“What’s the action?” Patrick White asks the students in his acting class at the Albany Masonic Lodge downtown while they critique each other’s scene work. As he drills down to the heart of what they’re doing, the class pays rapt attention; everything they’re learning here is something they can take with them out into the world of community theater. And who better to learn from – their teacher is one of the most successful actors and directors in the area.
White never had plans to teach. “It was a way of … building community and encouraging involvement,” he says. “And that’s what I really love about the class – how supportive they are of each other.”
A hometown boy, White, 54, went to Colonie High School, discovered acting and went to NYSTI his senior year; he then attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and lived in New York City for 13 years, working off-off-Broadway, as an extra in television and in movies and in regional theater.
He returned to the area in 1994 – “I thought theater was done for me,” he says – but he began working in the Capital Region’s community theater scene in 1996 and hasn’t stopped since, working at Albany Civic Theater, Curtain Call Theatre, Schenectady Civic Players, Sand Lake Center for the Arts, The Ghent Playhouse and Capital Repertory Theatre, just to name a few.
Community is important to White. He’s well-known for his work onstage as well as his directing, but lately it’s his role of community theater champion that makes him stand out from the rest.
“There’s a quote … Marian Seldes says, ‘with a ticket in your pocket, how bad can a day be?’ I would just rather be in the theater than doing anything else,” he says. “Everything about it just brings me life. I prioritize my days around theater.”
White and his partner Chris Foster, also a well-known local actor and director (the two met while working on a show together in 2001) saw 242 shows in 2017; White already has four directing gigs and three acting gigs lined up through September and, of course, there’s his acting class.
The word “action” is apt for White; he’s always on the go and he’s always sharing his love of theater on social media– letting people know what’s playing and what he’s attending, spurring conversations about local theater among the community, encouraging others to attend shows as much as they participate in them.
“I always wanted to contribute. Hopefully, it was never just ‘Look at me!,’ but I always wanted to be a participant,” White says. “I want to give to others what has been given to me. I want to save my life and every night I go to the theater, I do. I dream of working in a collaborative, inclusive, supportive community so I have to get out there and find collaborative, inclusive supportive people to work with.”
Since the election, White has made a conscious effort to be more inclusive in his casting and choose more socially relevant work; the cast of his production of An Inspector Calls at Schenectady Civic Players earlier this year was comprised entirely of people of color.
“I’ve always thought I’ve been drawn to subject matter that was relevant, but certainly since the election I feel driven to refute the 63 million people who voted for the white supremacist and choose plays that deal with inclusion, equality, social justice and human rights,” White says, when asked about his choices. “We don’t have to represent the former game show host onstage to make choices that question and/or affirm what we believe in and work on us in an emotional, spiritual and social level.”
The Capital Region currently has, by his count, 60 community theater groups; plenty to see, do and participate in – which he encourages anyone to do. “Why wouldn’t you?” he says, talking about people who might be curious about joining community theater. “You’re depriving yourself of one of the greatest joys in life. It could literally change who you are. Attend something this weekend. There are over 60 amateur groups you could check out to work with that cater to everyone – children, pre-teen, a dozen pay-to-play for teens, drama, musical, improv, open-mic, actors of color, readers’ theaters … and the best ones love newcomers. Volunteer. Hang out and ask questions. If you’re interested in theater and you haven’t experienced non-professional Capital Region theater yet, you’re really not living in the 518 yet. It’s like someone interested in concerts who hasn’t been to SPAC, interested in movies and not been to the Spectrum or interested in great restaurants and hasn’t been to New World Bistro.”
Every community needs a champion, and in White, Capital Region community theater has found theirs; his attendance at shows both big and small gives them validity, his constant positivity gives everyone something to look up to and strive toward, his class gives students the self-confidence needed to audition when they may not have taken that leap and his call for inclusivity is being heard, and heeded, by groups around the area. John Lennon famously said “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” White’s plans may have changed and brought him back to the region in the mid-‘90s, but he’s exactly where he’s meant to be, and exactly where he’s needed, making life richer for everyone in the community lucky enough to know him.