In photos: Left -- Patrick White (center) is shown with Kate Hans and Phil Sheehan in this scene from Albany Civic Theater’s “Big Maggie” in 2013. Right -- Gail Sparlin and White teamed up in Sparlin’s 2014 original musical, “Pokegama Hotel,” for Our Own Productions, produced at the old Schenectady Light Opera Company.
Patrick White can remember clearly when he decided to become an actor.
"I was in 11th grade English class and we were reading 'Glass Menagerie' out loud," remembered White, now 56 and one of the most popular members of the Capital Region's theater community. "We read that play over three days in class, and something just clicked for me."
White is much more than just a busy actor and director. He's also a huge fan. He and his life partner Chris Foster, another area stalwart of the theater community, attended more than 317 shows in 2019. Sometimes the trip included a train ride to see a Broadway show, but most of the productions were right here in the Capital Region or the Berkshires.
"It's very rarely that we regret going out to a show," said White. "There are so many wonderful theater companies in the Capital Region, and while there is a good general audience for the shows, the engine for success of this area's theater community is the enthusiasm and support of the performers. That's why we started attending all these other shows. It's important to support each other so that we can keep all this great theater going."
While he expects to continue to perform on area stages, since turning 50 White has been focusing more on directing as well as running Acting Class with Patrick White Saturday morning's at the Masonic Lodge in Albany.
"I love to get to pick my own material and to make my own schedule," said White, referring to his shifting away from performing. "As an actor you're always looking and choosing, 'well, do I really want to do this or that?' As a director you do what you want to do. You submit a show and hopefully a theater company will select it for their upcoming season."
Whether it's the play they like or White's direction they're looking for, he has been a very busy director of late. His look at "Ben Butler" is currently on stage at Curtain Call in Latham, and within the last 18 months he has also directed "The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington" for the Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York in Troy, and "Men in Boats" at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park. All three are rooted in actual history, and that nexus of history and theater seems to be popping up a lot in his work lately.
"Looking at historical events is a good way of talking about what's going on around the country today without being overly confrontational," said White. "Things happen, they're a part of our past, but they're also on our minds today. We're dealing with quite a bit these days. We're living with good and evil, and what I'm looking for in a play is something with substance; something that's going to have some repercussions and reflects what's going on today."
In "Ben Butler," the title character is dealing with runaway slaves, and according to White that situation mirrors what is going on today with the country's immigration issues.
"It's vitally important, now more than ever, to tell new stories about our past and how they relate to today," said White. "Our theater needs to become more diverse, inclusive and supportive as we celebrate, learn from and protect those different from us. I want to find a way to deny and refute those who are exclusionary about who belongs in our society and on our stages. Historical plays are a good way to do that and criticize what's going on today."
White grew up in Colonie and after high school headed for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. He spent three years there learning his craft and then spent the next decade acting in and around New York City as well as taking on the occasional odd job to help pay the bills. Around 1995, he headed back to the Capital Region.
"I left New York City, burned my Equity card, and thought I had left all this behind me," said White. "But then I went to a couple of shows in this area and discovered that, 'hey, these people are pretty good.' I guess I just couldn't stay away."
The local theater community is better because of it, and at times White makes life much easier for hard-working people like Carol Max, founder and artistic producer of Curtain Call Theatre in Latham.
"Putting aside that talent, and that he's such a pleasure to work with, I love him because I know if I give him a show to direct at my place he just makes my load lighter as a producer," said Max. "I know a show is in good hands when Patrick's directing. He's also an advocate for the theater. If he's not directing or in one of our shows, he still comes to every show, so we've developed quite a friendship over the years."
Most of his fellow actors feel the same way. Kathleen Carey, another Capital Region favorite in the theater community, has starred opposite White a number of times.
"Patrick shows up prepared," said Carey. "He knows the play, the playwright, times and place, and any historical or cultural context that could factor into the layers of the scene or the play as a whole. He's ready to take direction, yet to also find a way through the beats of the play organically, depending on what that particular scene requires."
Carey and White first teamed up in 1997 for Albany Civic Theater's production of "Don Juan in Chicago." White played the title character.
"He knows his character inside and out, and yours too," said Carey. "He's everything you want in a scene partner. I've lost track of how many times we've worked together, which I kind of love, and he's also one of the strongest people I know and the truest of friends."
Since 2014, White has been helping others enhance their theatrical experience by giving acting lessons. Stage fright, he says, should never be a problem.
"I was a pretty natural ham growing up, but there can be a little nervousness and that gives you some energy," he said. "One teacher told me, 'you'll only have stage fright when you're out there and you don't know what you're doing.' So, if you're thoroughly prepared, you won't have stage freight."
White's pupils are all types coming for a variety of reasons.
"For some it's an opportunity to work out some creative muscles, just like you might work out in a gym," said White, who has performed with the Cortland Repertory Theatre in central New York the past two summers. "Some are public speakers and the experience of performing helps them with their job, and others are new to acting and they really want to work on their craft. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to replicate my days in school in New York. I'm trying to create something like that in the Capital Region. It's a lot of reading, rehearsing and performing, and I really do love it all."