Paula B. Hill’s life is so deeply ingrained with theater culture, it is the stuff of movies.
She is a celebration of the adventure of an exuberant and exciting life lived up high, free to go and see and be but still grounded by her strong ties to Danville.
Hill is in love. She is writing poetry. She is directing Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” She is trying to find time to fit in a brisk walk and a meal between juggling play promotion appearances and rehearsals.
What many might call “accomplishments,” Hill calls “February.”
Hill was born in Owensboro but came to Danville when she was 5 years old.
Her mother, Dorothy Belle Hill, was, she says, “that mom.”
“She was a wonderful mother,” she says. “The kind of mother who takes you to buy your prom dress and talks candidly about sex. Just wonderful.”
Her mother attended college in Georgetown and was in many plays there. A play was the perfect place to meet the man would become the love of her life. West T. Hill entered the scene and quickly assumed the role of a main character.
West T. Hill earned a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, both for drama and theater, and taught these disciplines at Centre College for many years. He founded the Danville community theater that carries his name in 1980 and directed plays there, eventually from a wheelchair.
“He was an odd ’50s father, always telling us how much he loved us and how special we were and that we could do or be anything we wanted,” Paula Hill says.
She believed him.
“I was never a good student,” Hill says. “He didn’t care. Neither of my parents seemed to care about things like grades but were rather focused on my education. We spent summers in Europe and did things like taking a travel trailer to California. Can you imagine the scene? My parents in front and my sister and me in the back of a VW bug, driving down the road at night singing ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’?”
Hill lost her beloved sister to cancer when her sister was only 29 years old, but it is easy to imagine the scene of them all together bouncing down the road in a little car filled with song.
Paula Hill spent high school at a boarding school in Pennsylvania and still has friends from those days. One of these memories features a cameo appearance from celebrities.
“I took the train back and forth for visits. One time we had just a tremendous snow and, for whatever reason, the bus was running when the train could not. So they put us on the bus and who else should be on that bus but the Everly Brothers! We sang all the way to Kentucky!” Hill says and laughs.
Soon she was home to Danville and attending Centre College where she found herself on academic probation after a year. She went to Connecticut to apprentice for the stage.
“Some of the others wanted to stay and get their actor’s equity card, so I decided I’d do that, too,” she says. “I called my father and told him my plans. I had no money and didn’t even have clothes to go to New York in winter.”
He calmly asked her to come home, do a good year of work at Centre and then he would pay for acting lessons if she still wanted to do this. By the end of that year, her interests had changed. She stayed in school.
“Two minutes after graduation, I was married,” she says. “And living in Atlanta.”