For a writer, it's important to have understanding people in your life because a good part of what you do looks like goofing off.
That is, you may appear to be sitting on your porch and watching the breeze sway the poppies while listening to Dylan and The Band play "The Basement Tapes," but, in reality, you are deep down in some inner movie, watching scenes you don't understand appear and fade. In short, a lot of writing is not knowing what the hell you're doing and being okay with that. Right now, I'm chasing something. I don't know what it is, but I can feel it. And it's giving me pictures and little snippets of dialogue, but I don't know what it's going to be, how it's going to emerge, and it's necessary to kind of operate on faith--faith that your mind will let the rest float up to the surface when it's ready.
I mean, I don't have time to write at the moment. For the next couple weeks, my day job is going to be very demanding, and then I'm producing the End of the Pavement festival, and the two take a great deal of energy. I don't even want to think about how tired I was yesterday and how tired I'm going to be by next Friday. So I can't really write. I scribble down little bits of stuff in the mornings or lunch hours, but I can't sustain the kind of extended concentration writing requires. I'll get there, but the unconscious, after awhile, knows not to let loose until it's ready. I guess I've been doing this long enough that it's well trained.
And then it'll be: bam! And you're off, trying to keep up with the goddamn thing before it can get away from you. In the meantime, you just have to kind of roll with this twilight state where you get glimpses but they're gone before you can do anything with them. In a way, it's kind of enjoyable. I get to see the preview reel, unedited, before anyone else. And it looks fun and weird and spooky and intense and, best of all, new...but, of course, I'm sworn to secrecy. There's nothing worse than talking something out before you can get it on paper.
So I'm sitting on the porch. Watching the poppies dance. And way down underneath, something unknown is taking shape. It just looks like nothing. And, as Dylan sings, too much of nothing makes a man ill of ease....
Just a note: if you're planning on catching Matthew B. Zrebski's "Rubber 'n' Glue" at the End of the Pavement Micro New Works Festival this Friday or Saturday, tickets, they are going like the hotcakes. If you'd like a seat, e-mail me at email@example.com or call 503-312-6665.
Well, the End of the Pavement Micro New Works Festival (or EPMNWF for the acronym crazed) has been officially launched in high style.
This weekend was Nick Zagone's "The Muffin," which was well received by appreciative audiences and featured fine performances by Hunt Holman and Cassie Skauge and nuanced direction by Katherine Zagone. Post-show audiences were chatty and happy, which is always a good sign. (If you're a producer or director out there looking for a wicked little two-hander that would work well as a late-night, let me know, and I can put you in touch with Nick.) Thanks to all my co-conspirators and our audiences who took off an absolutely perfect Portland summer night to take a chance on a new play.
Next up on Friday and Saturday is Matthew B. Zrebski's "Rubber 'n' Glue"--which fits into the category of "and now for something completely different" and features a fine cast and direction also by the talented Mr. Zrebski. Reservations are already piling up, so give me a call at 503-312-6665 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org because the Back Door is a relatively small theatre and fills quickly.
My play "Farmhouse" opens the following weekend and is definitely a fall down an entirely other rabbit hole. It also features a stunning cast. We wrap up the festival the Fifth of July with "Ubu Lives!"--eight short plays inspired by Ubu Roi, at which point we most definitely we will be in terra incognita (in a good way). Here there be dragons.... The Ubu plays are helmed by four excellent Portland directors and feature playwrights from across the United States.
Many thanks to our cast, crew, and splendid audience, and here's hoping you can check out the next installment of Pavement's Excellent Adventure.
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.