Theatre, arts, culture, politics, and snark from a practicing playwright and recovering journalist.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
The Last Theatre Show
Not really, but possibly the last show with my company, Pavement Productions: the upcoming End of the Pavement Micro New Works Festival. And it's very strange. Very. There's a genuine melancholy I'm feeling.
A theatre colleague wrote me this nice note a couple weeks ago and pointed out that I should be proud of what Pavement's accomplished (we have always done premieres, which I am proud of, though I've always hankered to produce Sam Shepard's "Angel City" for some reason). It doesn't seem possible that it's been 18 years. Not that we produced that entire time, but we did start in 1990, in a little underground art gallery improbably placed on the fourth or fifth floor of an old Portland office building. We had to take our set up in this David Lynchian freight elevator, they nearly shut the power off on the block on opening night, and our entire lighting set-up consisted of two slide projectors and a handful of flashlights with colored gels taped to them. Had I known what I was getting into, I probably never would have done it. So many accomplishments arise out of simple innocence...or ignorance. We've come a long ways, had a bucketful of fun, in true theatre tradition lost a bunch of money, and even had one bona fide hit ("Delusion of Darkness" sold out its entire six-week run).
In that time, friends and relatives have passed away, children have been born to colleagues and are now in school, we revitalized an abandoned theatre, worked with a women's theatre group, pushed colorblind casting, turned a bookstore into a theatre, survived a total flop (at the box office, not artistically), and made some wonderful friends...really wonderful friends. It's been a good trip. I'm ready to let go of the stress and exhaustion that goes with producing, but I'd be lying if I didn't feel regrets too.
And I don't know how I'll feel when I shut off the lights for the last time. In some ways it's my favorite moment as a producer: the show's done, the strike's over, everyone's gone, and it's just you and that empty theatre which you've gambled on. All the voices echo back in your mind's ear, the half-hysterical laughing jag that seems to come with every show (right about tech week), the wonderful bullshit down times when you hang with your comrades and just smoke and tell the same stories, the simple pleasure of painting a floor black, the strange things the public sometimes does--there's always something weird that'll knock you back, thinking...what the...? And there's always feathers to smooth and a crisis to handle and a last minute rewrite and an actor who freaks because they can't find something or a machine that suddenly quits working the night the critic's there or a reason to hold the show or the people who come late and pound on the door when they can't get in. I've had cast and crew have nervous breakdowns, emergency hospitalizations, deal with family crises, and, time and again, do such splendid work under such trying circumstances that it still blows me away thinking about it. We don't have a lot of heroes in this cynical age, but I've known a few people who've done absolutely heroic things.
And what fun it's been to work with writers, to watch new plays being born and live through the process with them. To see their tense faces on opening night and then see them alight with relief after that first show. And how, for a brief time that you work on a play, really a couple months to put it together and usually about a month to run, you make this little family--your squadron, all weird and secretive and gossipy and incestuous and crazed and absolutely wonderful. (I often have the knack of being the last to know what's going on, and it's probably better that way.) Only those who've been there can ever really know. You take that with you the rest of your life, those friendships and war stories. And, like aging veterans, you delight in boring each other, recounting the peaks and valleys over and over again, because that's all you have: part of the magic and heartbreak of live theatre is that it happens and it's gone and it'll never be the same again.
Sitting in a theatre. By yourself. Thinking: I did this. I made this happen. There's nothing like it. Nothing. And then you reach for the light, flip it, watch it all blackout. Turn your back. Lock the door. And step forward into normal life, feeling like you've just survived a fall from an impossible height.
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 works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian.