Pendragon Theatre company member Brandon Patterson admits to be bitten by the "acting bug" at quite an early age.
Born in California, Brandon moved east with his mother to Hudson to be closer to her family. He would spend the greater part of his growing years traveling between California and New York. He laughs about how traveling cross-country so many times as an unaccompanied minor may have helped foster his ability to pretend. He remembers watching movies and back-editing the final product to dissect how the final product was put together. Now he gets to do it for a living.
"I moved here (Saranac Lake) two years ago in 2009," Brandon said. "I was in New York City working as a personal trainer and had gotten a few acting jobs but nothing big.
Pendragon Theatre’s Brandon Patterson brings characters to life.
(Photo — Diane Chase)
"Being a personal trainer is a lot about sales and selling and I'm not good at selling," he pauses for a moment. "Well, I'm good at selling on stage - at least I hope I am."
Brandon had been involved with a lot of the theatre performances while in college at SUNY Potsdam and formed a bond with instructor Susan Neal, who is co-founder and artistic director at Pendragon. She had taught a few of Brandon's courses as well as being the director for one of his first defining stage roles, in the play, "Hedda Gabler."
"In the classes that I took from Susan, I learned so much about Pendragon Theatre. I knew what I wanted to do but I wasn't sure how that would present itself in the future," Brandon said. "I did not have an inkling that I would end up here. I kept in touch with Susan and then working at Pendragon Theatre came to be."
At that time, Brandon was looking for other options to living in New York City. He graduated from SUNY Potsdam and wanted to go to New York and as he says, "make some mistakes and learn a lot of things." He then received a call from Neal that changed his life.
"While I was working in Manhattan, I called Susan one day. She had asked me to audition for the theatre the year before," Brandon said. "Pendragon was only auditioning from within the company, which we do from time to time. Susan then called back and said she had a few roles during the summer season for me, if I wanted to come and take it further. It was amazing."
Brandon reflects on hearing about Pendragon Theatre and how, driving by Saranac Lake on his way south, the theatre and its reputation became almost a mystical place. He attended Pendragon's road productions and admired how this place impacted so many people, providing a community with a professional theatre experience.
"I first stepped in the door of Pendragon in June of '09," Brandon asid. "A couple of my friends had come here (Saranac Lake) to work while I was in Manhattan so I knew they were acting, creating and being a part of something.
"I don't know how long I would have stayed in the city if this opportunity hadn't presented itself to me," Brandon said. "I like to think that this was the way it was supposed to go.
"I have tried my part at directing and helped stage-manage with the Christmas show. Being part of an ensemble has shown me so much," Brandon comments on observing the world around him and continuing to want to learn new things helps him ply his craft.
Brandon's enthusiasm for his work shows as he admits that putting up a set may not seem exciting to some, but to him, it is all the elements put together that help form a professional production. It is behind the scenes and all part of the job. It is what he understands.
The draw to live theatre for Brandon is simple: the interaction with people. Each performance, no matter how the performance is directed, is going to be different because of the human involvement. One thing that separates Pendragon Theatre from others is that it is a repertory theatre. Brandon explains it as a European tradition where the troupe presents a series of performances throughout the season, not in one-week runs. Sometimes it can be complicated for the company, as they will be performing one show while rehearsing another. The benefit for the audience is to be able to see performances at various times and see the same actors in different roles.
"On the flip side the actor gets to form these relationships with other actors that they can then use on stage. All of that makes the audience come," Brandon said. "Live theatre is not something that you find everywhere all the time nowadays. I am a huge supporter of arts in schools and I did productions in high school as well. I do notice a huge difference in the quality of the performances and the audience also sees the difference in a professional performance."
Recently seen as the title character in Pendragon's production of "Dracula," Brandon feels becoming Dracula made him less frightened of taking on new characters.
"No one talks like Dracula anymore, in that ridiculous but wonderful way," he said. "We never behave that way. I really had to let go and just play.
"Nothing is in person anymore, not even our conversations. Recently I got a beautiful card in the mail and I thought the sentiment was wonderful but I also wondered why do we need a card to say what we want to say. We are so afraid of being personal with each other."
Brandon wants that person who is new to live theatre to feel safe with the experience. His role is not just acting the part but making it believable for the audience.
"Live theatre allows people to experience human interaction in a controlled environment. Theatre is a heightened version of all those human experiences," Brandon said. "It is better than television because you are participating in it right now, seeing the actors," Brandon said. "Like with Saturday Night Live, you see the performers cracking up and feel a part of the performance."
Brandon now is excited about being able to share his experience with young children through a Pendragon program called "Page to Stage." He and fellow Pendragon company member Donna Moschek engaged 7th grade students to write and perform their own pieces.
"I've just been working in the seventh grade with Donna," Brandon said. "Some of those kids were terrified of theatre. That age group can be squeamish and embarrass easily. Some of these kids are just as uncomfortable off the stage as on it. We have to engage them and make it fun for them.
"We go into the school and teach the students the business of acting. What it means to be an actor. We teach them improv and being able to dissect a play. We get them to write a play, a rough draft and how to flush it out. From there, some students really take the initiative. I hope that Donna and I are able to take what we have learned privately and professionally and can impart this onto the students."
It hadn't occurred to Brandon at the time that some of his students may not be familiar with Dracula. He felt he might be the last generation to dress up like Dracula for Halloween as new vampires have pushed aside those older villains.
Pendragon Theatre relies on sometimes minimalist and always creative set designs. In a world where people are always shown everything and nothing is left to imagination Brandon and the other actors have to make the audience believe in the world that he helps create for the few hours the audience is in the seats.
"To make the audience believe what they are seeing, first and foremost the actors have to believe what they are doing, as silly as it may seem at times," Brandon said. "Now we are working on the show Stuart Little and gearing that toward the kids so some of the dialog is going to be silly. My job is to make it real for the kids."
As for the sets, Brandon agrees that Pendragon has an amazing team including Technical Director John Szasz. He acknowledges the "genius" of Managing Director and Co-Founder Bob Pettee. He uses the recent production of Eurydice where a winding staircase came apart in three pieces and had certain specs that "added to the magic for the actors as well as the audience." Brandon relays how it is his job to make the audience engage in the production.
Brandon shares what people can look forward to seeing the 2011 Pendragon season. "Stuart Little" will be the family show with the actors playing many parts. The musical thriller "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" will be shown, as well as "Dangerous Liaisons" and "The Mystery of Irma Vep."
Pendragon Theatre is providing a broad range for theatre lovers. The family play "Stuart Little" is adapted from the E.B. White story about a "plucky mouse making it in the real world."
"Sweeney Todd" is the first musical Pendragon has produced since the "Fantasticks" in 2007 and the cast looks forward to showing the audience "a tale of obsession and revenge."
"The Mystery of Irma Vep" is "side-splitting mayhem." The comedy draws from a collage of cliches from vampires to servants with numerous costume changes for the two actors playing all the parts. "Dangerous Liaisons" is a steamy adult drama about manipulation in French society with additional productions in the works.
"Susan Neal will be in 'Dangerous Liaisons,'"
Brandon said. "For anyone that saw her in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' knows she was amazing. I've seen Bob in plenty of productions but seeing Susan on the stage was pure pleasure. We've got some alumni coming for that production as well. That will be a special treat. It will be a nice blend of new company members and veterans."
Pendragon Theatre, the Adirondack's only year-round professional theatre, marked its 30th year celebration last year with an alumni benefit and play reading with people coming from all walks of theatre life. This year, former Pendragon company members Ginger Lee Honey, with an acting resume including Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre and Joe Guzman from Philadelphia's theatre scene will return for "Dangerous Liaisons."
When he isn't pursuing the career he loves so much Brandon continues his artistic endeavors by singing karaoke and playing the guitar.
He mentions script read-throughs, and rehearsals, blocking and having to change elements right up to performance days.
"There is one point this summer that I will be opening one show, performing in another and then a week later opening another show," Brandon said. "That is probably the time that days and nights start to blend together. The hours are a bit crazy so instead of working 9 to 5, I may come in at noon and work until 10 at night.
"This is the only job I have right now, and I use the word work loosely, because I love what I do. I enjoy it. I don't want anyone to think that I am not putting in the time, but it doesn't feel like work because I truly love coming here," Brandon leans back casually in his chair. "This a partnership either way. It isn't like one person is more important than another. This is an ensemble and sometimes we need to put in long hours. I hope the level of fun and professionalism that we are able to give the audience is a big draw."