Bringing American folklore to life
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Jul 13, 2011 | 1895 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ACTOR BILL GATLIN appears as Davy Crockett, Mighty Casey, top right, and John Henry, above right, along with other American folk heroes, in his one-man show “American Folklore.” The veteran actor of stage and screen said it’s his life’s passion to bring characters to life through acting, and his latest vehicle for performing will make a new generation of children aware of American folklore. Banner photos by WILLIAM WRIGHT
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Davy Crockett may be alive and well in the annals of American folklore, but Bill Gatlin is breathing new life into the “king of the wild frontier” along with legendary brawler and boatman Mike Fink, American folk hero John Henry, Rip Van Winkle, The Mighty Casey and other celebrated characters in his new one-man show featuring the best of American folklore.

Gatlin, a Cleveland native, is an accomplished actor with a master of fine arts in playwriting from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He has appeared in dinner theaters performing in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and “The Rainmaker,” to name a few.

He also appeared in the Academy Award nominated documentary “James Agee,” before returning to Cleveland after pursuing an acting career in New York in the early 1980s and late 1990s. As an actor Gatlin sought the most challenging roles and found himself inspired by one of the great craftsmen of stage and screen — Hal Holbrook.

The Emmy and Tony-Award winning actor not only raised the bar in one-man show performances with his presentation of “Mark Twain Tonight,” he raised the eyebrows of Gatlin who came up with his own idea for a one-man show.

“Hal Holbrook is the godfather of one-man shows,” Gatlin said. “In 1986 it was Davy Crockett’s bicentennial. I researched him for 18 months and did a one-man show on him. Then I started touring it for 20 years. I had a lot of fun with it. I did it in every conceivable situation you can imagine — at Hardwick Farms, at the University of Tennessee, all the high schools in the area and a lot of the grammar schools.”

One of Gatlin’s greatest compliments came from writer Tom Kirkland with the “Elizabethton Star” who wrote, “Bill Gatlin did for Davy Crockett, what Hal Holbrook did for Mark Twain.”

Gatlin’s play was hailed as a “living history” of a man whose legendary acts overshadowed the real person. But Gatlin presented the real Davy Crockett as a man greater than the myths that made him famous. In his new one-man show, Gatlin brings Crockett along with other authentic and fictitious characters from American folklore to delight children of all ages.

“What I am introducing is folklore that I grew up with,” Gatlin said. “These are tall tails of Pecos Bill, John Henry, Davy Crockett and others. I asked one kid who was about 7 or 8 years old about Rip Van Winkle and he had never heard of Rip Van Winkle. I couldn’t believe it!”

Gatlin, a Bradley Central High School graduate who served in the U.S. Navy before attending Cleveland State Community College and UTK, said he gets a lot of satisfaction out of bringing characters to life and making a new generation of children aware of American folklore.

“This will give the kids who I am performing for some lesson on who they are,” he said. “It’s also for my own self-satisfaction as an actor. It gives me a chance to create characters, which is what I love to do. And if I can bring a character to life for the people who sees this — that is very satisfying!”

Gatlin said some of his American folklore will be storytelling at its best, but most of it will be performing, “which is what I do best.” He added, “Our ancestors grew up with an oral tradition of storytelling. And it was passed on from generation to generation, which we have gotten away from. This will give people a chance of see a live storyteller telling these stories. I hope they can take away a lot of information about what their ancestors listened to.”

Gatlin is even adding a performance of Uncle Remus’ “Brer Rabitt and the Tar Baby” to his one-man show, calling it “a new experience for me.”

His first show will be performed at Taylor Elementary School in early September, followed by other engagements at local schools and several dinner theaters.

Although most of his performance will speak to the myth of the American folklore characters, Gatlin said he will be re-enacting the fact-based killing of a bear by Crockett, his favorite character in American folklore.”

With a passion for acting and a vehicle to take his audience on a journey through time to experience the lives of legends and the suspenseful stories which made them famous, Gatlin said when people see his performance they will believe he is a good actor — one whose character renditions seem to bring the dead back to life.

For more information on performances or to book a reservation, contact Bill Gatlin at 423-790-6057.