Bill Patton, called and chosen

With the passing of Bill Patton something can be discussed publicly that Bill was too humble to consider before. The New Theatre should be named after him because if it weren't for Bill Patton, Jerry Turner and Pat Patton, Angus Bowmer's dream would not have been kept alive and thriving.

The idea that the person who makes the biggest donation to OSF gets to have the theater named after them is a travesty. There are some things that shouldn't be for sale. Bill's passing marks the end of an astounding era — attention must be paid.

The festival is like no other in that it was a town project and not a single artistic director's dream. Patton created our quality of life and brought billions of dollars into this valley, and will continue to do so. There is no more fitting monument than naming a theater after him.

The triad with Jerry Turner and Pat Patton proved that sometimes the human spirit can lift up from the gravity of everyday life and achieve something spectacular. Ashland is an example to all such towns that want to elevate the opportunities for everyone.

Bill Patton was a legend in theater circles all over America in his time. If he was speaking at a conference, the room was packed with big-city professionals. At home he was just our neighbor and friend who headed Shakespeare. However nice the Patton Garden is, it's not enough.

The Turner/Patton theater story is one that proves anything can happen with the right leaders. Everyone was a part of making this theater — big donors, small farmers, high school kids — because everyone could afford the price of a ticket back then.

Jerry Turner wasn't just another director in the right place at the right time. He was a walking, talking, theatrical tome of knowledge and ideas. His passion for Shakespeare and the Nordic playwright iconoclasts was legendary. Turner's talks at first company meetings possessed original literary greatness and should have been published.

Pat Patton kept the ship afloat, fixing disasters no one ever knew about, personal and public. Talents like Peggy Rubin, Dick Hay and Jeannie Davidson created the possibility for Dennis Arndt's "LEAR" — one of the best anywhere, anytime, at any famous theater.

From many acts of goodness sometimes greatness comes. Bill and his equally stellar soulmate, Shirley, set the tone for one and all of acceptance and inclusion. It was truly a "family" theater, but more, a world community theater in the best sense.

The Greeks did it. Shakespeare did it. Ashland did it. They created an oasis in the world for the magic to thrive and come alive against all odds. Without the Turner/Patton triad Mr. Bowmer's Dream would not have survived to keep going no matter what.

Who would have dared suggest they build a theater to last beyond 100 years? The festival is different than other theaters; that cannot be forgotten or its miracle birth is lost to history. That's the big story.

This honor is not for Bill alone, but for all who contributed to this remarkable super-human accomplishment. And if this not be true, Shakespeare never writ, and no one ever loved.

Leah Ireland is a local freelance writer.

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