Brad and Ellie Pattison are the kind of veteran theater couple who seldom make a fuss about their work.
They refrain from embellishing, bragging, sugarcoating and complaining. And, they rarely overreact.
The couple radiates with the kind of lightheartedness we could all use more of in the workplace.
Self-described “goofballs,” the Pattisons are a sensible twosome in the throes of preparing for “Oklahoma,” the first show of The Players Theatre’s Broadway series.
Ellie, 44, is the musical’s costume designer, and Brad, 48, is the lighting designer. They’ve filled these roles for what seems like their entire lives.
Ellie, the youngest of five siblings, grew up in Connecticut as the daughter of a seamstress. Her mother was the resident costume designer at a dinner theater in East Windsor, Conn.
When Ellie was a baby, she used to curl under her mother’s sewing table in the back of the theater. The whir of her mother’s Singer would lull her to sleep.
Like all little girls, she wanted to be an actress, but her parents insisted she learn how to work backstage first.
“My parents thought it was important to have a well-rounded theater experience,” Ellie says. “I can’t think of a better way to learn than to have a lot of real-world, practical experience.”
Brad had a similar upbringing.
A Venice native, he grew up near the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus winter headquarters. His father sold tickets to the circus shows, and Brad often tagged along.
Unlike his wife, Brad never saw himself on stage.
“I’d rather be good at something rather than just OK at it,” he says of acting.
However, his aversion to the spotlight usually waned in the presence of girls. Brad admittedly auditioned for bit parts just to be around actresses during rehearsals.
“Isn’t that the whole point of being in a show?” he asks. “To meet girls?”
It was how he met Ellie.
The two were cast in “Once Upon a Mattress” at the Venice Theatre. Ellie was playing Princess Winnifred and Brad was (by his account) “some guy with a line.”
Little did Ellie know that Brad, a Harley-riding certified auto mechanic, had also studied ballet to meet girls.
“When people ask me about my husband, I say he’s a cement-finishing ballet dancer,” Ellie quips.
“And when people ask me about Ellie,” Brad retorts, “I say she’s an award-winning actress and costume designer.”
This summer, Ellie won the award for “Outstanding Costumes” from the American Association of Community Theater for The Players’ “The Who’s Tommy.”
The couple’s children have already begun to follow in their parents’ footsteps.
Their oldest son, Tommy, 24, an Iraq War veteran, recently joined Ellie on an audition for “Mame,” which opens Dec. 2, at The Players. And their youngest son, Jimmy, 6, has begun shadowing Brad’s every move backstage.
“The theater just asked him if he wanted to read for ‘Mame,’ and he said, ‘I’m a lighting designer, not an actor,’” Brad chuckles.
IF YOU GO
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved farm romp, “Oklahoma,” runs Oct. 21 to Nov. 7, at The Players Theatre. For more information, call 365-2494 or visit www.theplayers.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
• The Pattisons have a practice trapeze in their backyard. Brad Pattison learned the flying trapeze from his Venice neighbor, Tito Gaona.
• The Pattisons teamed up again last month for “The Fantasticks” at The Players Theatre.
• Ellie Pattison is also a contract costume designer at Booker High School.
• The 32-person “Oklahoma” cast requires more than 90 costumes.
• Ellie Pattison is also performing in The Manatee Players’ “Sunday in the Park with George.”
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].