Walt Willey Media > TV actor Willey to portray ‘Wild Bill’ this weekend





18 Mar 2016

http://www.pontiacdailyleader.com/article/20160318/NEWS/160319466/?Start=1

TV actor Willey to portray ‘Wild Bill’ this weekend

  • Ottawa native and television actor, Walt Willey, has been touring with the one-man show he authored about another famous Illinois native, Wild Bill Hickok.
  • Photo providedOttawa native and television actor, Walt Willey, has been touring with the one-man show he authored about another famous Illinois native, Wild Bill Hickok. Willey will perform this Saturday and Sunday in Pontiac.
  • Ottawa native and television actor, Walt Willey, has been touring with the one-man show he authored about another famous Illinois native, Wild Bill Hickok.Walt WilleyActor Walt Willey gives an animated portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok.Actor Walt Willey gives an animated portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok.
  • By Luke Smucker

    Posted Mar. 18, 2016 at 10:25 AM  Pontiac, Ill.
    In an entertainment industry saturated with superheroes, it's easy to forget that there was a time when superheroes didn't wear spandex and shoot lasers. One of the first superheroes was James Butler Hickok, commonly known as “Wild Bill.”
    The true story of Wild Bill's life plays out like a "Greek tragedy" of sorts according to performer Walt Willey, who will be taking on the persona of Hickok for the one-man show, "Wild Bill! An Evening with James Butler Hickok,"which is being performed at Pontiac's Eagle Performing Arts and Conference Center this weekend.
    "Here he is, in his mid 30s, famous for his marksmanship and yet, he's going blind," Willey said. "Nobody knows why for sure, but here is this man relying on his eyesight to be an incredible marksman and he has this reputation for making his living behind a badge. You just can't make that stuff up. I just found the whole story fascinating."
    Many will remember Willey for his work as Jack Montgomery on "All My Children," a television soap opera he joined in the late 1980s. Vermillion Players member Julie Peterson said although she didn't watch the show regularly, when she heard Willey would be performing at the Starved Rock Lodge in Oglesby, a few Vermillion Players members, including herself, decided to capitalize on the opportunity.
    "We were interested in seeing his performance," Peterson said. "Although we weren't specifically looking at him as a potential performer in Pontiac, it definitely came up in conversation."
    Part of the Starved Rock performance included a special Q and A session. Willey was going around and getting photos and answering questions when he met John Gahm and Mary Jones. He had also previously met them at a theater conference earlier that summer and someone suggested he come to Pontiac sometime.
    "About a year and a half later, ATR brought him to town to do a stand up comedy routine. His stand up is completely different than his Wild Bill performance," Peterson said. "His comedy was more shock-based, meaning the audience is supposed to think, 'did he just say that?' from time to time. "I had the opportunity to talk to him after that show and we kept in touch. We went back and forth to eventually narrow down a date."
    Peterson said the goal for any good actor is to make audiences forget the performer and embrace the character that the actor is portraying. From the moment the curtain goes up until the moment the curtain comes down, Peterson said it is important to forget everything personal and bring life to the character.
    "With his accent, the costume, the mannerisms — having met him personally, I would say he definitely portrays a different character than he played on television or in his stand up routine," Peterson said.
    "What I like is that it's just him, on stage, throughout the entire performance. It's story telling, some anecdotes, serious moments and a lot of humor. I think the intimacy of the performance is enough to draw audiences in.
    "He's on stage for an entire act, there's a short intermission and then he's back on stage again. He draws everyone in because he's making that eye contact. He's not just telling the story to people, he's making these visual connections with the audience and you can't help but pay attention."
    Peterson said these types of one- or two-person shows are perfect for the Eagle Theater because the stage is smaller.
    "When we're out at the park, aside from it being so hot, it's large — intimate performances can get lost in all the space. The Eagle Theater is more condensed, so actors know they can do performances at the Eagle Theater that wouldn't make sense in a larger venue."
    The performance will be held this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 each and $40 for VIP, which includes priority seating and a private reception with Willey after the show. For ticket availability, call the Eagle Box Office at 815-844-1187 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. There are still general admission tickets available for both performances.
    "When you strip away the legend, which I try to do, all that is left is provable fact," Willey said. "He was a farmer, a trapper, a sheriff, a marshall, an actor and that's kind of what spoke to me. He is arguably the most famous man in America after Lincoln and Lincoln was dead during his time, so he was kind of like a Kardashian, but he actually did something to achieve his fame."