The Writing Life: reflections by a working writer. The Writing Life

Reflections of a working writer, a university screenwriting professor, and the editor of Oregon Literary Review.

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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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The Writing Life...
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After October 31, 2006,
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Thursday, February 02, 2006  
Joined the commuters this morning, coming into the city early on an express bus. It's a different world. A full bus, a full freeway alongside our route, bumper-to-bumper coming in, a world I'm glad I miss most the time. Most people I meet have been in Portland ten years or less. By no means a native, I've been here almost 30 years now. When these people rave about how great Portland is, I just smile and let it go in one ear and out the other, because the 1980s was Portland's Golden Age, as anyone who was here then would agree, a time when we elected an eccentric bartender as mayor, when vibrant theater and arts groups were everywhere (the production standards may have been lower but the art was far more exciting -- no one has come close to duplicating what Storefront Theatre used to do here), but you know what they say about progress.

I'm glad I was here then. However, I probably should have left in the 90s. It's not much fun to watch all the changes for the worse. I mean, there used to be free performances of opera, symphony, theater, revues, all summer long in Washington Park, something going on nightly; on the city payroll used to be two artistic directors of theater companies -- it was amazing! Somehow they paid for it all then and somehow they stopped doing that. (There also was a composer on the city payroll!) Portland lost its soul, in my opinion, and now it's another extended bedroom community of Seattle or San Francisco, still in its struggle to become a unique city (not knowing that in the 1980s, it already was; in fact, a Seattle weekly did a feature on the Portland theater scene at that time and argued how much more vibrant it was than Seattle because it had not "gone professional" yet, which is to say, was not unionized with the higher expenses and less daring seasons that great money needs engender. Of course, actors need to make a living, too. There needs to be a balance. Portland's mistake, like the mistake of cities everywhere, was creating an "official" theater company by putting it in a new performing arts center. Within a few years, all but one of the existing vibrant companies went under, having lost their fragile base because now everyone was giving money to the new splendor and its company. A younger generation has now reinvented the off-PAC scene but no one has captured the earlier energy, especially social and political energy, or so it seems to me.)

In the early 80s, my agent from NY visited me (she had business in Seattle and came down) and marvelled at northwest Portland: this is just the way Greenwich Village used to be! she said. Don't let it change. Around the same time, the wonderful NY playwright who writes under the name OyamO came to town when a company did his fine play about Lester Young and Billie Holiday, "The Resurrection of Lady Lester," a play that should get done much more often than it has, that should be a movie as well, anyway, I showed him around town and he thought Portland was a better town for a playwright than NY in terms of what was going on and was available, and he said, Don't let this change. Well, within a decade, everything had changed, in the neighborhood the local taverns and second-hand stores were replaced by boutiques and fancy restaurants, bohemians replaced by yuppies, and in the theater community the PAC was built, Ashland North moved in, and virtually all of the vibrant local companies died (I mean, even the Portland Civic Theatre died!). Time marches on. Rest In Peace.

2/02/2006 07:28:00 AM | 2 comments

Truly a sad story, Charles.

I'm glad I was there and part of the theater scene 1977-1985. I sometimes get wistful about PDX, but I guess the fertile city I liked so much doesn't exist any more.

Thanks for the update.

It's a different kind of fertility. The rough edges and reckless energy have vanished, it's spendy and proper art now, and much more dull than it used to be. Well, in theater anyway. I think the music scene is still vibrant.
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