Following Their Heart and Their Dreams

| October 8, 2022 | 0 Comments

There are people who make a difference in our world, and I get to use my good fortune to let our community know of them.  Bonnie Johnson (Anton) and Bill Anton are likely people you know of.  If not, I value the opportunity to introduce them to you.

Bonnie confesses that as a child her very active nature, especially as the sixth child to a then older mother, was disruptive.  When she was six, mother sent her to a dance class a sister was teaching. Bonnie loved all the movement, making her first performance in a minstrel show, a very popular style in the 60s.  But she was more high energy and creative than the other children. 

She took every opportunity to dance, even as a youngster and teen, working with kids through parks and organizations all around and sharing the joy of dance.  But it wasn’t until she went to SDSU where limited classes focused on modern or “interpretive” dance, that she began to see her path.  She earned her B.A. in Physical Education (SDSU did not have a dance degree at the time) through the Drama Department.  Her passion and experience reinforced her knowledge that childhood is a critical time of life that develops or stunts the person, most often effected by family and life experience. 

And she saw how to use stage and dance to bring out even the most compressed child, with fun plays and cover-up costumes if they needed, and expressive action.  She saw the changes and confidence and creativity grow in the kids from this exuberance. Her choreography was energetic and at the same time personal to the dancers.

At her senior concert at SDSU, where she choreographed and danced, she met Craig Noel, founding director of the Old Globe Theatre.  He invited her to come meet Ellis Rabb, actor and director who was doing “The Tempest.”  Based on that meeting, for many years Bonnie regularly did choreography at The Globe, for the Shakespeare season and indoor performances.  She was Jack O’Brien’s associate director and assistant choreographer on the original production of the “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Bonnie’s life was so full and peripatetic…accomplishing her Master of Arts at USIA, working on “Chicago,” “Jesus Christ Super Star,” “Evita,” and for siz years doing the free public pageants called “Green Shows” at the Old Globe, on the spaces in front of the theatres. 

Aware that kids are enervated and inspired by stories, history and movement, learn how to benefit from risk taking to develop self-esteem, and learning if I can imagine it, I can do it, she continued to collaborate with a cadre of artists and makers at Kellogg School in Chula Vista, producing over 80 productions.  Kellogg’s philosophy embraced the concept that every child should have an arts emersion experience.  Therefore, every child in grades K-6 received classes in art, music, theatre and dance.  This programming earned Kellogg a State Golden Bell award for excellence in education, an example of strong educational practices in Congress, and recognition by the National Endowment for the Arts, and an article in the yearly publication from Americans for the Arts. 

The Kellogg arts program was unique and the first of its kind to do integrative thematic arts education. Long before STEAM and STEM, Kellogg would immerse the students in a period of history or a chosen culture. 

One example of this effort that focused on the Wild West, Kellogg partnered with Wells Fargo and commissioned a play to be written following Sam Clemens stagecoach ride from Missouri to Sacramento.  Reenactors from the Buffalo Soldiers, learned dance from native Americans, created a gallery of pieces inspired by western artists and rode on the Wells Fargo Stage Coach pulled by six live horses. 

Sadly when “No Child Left Behind” became government policy, funding for all arts programming stopped.  History was only in books, not a living, breathing adventure. Bonnie became education director at The Globe and went on to a joyous thirteen years at Dieguemo School in Rancho Santa Fe, doing what she loved, inspiring a new generation of kids.

It was at the San Diego Rep where Bonnie initially met Bill Anton.  Bill had graduated from Illinois State, changing his major during his senior year from in Poli-Sci and Pre-Law to theatre.  It was there that he became a fan of Steppenwolf and later at a workshop met Arthur Wagner, founding chair of the UC San Diego Department of Drama. 

Bill decided to move to UCSD and earn his MFA.  As you may know, The La Jolla Playhouse at UCSD was founded by Gregory Peck, Mel Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire, providing a legacy of excellence and popularity, enhanced by the nationally revered Wagner.  They had a day of special auditions. Bill shrugged off his doubts and earned “first alternate,” and then the slot opened. 

Bill will tell you today, with all the years and roles he enjoyed on stage, his favorite part of the process was the development of the roles and collaboration in putting the on-stage movement and coordination together. Yet, after a few performances, the repetition was not as exciting to him.  That may explain why his range of characters was so enormously varied. 

He completed his MFA, spent a summer at the San Diego Rep in “Glass Menagerie,” did the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, worked in Worcester, Massachusetts at Holy Cross with four actors and two kids doing artist in residence, did “Menelaus” at the Greek Theatre in New York, and started his own production company off Broadway doing “The Glass Menagerie.”

His private production company was funded by a wealthy venture capitalist, who hired Bill to cook for him.  Bill loved it.  He spent six weeks in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands.  Then they returned to New York City where Bill began to manage the real estate properties of the owner, which he also enjoyed.

Then Bill’s ex-girlfriend from Massachusetts decided to start a new theatre in San Diego, and asked Bill to assist with operations.  After one play, Bill returned to the Sand Diego Rep to do “Baby with the Bathwater” by Christopher Durang, and to accept one of the two-year equity contracts offered by the Rep.  Steady income!  It was at the Rep where Bill and Bonnie became a couple, although they had passed a bit in the Old Globe.  Their first date was a drive to Los Angeles to see a play and director.  Bill proposed in the car IN Ronald Reagan makeup! They were married a few months later at the San Diego Rep on a “dark” Monday, as theatres are called on the night they do not perform. It was in true style with an “Amadeus meets Miami Vice” wedding with Rap Master Ronnie. Bonnie had brought Craig Noel to see Rap Master Ronnie and Craig asked him to audition, subsequently hiring him for the whole summer season.  Bill did several plays, was made an associate artist, completed a PBS production of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” with Jack O’Brien, had an agent in Los Angles who helped him obtain a role in the television “DEA” series and “Silk Stockings.”

Bill loved TV, probably akin to his preference for the preparation and opening of plays, versus a long number of performances of the same thing.  Short rehearsals, A-game one day, and figure it out in non-sequence. 

He did other shows here and there, theatre and television, but his last show was at the Old Globe.  He did co-produce with Old Globe friend and producer Ken Denison the show “Sylvia” in San Francisco and Toronto with Margot Kidder, producing and acting simultaneously.   He learned that producing is too distracting from inhabiting the role on stage.  He stage managed “Forever Plaid” for four-to-five months, then slid into special events managing with the “Lion King” in Los Angeles.  A new and interesting passion. 

In 2003 he started his own company, Meeting Architect, and produced the Super Bowl events for the NFL for 17 years, as well as other major events around the country.  His connections and collaborations with many theatres and television people give him great access and an edge.  It was cancer, recently reported to be in remission, that stopped this business. 

I asked him, with all his experiences, what would he choose today if he were to start over.  Without a pause, he confessed, “culinary school.”

Bonnie and Bill have both lived their lives by their sincere passion for their work, which is certainly the source of their success.  Being with their large circle of friends shows that they also attract and foster others.  A gift I have noticed is that when meeting new people, they open and follow with sincere questions of interest, not ego talk.  And quickly discover areas of common and new interests. 

Bonnie Johnson (Anton) and Bill Anton share a passion for their abundant creative ventures.

Category: Authors, Dance, Entertainment, feature, Life Style, Local News, Music, Theatre

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