Patrick the Star: An Interview with Director and Actor Pat Walsh

By Rachel Hauben

Pat Walsh first caught the theatre “bug” in the fourth grade when he would watch his older brother perform in shows. Pat himself has been performing since 2004, got more involved with theatre during high school, and minored in Theatre at Villanova University. In his classes, Pat studied directing and playwriting as well as acting, which sparked his interest in exploring different aspects of theatre. He directed his first musical in 2014, joined Summer Stage as the Assistant Stage Manager for The Wizard of Oz in 2015, and has spent his summers at Summer Stage ever since. For the past eight years he has been involved in Summer Stage, and for the last six he has served as both a director for Children’s Theatre shows and a performer in Mainstage productions.

We sat down with Pat Walsh to learn more about his experience as a Children’s Theatre Director for Elf, Jr., his journey playing the role of Patrick Star in this year’s Mainstage performance, The Spongebob Musical, and his passion for Upper Darby Summer Stage.

Q: When did you first get involved with Summer Stage?

A: The summer of 2015 was my first year on staff here at Summer Stage. The first show I worked on was The Wizard of Oz, Jr. as the Assistant Stage Manager. I had never done Children’s Theatre; I hadn’t known about it at all. My younger brother did it, but I learned about it all too late. I did start with Mainstage, though, and slowly but surely Summer Stage became my life. Chris Luner stage managed Shrek, my first Mainstage show, and we would talk about how I could get involved with Summer Stage staff. He suggested that each year I should try to gain new experience that I hadn’t had before, which would help me to move from Assistant Stage Manager to Stage Manager to Assistant Director and finally to Director. Instead of performing at Summer Stage one year, I decided to solely focus on stage managing at his suggestion, which led to me moving up into the position of Stage Manager the following summer. His advice helped me figure out a path that has taken me all the way from an Assistant Stage Manager to where I am now as a Director. 

Q: How many years have you been on staff at Summer Stage, and could you tell us a bit about the experience of directing a Children’s Theatre show?

A: This is my eighth year on staff. I assistant stage managed one show, stage managed another, and have directed six more shows over the past six years. Within those six years, I also directed a show during our virtual summer. Directing a Children’s Theatre show at Summer Stage is unlike directing anywhere else because of the space we perform in and the production value to which we have access. The capabilities of what we can do with costumes, sets, and the size of our shows really encourage you as a director to have a clear understanding of what your production will look like when it’s finally up on its feet. Directing here, you definitely have to focus on the finished product. I’m always told to think of the pictures that I want taken of the show, and to think of the moments I want to be captured: the character surrounded by those they’ve met on their journey, a moment at home, etc. Those will be the pictures that will be put up in the lobby for families and audiences to see. We try to direct towards those moments and build up a full show. 

Directing here is also fun because you have a staff that comes from everywhere – you have people who are local, people who come from different colleges in various states and regions – but we all come together and subscribe to our motto here of building each other up and filling the world with love. Everything here is rooted in that connection to one another. While directing here can be big and daunting with all the tech elements, it’s also very familial and welcoming. This only helps to amplify the shows that we do, since many of them have a theme of coming together and learning to accept our differences. The magic is that that’s what we’re doing every day with one another in our casts and among our staff. You’re not just putting on a massive technical spectacle with great costumes and lighting, but you’re also developing young performers as kind humans.

Q: How many years have you been in Mainstage, and what was it like to be starring (literally) in The SpongeBob Musical?

A: This is my sixth Mainstage show. Being in SpongeBob has been amazing. This show is unlike anything I’ve ever been in so far, especially because of how recognizable the characters and the story are. There’s such an expectation of what the characters look like, but the show is it’s own original concept. The story isn’t based off of any particular episode; it was developed for the stage. It’s been so fun to take something that everyone knows so well and to do it in a different way. 

Mainstage is great because you’re in such a diverse population of performers. You have people who do theatre for fun, but you also have people who study theatre, voice, dance, directing, choreography, and more. The level of talent that we put together when it’s time for a Mainstage show is just so incredible. I think that Harry used to call it “Broadway in your backyard,” and it’s so true. I’ll look around at rehearsals and think, “That person’s so good. Wait, they live around here just like me!” It’s neat to have this community here that is so talented and so gifted in sharing their talents with others. Nothing beats being on stage, though. It’s the best feeling when you look out at all those seats and feel that energy. The PAC is such a cool performing space, too, with the seats going all the way up. 

Something I really loved about this show was that the children in the audience were laughing as much as the adults in the audience. Even during the high-stakes moments in the show, when there’s a lot of action and intense moments that keep the adults on the edge of their seats, the kids are just as invested. I think it’s so fun to have a show that truly everyone can enjoy. 

Q: What are some of the similarities and differences between directing a Children’s Theatre show and performing in a Mainstage show?

A: I would say that one of the similarities is that when you perform at Summer Stage, no matter the role, we want everyone to be big and make defined choices because these shows are for adults and children alike. The best and most authentic way to bring these characters to life is to really put your all into the development of that character. When I was directing Elf, I encouraged the actor who played Buddy, “Yes, there’s a defined character of Buddy that we know from the movie, but I want you to create your own character within that.” For SpongeBob I had to keep that same thing in mind. I had to ask myself, “We know who Patrick Star is, but who is my Patrick Star?”

This summer I experienced that similarity of taking shows that have stories or characters people might have expectations for and putting your own twist on them. In such a large venue, like the Performing Arts Center, you have no choice but to give 110% into every movement, line, and moment. I’m glad that I’ve directed here for so long because I can put into practice what I’ve told my performers over the years. Just knowing the space has been so helpful. 

A difference between Children’s Theatre and Mainstage is obviously the fact that we’re older. There’s also a live orchestra, the shows we put on are longer, and there are more props and more elaborate costumes in Mainstage, but Children’s Theatre gets me in a mindset of how to consider all sides of a performance. If directing Children’s Theatre makes me think about lighting, sound, props, and costumes, then that carries over into Mainstage. Now as a performer I’m seeing all of these elements come together and I have a greater appreciation for what it takes to put a finished show together because I’ve just watched it happen on a smaller scale with Children’s Theatre. 

Of course another similarity is that we’re teaching our kids “to fill the world with love” and how to be “brave, strong, and true,” and at Mainstage it’s a chance for us to really lead by example and show that we don’t just know those things but that we practice them throughout our lives. I’m at a point where people I’ve directed in Children’s Theatre are now in Mainstage with me, and I can look around and think “Wow, I directed you five years ago, and I directed you last year!” Now we’re all working together, and it’s so great to see the performers graduate from Children’s Theatre into Mainstage and really realize we were preparing them for this larger-scale production while they were in Children’s Theatre. 

Q: What was your favorite memory or magical moment from this summer?

A: My magical moment from Elf was when we first showed the set model to our cast. Our set was designed to replicate a snow globe, and that’s the key prop in the story of Elf; it’s the snow globe that Buddy gives to Jovie. The top of our set was arched and had projections, and the bottom was sort of a round base. As we explained the concept to the cast, I saw the moment where they all bought into the show and their eyes lit up. There was that moment of “this is what we’ve been preparing, and this is what we’re all going to start preparing together.” It was just so special. 

My magical moment from SpongeBob is the night we learned the music for the finale, which is “Best Day Ever” going into the SpongeBob theme song. Those are songs which, if you grew up watching Spongebob, you know them well. There’s a breakdown in the finale that we all sing a capella, and everyone was so excited to learn it. Not only did it signify the end of learning all the music in the show when we finally got to it, but it was this loud, exciting, bright, happy moment where we’re all singing together and laughing. We all looked around the room and realized that this is how we would feel every single time we finish doing this show. Sarah DeNight was crying, Ali Caiazzo was crying, everyone was crying even though it’s SpongeBob, but it was so great. The vibes were off the charts that night, and I’ll never forget it. I turned to Scott Berkowitz, who was sitting next to me that night, and I asked him “Aren’t you so glad we did this show?” He immediately said, “Oh yeah, I’m so glad.” Every night of the show, when we got to the finale after being out there and telling this story, it was just an amazing culmination of all elements involved. 

Q: What makes Summer Stage special to you?

A: There’s so much that makes Summer Stage special to me. It’s not just a place or a program but it’s the feeling in your heart of what it means to be at Summer Stage. It doesn’t have to do with which room you rehearsed in or the specific stage you perform on, instead it’s about the gathering of people who are making art together. The two goals here are of course to put on a show but also to really inspire, encourage, and support one another. You can tell when you achieve that, and you know how special it is when those moments happen. 

Summer Stage to me is about how your last experience here carries with you. Even months and years down the line you’ll remember that show and how it made you feel, so you do the next one because you know you’ll have those incredible experiences again. Summer Stage is the perfect opportunity to focus not just on performance, but also on growing together, which is really what theatre is all about. That’s our focus here. It’s not just the shows; it’s the connection you make with one another, and the people you run into throughout the year that you met at Summer Stage and reconnect with. Even when my wife and I were on our honeymoon driving to upstate New York, we saw a car on the highway with a Summer Stage bumper sticker, which just shows you how far those connections can go.

Q: What does “brave, strong, and true” mean to you?

A: “Brave, strong, and true” means that you are unabashedly yourself, and that is someone who cares for others, thinks for others, and wants to bring others the happiness you want everyone including yourself to have. It’s something that goes beyond yourself. It’s about knowing that who you are is someone who can inspire others, someone who can make an impact, and someone who matters. If that’s what you believe about others, then that’s what others will believe about you. Those three words are so intertwined with each other here at Summer Stage because it means you are being the best version of yourself. 

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