Walt Willey is back in his hometown of Ottawa this week and, hopefully, on television soon.
The actor will reprise his one man show "Wild Bill: An Evening With James Butler Hickok," Friday through Sunday at Odeum Main Stage in downtown Ottawa.
Willey's TV work can't rival the 25-year, five-day-a week gig on soap opera stalwart "All My Children," but can be seen on a small screen, more likely a personal computer than a television.
"I'm busier now than when 'All My Children' was running," Willey said in an email interview from Los Angeles, where he participated in a benefit last weekend and is up for a nomination for the Indie Series Awards.
Willey is a cast member of "Tainted Dreams," a behind-the-scenes look at the lives and loves of the cast and crew of a fictional soap opera called "Painted Dreams." The first season has wrapped and the series is looking for distribution.
Last year he shot an episode of "Thurston: The Western Web Series," an online drama about a remote mining town in the 1880s. It can be viewed at thurston-series.com.
Still based outside Santa Fe, N.M., Willey continue to do standup comedy appearances as well as plays, "Wild Bill" the most frequent. He first staged it in Ottawa a little more than one year ago at Ottawa Township High School.
"Since its premiere in Florida in March of 2012, I've done the show probably 20 or so times or about once a month. I'm bringing it back to Ottawa for many reasons. Hickok is a fascinating man (and character to play) and his life was 'writ large' on the history and legend of the Old West. And seeing as he was a La Salle County native, I'm proud to bring his story 'home.'
"In my time in Ottawa, I've had many, many people ask when I was going to bring the show back here and as I'm doing an Illinois tour of the show over the next six months, I felt Ottawa was the perfect kickoff point."
"Wild Bill," which tells the life story of Troy Grove-born Old West legend Hickok, is a little different than the OTHS presentation with adjustments made for a much different venue.
"I think it's fair to say that it has 'evolved'; it's sharper because of some additional editing, the costume has changed some, I'm more comfortable with the material and the character is more ingrained in me. I developed 'Wild Bill' to be a very 'flexible' show: one that can play to a large audience in a large venue or to a smaller audience and venue and still retain its effect.
"Since the Odeum Main Stage is much smaller than the OTHS auditorium — which, frankly, I think works better for this show — the show will have a different tone, a more 'one on one' feeling, as though Hickok is 'holding forth,' entertaining his 'saloon' audience."
Willey also portrays Hickok in "Gunslingers," a program that will premiere this summer on the American Heroes Channel. Is Willey reinventing himself as a Wild West actor?
"Actually, 'Wild Bill' didn't lead me to 'Thurston' — 'Tainted Dreams' did. I was working on the 'Tainted Dreams' set when Colleen Zenk (who many will know from her 30-plus years as 'Barbara Ryan' on 'As the World Turns') came up to me and said 'I've got a job for you.' … She proceeded to tell me about this Western web series, 'Thurston,' on which she played Agnes Snead. They were looking for someone to play her husband, Edmund Snead, and she was here to recruit me … In the industry it's referred to as 'The Little Western That Could' because of all the nominations and wins it's racked up. I can't wait to get started shooting season three this spring."
"Tainted Dreams" is different than "All My Children," which is fine with Willey.
"The character I play on this series, Gregory Ashford, is nothing like Jackson Montgomery (my character on 'All My Children'), and that was very important to me. I loved my time on 'AMC,' but did not want to reprise that character. Fortunately, 'Tainted Dreams' creator/executive producer Sonia Blangiardo — whom I've known since she began her career at 'AMC' as an intern — had the same vision."
Follow the progress of 'Tainted Dreams' by going to waltwilleyworld.com/index.htm and subscribing to updates.
Willey is writing a mystery/thriller web series, and this week will announce the WilleyWorld play that will be presented this summer prior to Ottawa Riverfest.
"When I'm not on the road, I spend time at home in Santa Fe. My son, Chance (who was in WilleyWorld's 'Arsenic and Old Lace' and last year's 'Deathtrap') just closed a play there and is 200 pages into his first novel. My daughter, Merit, a visual arts major and dancer, so it's pretty much arts 24/7 for me. And I wouldn't have it any other way," Willey said.
- "WILD BILL: AN EVENING WITH JAMES BUTLER HICKOK, is a one-man show starring Walt Willey.
- SHOWTIMES WILL BE 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 6, at Odeum Main Stage, 808 La Salle St., Ottawa.
- TICKETS ARE $20 apiece and available at the door or odeummainstage.com.