We all know the words to “Silent Night.” So did a scared little boy who had taken the stage at age two to belt out his rendition to an auditorium full of smiling parents. That night more then just a star in Bethlehem was burning bright. So was the future of Paul Witten.
He was adopted as an infant, joining a family that now includes three sisters. “My parents were always completely upfront that I had been adopted,” he said. “It was never a secret.”
Adopted or not, that night on the stage stood a small boy that was destined to find a bigger stage to perform upon…and he has.
Paul is an energetic, extremely personable guy to talk to. We laughed for the better part of two hours talking about Hollywood, memorizing scripts and the internet. At times it was a mindless banter, but fun the whole way through. It’s easy to understand why he’s an entertainer – it comes natural to him. We even talked about a headline for this article. He’s a funny guy – I totally understand why he does comedies.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always liked performing,” he said in a telephone interview. “I enjoy making people laugh.”
The realization came to him doing what people do every day: watching television.
“I was watching TV and saw that all the actors and actresses were basically playing make believe…and they got paid for it,” Paul said. “That’s when I knew it was for me.”
The itch to become an actor didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it didn’t happen at all until his family moved to Germantown, Tennessee. During his second year of high school, Paul discovered the drama department at Germantown High School and decided to give it a try.
That he did.
“For such a small town school, they really had an amazingly talented drama department,” he remembered. “There was such dedication and devotion to the craft…it made me want to try things.”
Paul said those days were the most influential time for a teen who wanted to pursue an acting career.
“I had an incredibly wonderful teacher in high school,” Paul said. “Mr. Bluestein had the most profound influence on me during that time…I learned so much from him and about his work ethic.”
Those fond memories were not one-sided. Paul’s drama teacher, E. Frank Bluestein, said the school’s drama program was in its infancy back in those days.
“Back then, our program was just beginning,” Bluestein told me by phone. “Paul was a young kid and he just jumped right in and helped out with everything.”
I spoke to Bluestein while he was rehearsing his current class of students for a debut performance at a local community playhouse. More than 40 years after he started teaching, Bluestein fondly remembers working with a young “very energetic, very enthusiastic kid.”
“(Paul) was really searching for what he wanted to do in life…and he found it in acting,” Bluestein said. “He’s made a career out of it and that’s always great to know. I still follow his career.
“There’s not a lot of money in teaching acting, but calls like this so many years later is the reason I’ve done this for 40 years,” Bluestein said. “It’s for the students.”
Paul’s family moved back to California during his junior year of high school, but he continued performing at Burbank High School.
“I think I always knew I wanted to act, but I just didn’t have the confidence to do it,” he said.
That changed when Paul turned 20 years old.
“It was my dream, and I wanted to do it,” he said. “So, I did.”
That determination landed him a small role on the soap opera classic General Hospital that earned him his Screen Actors Guild card and launched him on to bigger accomplishments. He has since appeared in episodes of Chuck, Protect and Serve, Desperate Housewives, Will & Grace, Crossing Jordan and The O.C.
While soap operas appear to be a relic of the past on television these days, it did give Paul an idea for a project that he’s working on at the moment.
Along with a few of his creative partners, Paul wrote and produced a hilarious look behind the scenes of Colliding Lives, a fictional soap opera. The project was developed as a web series and is called Dropping the Soap.
“I got a few friends together and we shot six episodes,” Paul said. “We’re ready to shoot the season finale soon.” Each episode runs approximately eight minutes.
The project draws upon the talents of fellow actors and friends Kate Mines, Suzanne Friedline, Mandy Steckelberg and Michael McKiddy and is true-to-form comedy that had me literally laughing out loud as I watched.
“It kind of parallels what’s happening to soap operas today,” he said. “They are struggling for survival, and so is our fictional soap opera. It’s just a funny story of what goes on behind the scenes.”
The work originally was intended to be shown as a web series on the internet. But after showing it around to contacts in the entertainment industry, Paul said they are now shopping it to producers as a television pilot.
“People saw the content and said we should produce it as a TV show,” he said. “It’s received some positive feedback, so we’ll see where it goes from here.”
Whether it’s behind the screen or in front of the camera, Paul said he enjoys working on projects with people he knows. The entire creative process becomes so much easier when working with people you know, he said. Developing creative projects like Dropping the Soap always is more fun when he gets to do it with people he knows, Paul said.
“I wanted to work with friends, and this was a fun project for us to do,” he said. “It made the work into something that was fun.”
While Dropping the Soap is working its way around Hollywood production offices, Paul has continued to stay busy in front of the camera.
“I just did a pilot episode of a great comedy,” he said. Actors Anonymous stars Lorenzo Lamas (Falcon Crest, The Renegade), Sally Kirkland (JFK, Bruce Almighty) and Brian Krause (Return to Blue Lagoon, Charmed) and is “a really funny project with a lot of potential,” Paul said.
As if that isn’t enough, Paul also is working on another pilot project – this time as writer/creator, as well as actor.
“It is so great to work with the same people on different projects,” he said. The project is a secret, so we’ll all have to stay tuned to see what Paul is up to.
What ever Paul is up to, I’m sure he will bring lots of laughter to the hearts of everyone who watches him perform. For me, I hope he does a Christmas special. I want to hear him sing Silent Night.