Paton, farmer/dramatist: In town for the show
Story and photos by William
Stories abound of fresh-faced farm girls who, discovered, strike it rich
as actresses on Broadway or in Hollywood. Almost as familiar are the tales
theater folk who, like Mickey Rooney, retire to gentleman farming far away
from the crowds who ensured their success.
Less familiar are the stories of people like Peter Paton
who, “over-educated” in his words, look to broaden a
life spent on the farm and seek more artistic,
if not greener, pastures in which to labor.
Paton examines the inner workings of his hay baler. Equally
at home with a deus ex machina, Paton farms and writes in Troy
and will be bringing his new play to Camden on Friday, September
Paton, now in his fifties, was born into a family which farmed
in Western Massachusetts near North Adams, but moved to Maine
in 1955 when they bought
a 700-acre farm off Route 9 in Troy. The family and Paton have lived
and worked there on Myrick Road ever since.
Paton, with his wife Joyce, and, as he puts it, “excellent help,” organically
grow summer and winter squash, zucchini, gourds, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower,
potatoes and cucumbers. They sell their produce to Hannaford and at farmers’
markets throughout the area. The farm also supports some 40 head of Holstein
and Ayreshire cattle. Paton credits Joyce for what’s been accomplished
at the farm. Those who work the small family farms are often, like the
lobsterman, the quintessential entrepreneur, the only link between the
source and the table.
Paton produces a good deal of hay, as well. He uses round bales, which
weigh about 700 pounds, because they withstand the weather better and
to be brought undercover immediately, as the smaller familiar rectangular
When he first went off to college in 1964, Paton majored, as might be
expected, in agriculture at the University of Maine in Orono and received
of Science in 1968. Then it was back to the farm.
Paton doesn’t elaborate on just why he returned to school
beyond saying, “I got involved in writing in the late ’80s
after almost 20 years of
being too tired at night for anything except sleeping in front
of the TV.” In
any case, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1990 with distinction
in English from
Orono and during that time, continued writing stories and novels.
The following year, he worked as a graduate teaching assistant
perhaps, in 1990 he directed and acted in his own play, Whiteout.
It turned out that he enjoyed theater.
Concerning his involvement with theater, Paton remarks, “I
was still restless and in the mid-’90s started acting with
the Maskers in Belfast,
since performed with the Assembled Players, the Playhouse,
and with Playing in Traffic. They have all done well to endure
Paton has indeed appeared in a goodly number of plays, eight
of which were produced by the Belfast Maskers. During his time
with the Maskers,
for Basil Burwell in the acclaimed productions of The Good Woman of
Setzuan and Sweeney Among the Nightingales. He
also played the gravedigger in the Masker’s production of Hamlet.
Paton went back to school again. On his way to earning his
Master of Arts in theater from Orono in 2000, he took on Beckett’s
extremely challenging Krapp’s Last Tape,
a one-man show which requires sincere interaction with bananas
and a tape recorder. Krapp is an introspective and maudlin
writer who at one point bleakly assesses the progress of his
career, “Seventeen copies sold...gettin’ known.” Clearly, Paton
in a different
league. He has aggressively launched himself into a variety
As an actor, Paton did not confine himself to the theater.
He also appeared in the locally famous Stephen King film Thinner
and performed in a feature
called Haunted Maine for the History Channel. He has
done film shoots for Francesca Galesi at the International
Film Workshop in Rockport,
in a television ad for the Animal House Pet Supply in Fairfield,
and most recently acted in Funny Papers, a television
pilot project for Northwolf Productions in Northwood, New Hampshire.
In October, Paton will be traveling to New York City. He has
been invited to audition for NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
Paton’s aspirations are not confined to performing. He has
written a number of plays and sketches that have been performed
in Unity and at
By The Bay Festival.
Paton stands near a sign that doesn’t suggest the efficiency
of the farm bearing his family’s name. More telling is the
new tractor in the background.
Now, however, Paton has created a full-length play, which
he has been performing around the state. So far, his two-hour
work, The Peter Principle,
has played Belfast, Portland, Orono on the University of
Maine campus, and Unity.
He will be bringing the show to the Camden Opera House at
7:30 p.m., Friday, September 12. Paton says that the play
the deeds and
the main character, Phoenix, and his stumbling attempts to
get his life together.”
Paton is charging $10 for admission to the event because,
as he points out, while his “activities are already bringing
of it is coming “from credit card companies who would like
to see something for payment on overdue bills.” He says that
the show did well in Belfast
and Unity, but received no attention at all in Portland.
Undaunted, he is hoping for better in Camden.
The Peter Principle is comprised of a series of
sketches about the vicissitudes of farm life. One scene depicts
the farmer and a tourist
at a farmers’ market. The “urbanite” customer is a crass
fellow who opens the transaction by yelling at the farmer
“What’cha got there, farmer? Can you hand me a couple of
those cukes? I’m short on time today.” (Waits for response,
none. He speaks again.)
“Hey farmer boy, can’t ya hear? Got the feet caught in the
ol’ pig slop have we?”
(Farmer is tending his display. Ignores customer in car.
Customer speaks again.) “Bashful are we? C’mon, march those
over here. I
cash. Got milk, got cash. Ha!”
Finally, the farmer decides to notice him, “Excuse me, I’m
looking for a drive-through window. I don’t see one, do you?
Or golden arches or
whopper. This is a farmers’ market, not a fast food crap
shoot. Self help and self service here. Nobody helped my
kids and me grow
stuff, spent a whole day picking, washing, sorting just for
As the exchange continues, the farmer manages to achieve
the upper hand, until at the scene’s conclusion, the farmer
the tables on the sophisticated
customer, “Fifty cents each, four cukes, that’ll be three
dollars. Come around often? Next week we’ll have new shell
Not all the scenes strike a cheerful note. In a sobering
segment, a farming couple is trying to get an appraisal of
They go to an
appraiser at a television show reminiscent of the popular
PBS vehicle, The Antiques
Man: “We would like to make enough to retire on.”
Woman: “There’s never been enough income for saving.”
Appraiser: “Then why do you bother farming? Me, I save a
third of my income every month. All my wife’s income goes
bank. You have
Man: “The barn is full of hay.”
The end of this sequence satisfies the audience, but the
hard truths about farming, which Paton reveals, will not
to lure people back
land. Still, this aspiring actor and dramatist has no intention
of leaving the land for good. “I wouldn’t put the farm in
a position not to exist.
And he rules out selling the property to developers. He declares,
go broke or give it to a foundation.”
Neither of the paths Peter Paton has chosen promise easy
riches. Indeed, the farming path seems to promise no riches
Both paths can flay
the spirit of all but the hardiest. Yet Paton, whatever else
may happen, will
remain his own man, working to support himself and his family.
He would seem to epitomize the truly independent contractor.
Paton’s story should
customers think twice about being condescending at the next
farmers market they visit. Their words and attitudes may
be getting chronicled for posterity.
Peter Paton makes you think more than twice about the wisdom
of stereotyping people.
FMI and tickets, contact Peter Paton, P.O. Box 404, Unity,
ME 04988, or email, <email@example.com>.