By Katherine Brewer
The Whole Backstage hosted an actors' workshop July 7 with professional actors Jeffery Patterson and Judy Norton as the instructors.
Both coming from Hollywood, California, Mr. Patterson is an award-winning producer, director, actor, filmmaker and founder of the feature film company, Once Upon a Dream Productions, which creates and focuses on entertainment with family-friendly content. Judy Norton, who played Mary Ellen, the oldest daughter in the beloved 9-year television series, “The Waltons,” shared her talents as an award-winning professional writer, director, actor and musical theatre performer. Spaces quickly filled up for the free seminar with approximately 50 participants.
The fortunate circumstances for Mr. Patterson and Ms. Norton to direct this seminar were based on an old friendship. Mr. Patterson, originally from Albertville, and Greg Leach, a Guntersville native, became friends more than 40 years ago through their love for flying. Mr. Patterson’s father, Jerry, owned a crop-dusting service among other businesses in Albertville and Guntersville, and he spent a great deal of time at the airports of both cities.
When Jeffery was about 12 years old and Greg was about 15, they often met up at the airports while their pilot fathers worked and talked about airplanes. At age 26, Greg earned his pilot’s license and spent several years giving flying lessons, piloting private trips for individuals, including many trips with Hinton Mitchem, now deceased, when he was a candidate for lieutenant governor of Alabama. Throughout the years, Jeffery and Greg have kept in touch as their lives traveled different routes to different places.
About a month ago, one late night, Mr. Patterson called Mr. Leach. During the conversation, Mr. Leach described his and his family’s involvement and love for the Whole Backstage theatre.
“Impressed with Greg’s enthusiasm about the Whole Backstage, I was thrilled to offer my expertise to conduct a workshop,” Mr. Patterson said. “And I knew if scheduling would permit, it would be great to bring along my business partner, fellow actor and writer, and theatric instructor, Judy Norton. She is an actors' workshop guru and is always so generous with her knowledge and advice. My teenage twin daughters and I were in the planning stages of a possible visit to Marshall County, and we really wanted this project to come together for the Whole Backstage,” Mr. Patterson said.
Mr. Patterson’s ties to Marshall County are strong, even though most of his adult life he has lived in California. His grandfather, Jesse Corbin, served as probate judge for several decades, and was an important encourager and role model in Mr. Patterson’s formative years.
“I often rely on wisdom that I learned from him, and his stories still teach me lessons in my everyday life,” Mr. Patterson said.
Once contacts were made and dates were set, Mr. Leach contacted Johnny Brewer to organize and publicize this special opportunity for the Whole Backstage. A few days before the workshop, Mr. Patterson, his daughters and Ms. Norton arrived in Guntersville. Andy Hunter provided them with a tour of the Whole Backstage, along with a history lesson behind the organization and the building.
“We were amazed at the facility and its capabilities,” Mr. Patterson said. “It was almost unbelievable to me, to see this performance space and imagine the many positives that are offered here. Marshall County is so fortunate to have a professional-level theatre like this, with obvious incredible support from the community and other sources."
After the workshop, Mr. Patterson noted, “The amount of talent here is remarkable. I wish that we could’ve stayed longer and worked with some of the participants. We hope that our workshop provided some useful techniques and strategies that will be relevant and valuable tools of the trade. Our visit to Guntersville and north Alabama was delightful, and we look forward to returning soon.”