- Beloved Hampton Day School (HDS) teacher Bill Patton
returned last week to the area after several decades to perform his one-man show as part of the Naked Stage
series at the Bridgehampton Community House
. Hamptons.com sat down with Patton for a pre-performance conversation.
Patton taught humanities and theatre arts at HDS in the late 1960s and early 1970s, "We turned a barn into a theatre." He was also an instructor and a Director in Residence at Southampton College. A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Patton related his original journey north to the Hamptons, "I had run away with the leading lady of the outdoor drama called the 'Lost Colony.' She had a connection up here and so they brought us both up here to teach."
Bill Patton, former Hampton Day School teacher, Southampton College instructor, playwright and actor.
"One for the Road" is the fourth work of playwright/actor Patton, he also wrote the plays "Uncle Buck," "For Phenus, One More Time" and "Bernie Babcock." The play is about an actor contemplating suicide who is on the fence because he is not sure he has actually fulfilled his destiny. Patton explained the challenge of playing two parts in a one man show, "I play my ghost at the same time. We have an interaction; I play my ghost in spirit. They are setting up a light to represent the crossing over, but he is not sure he really wants to go into that light. There are all those demons and unresolved conflicts going on, so I interact with that character."
I asked Patton if the conflicts went beyond the personal into the political, "Racism versus freedom, you cannot get more political or universal than that. The character grew up in the South, a segregated city in a segregated state. Throughout the play he talks about evolving and finding freedom." Not a surprising issue for the 70-something playwright born in the Deep South to confront. I asked Patton if he as the playwright wrote his pieces with Patton the actor in mind, "I don't know. This piece I wrote because it was simply this time to write it."
An eclectic gentleman indeed, Patton was an ordained Lutheran minister who was a chaplain at Duke University before coming to the East End to teach and after leaving the Hamptons was the director of the Off-Broadway Force 13 Theatre Company in Manhattan for a decade, then an Alaskan commercial fisherman for a decade, followed by another decade as the executive director at a therapeutic facility for youths at risk in Buford, SC. Although presently living in Philadelphia, Patton directs and acts for a company dedicated to contemporary theatre in Richmond, Virginia.
He also happens to be the father of hugely successful actor Will Patton
and I asked him if he influenced his son's decision to act, "I think he was what he was early on. He was a natural, even at Hampton Day School. He was in shows that I directed there, but he was so good he knew more than I did, even back then. I didn't mess with him. The way I say it is that he had a natural sh_ _ detector. He knew when something wasn't true or honest. He was so good at that."
Actor/playwright Bill Patton on the steps of the Bridgehampton Community House the day before his performance of "One for the Road."
I asked Patton if we in the Hamptons were being privileged by the premiere of this play, "In this form, yes. I did it in Richmond by stepping on to a stage and improvising. I realized I wanted to do something with this idea. So now I have put it into the form of a theatre piece."
It seems the perfect piece for the new, audience-on-stage, black box theatre, The Bridge, recently created at the Bridgehampton Community House at which the Naked Stage plans on staging full productions along with its familiar venue of popular staged readings at Guild Hall
. Naked Stage's Josh Perl
, who was preparing The Bridge for Patton's performance, told me he is thrilled by the possibilities for new and established fully staged productions at the new venue.
Fellow HDS teacher and the playwright's long time friend Tony Hitchcock
produced the production that Patton hopes will find its way to a larger audience, "I am taking it one day at a time, but I would like to take this play further."
Further indeed, hopefully for Patton's play and other playwrights that need local support to find a way to bring their new work to the increasingly inaccessible, revival driven nirvana known as Broadway. Naked Stage at The Bridge: Patton's "One for the Road" may, hopefully, be the first on the road to Broadway.
For more information go to www.thenakedstage.com
Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com