what we need to do, is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Speaking of which...'s a production shot from Wet Paint, the piece in Dead of Winter that I wrote specifically for The Bluestockings and which will be a world premiere. Soon, we'll have a short promotional film on The Bluestocking's website; I'll let people know when it's up and running.

The still's from a seance that begins to get a little...odd.


Just Plain Dead

There is no fatigue like theatre fatigue.

It's like getting caught in a riptide. At night. In cold water. You just have to ride it and hope you'll stay afloat until it lets go of you, and you can drift back to shore, which, depending on the show, will be opening or closing night.

Which is to say, I'm deep in the wild of rehearsals, press, phone calls, e-mails, and errands for Dead of Winter and, actually, having an absolutely wonderful time. (Only people who have been there understand the pleasure of hearing themselves say, "Do we have enough gels?") If you don't fight the riptide, you can enjoy the you can enjoy riding a motorcycle on wet pavement. It's still tough, tiring work, but it has its pleasures, and one of those is watching the play (or plays, in this case) take shape, rolling into focus, the actors taking your words and building people out of them. I've been doing this for...for some time, let's say, and I still marvel at images and sounds swirling around my head ending up as words on a page, then becoming characters who you care about, hate, laugh at, or, in the case of these ghost stories, creep the hell out of you. It's seriously weird to be watching something I wrote and feeling the hair rise on my arms. At one point, if anyone had been looking at me instead of the actors, I probably would have seemed stricken because I was pretty much thinking: Jesus, what kind of sick bastard wrote this?

All good signs, but I'm way too close to it to judge. I do marvel, however, at the director's craft, which makes all these various elements somehow come together. I have an idea how it works and I've directed a time or two, but it's just fascinating to watch someone who knows what she's doing (in this case, Lisa Abbott) make it synch up, connect, and work. I can roughly imagine how it'll look, sound, and feel, but the director knows, and she's shaping the clay in four dimensions. It's amazing.

And I know my company, Pavement Productions, is the co-producer (with Portland's The Bluestockings), but damn if this thing doesn't feel like it has potential. The actors are working like hell, the designers are coming up with great stuff, and, well, I've said my piece about the director. When all the elements come together....

Though it sounds like a cliche, given that these are plays about ghosts, it feels like there's something spooky going on here. Some kind of...voodoo. And that's what theatre's all about.

Now if I can just keep my head above water.

Nineteen days to go....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When you screw up... it big:

NEW YORK Rick Karlin of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union has created a bit of a buzz in the newly race-charged race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by posting on the paper's blog, Capitol Confidential, the following:

"I suppose there could be lots of tea leaf reading in this one, but now its AG [Attorney General] Andrew Cuomo on Talk 1300, minutes after the governor came on. Cuomo, to be fair, has been on the radio show a few times, if memory serves me, but his take on Hillary’s win in NH is that that small-state primary with its retail politics is a good thing. 'It’s not a TV crazed race. Frankly you can’t buy your way into it,' Cuomo said. 'You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference,' he added. 'All those moves you can make with the press don’t work when you’re in someone’s living room.'”

I'm betting Bill Clinton's face just exploded.

We were all right in being wrong.... least that's the comforting thought. My personal theory is that in a Hyatt Regency in Manchester, New Hampshire, a hexagram has been burnt into the carpet, and hotel workers are trying to figure out whether to replace the rug or just seal the room permanently.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Standing on the Eve of New Hampshire

So the first real primary starts today, unlike Iowa (which for Republicans is like tossing names in a hat and which for Democrats is like Roberts Rules on acid), and it's time to make a total ass of myself and handicap the candidates.

Obama: Short on experience, good organizer, smart and sparkling with charisma. Winner.
Clinton: Long on experience and smart, but charisma of a sewer commissioner. Loser.
Edwards: Medium experience, smart, some charisma but ultimately lightweight. Loser.
Richardson: Long on experience, short on name recognition, so little charisma that I can barely remember what he looks like. Loser.
Kucinich: Can't even spell the crazy bastard's name. Loser.

McCain: Long on experience and older than grandpa. Loser.
Romney: Artificial intelligence. Loser.
Guiliani: The more you know him, the less you like him. Loser.
Huckabee: Medium domestic experience, foreign policy moron, high on charisma, but completely crazy and believes in Adam and Eve. Loser.
Thompson: Needs frequent naps. Loser.
Ron Paul: Utterly bugfuck. Loser.

And there you have it. If I left anyone out, it means I couldn't remember them. In other words: loser.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Good News on the Playwriting Front

Original Works Publishing will be bringing out my Bosnian War play "Liberation" later this year.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Morning Maniac Music

"Okay people, you have heard the heavy groups. Now it's time for morning maniac music. Believe it. It's a new dawn." -- Grace Slick introducing the song "Volunteers" at WoodstockGoddamn I love politics. Some people dig sports, know all sorts of obscure stats on who played center for the Cowboys in the Seventies, etc. Other people play the ponies. There's a vice for everybody, as Shannon Wheeler (who writes and draws the "Too Much Coffee Man" comic) puts it: you can't escape addiction--choose yours wisely.

Just as every gambler taps out and every sports geek sees their team slaughtered now and again, those of us who love politics get used to being lied to and watching our ship slide toward the rocks. Don't get me wrong: if there's anything the last eight years has taught approximately 78% of the U.S. population, it is that it matters who wins. But for the true politics junkie, the journey is literally half the high. Which is why we get all wired on nights like tonight.

Because it wasn't just that Barack Obama beat the supposedly unbeatable Hillary Clinton (or that other guy) or that Mike Huckabee (who?) beat the hair farmer from Mass. who spent $7 million dollars of his own bucks; it's that they both won decisively. And there's nothing more fun than taking the conventional wisdom and tossing it out the 27th-story window to watch it fall and shatter into, uh, 7 million pieces.

This isn't to say Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States (and certainly doesn't mean Huckabee will be). But it does intimate that 2008 may be one of those seismic elections where pretty much everything changes, the pros get smashed, and we wake up November 4th a little freaked.

It's funny, because I've been through one of those. It sucked, unfortunately, but there's no denying that 1980, when Reagan was elected, completely changed the landscape and left us with a legacy that we're still dealing with. (I know Republicans liked to crown Bush II as the new Reagan, but I said all along that he was the new Nixon, and that's what he turned out to be. I get one right once in awhile.) I was barely hatched when Kennedy won in '60, but I watched the Democrats wander in the wilderness for years in search of a new Jack, just the way rock critics wistfully kept trying to find a new Dylan in the Seventies. There was one Jack Kennedy; there's one Bob Dylan. End of story.

I know Obama reminds some people of Kennedy, and there's a little bit of that New Frontier gleam in his eyes, but, in truth, Obama reminds me of Reagan. Not in any policy sense imaginable--there he's, if anything, the anti-Reagan. But he's got that rock star thing budding, that catch in the throat that he might be real thing, and he can speak. Really speak. Smack you in the head and nail the imagination speak. And even if you hated Reagan as thoroughly as I did, there was something goddamn infuriatingly likable about the guy that would just drive you crazy. That quality wins elections and changes political landscapes.

As for Huckabee, he might get croaked in New Hampshire, probably by McCain and Romney--though Mitt has that past the due date smell beginning to waft from him, but he's poised to do well in South Carolina with the social conservatives, and if he rebounds out of there, he might have a chance. Which would be beautiful, man, because you will see the bloodiest civil war in a national party since McGovern won the Democratic nomination in 1972. If Huckabee somehow survives that, he's gonna look like he's been dragged behind a truck for a year, and the Democratic nominee, whoever that is, will cream him the way Johnson creamed Goldwater.

Clinton's strong in New Hampshire. She might beat Obama there, which would set up an epic battle in South Carolina, where Edwards will be a factor unless he gets so totally croaked in New Hampshire that he's no longer viable. (I like John Edwards, but, ironically enough for a famously successful trial lawyer, he just can't seem to close the sale.) So if this is a three-act, it looks like tonight we've seen Act I, New Hampshire could be Act II, and South Carolina could be Act III. No matter what, it was a great night for Obama, an exciting night for Huckabee, a chance at survival for Edwards (though not a strong one), a sobering night for Clinton, and a suck-ass night for Romney, who deserves it 'cause he's an animatronic construct.

Goddamn, I love politics.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How the World Sees Us

On my friend Patrick Wohlmut's blog "i want to be sedated," he recently wrote that writer's fans apparently like a rough and tumble, pseudo-bohemian image. To wit:

My friend Steve Patterson should, by all rights, be extraordinarily famous. Not only is he a kick-ass writer, he has the kind of look that screams, "Hard Drinking, World Traveling, Gonzo Journalist." It's very appealing.This is extraordinary to me because, of course, I don't know whatever he's talking about. In my mind's eye, I seem to be just another mild-mannered editor by day who tends to his garden and just occasionally writes plays where people jam guns in the mouths of other people and scream. Go figure. But, hey, if it helps sales....


P.S.: It should be noted that Patrick is also a certified kick-ass writer.


...I have just learned that Joe Buddy's Bohemian Coffeehouse, in the heart of Portland's Foster-Powell Arts District (that's FoPo, by the way), has closed its doors. Bummer.