Actor and bus driver Bill “Triple-5” Vila is getting behind the wheel- literally- of his most ambitious career project to date.
Vila has completed work on his first play, From Where I Sit, which he and his team are developing towards a fully mounted New York production.
Born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican family proud of their Caribbean heritage, Vila is also known as Triple-5, a name he adopted years ago after he was assigned the code name “555” by a driving company to which he was employed as an executive car driver. He describes From Where I Sit as a one act drama with music which he also composed (he sings and plays piano as well), and says it will bring one aspect of his life full circle.
“From Where I Sit is basically a chronicle of my own life experiences as a long distance coach operator,” he says. “Across many years and even more miles, I have seen, heard and been a part of some pretty remarkable experiences on my buses. Some would make you laugh, some would make you cry and others – really, really mad. But a long bus ride is one of the greatest metaphors for real life that there is. So while the story is semi autobiographical and serves as an introduction to my own life and background, it’s also a slice of humanity from a bus driver’s perspective, literally from behind the wheel-from where I sit.”
Vila plans to play the leading role of himself in the piece, accompanied by an ensemble of actors who will morph into different characters for the anecdotal stories weaving the play together. He was inspired to create the work to provide a performing opportunity for himself as well as to serve as a catharsis for some of the less than pleasant situations he was encountering while on the job.
“I started working on the play back in 2007 after speaking with my voice technician Susan Baum,” he recalls. “While studying with her, I would share the details of my bus excursions and she noticed the passion I had in sharing the stories. She asked if I’ve been journaling any of these stories, and when I said no, she suggested I start. And the rest is history.”
Storytelling, as an actor and now as a playwright, has been a passion of Vila since childhood.
A great admirer of fellow Puerto Rican thespians Raúl Juliá and Rita Moreno, he attended the Simon Baruch Junior High School in Manhattan, where he encountered his music mentor Dr. Robert Barry Sharon, the school’s music teacher. Sharon cast him as Pepe in a school production of West Side Story and then suggested that Vila attend the High School of Music and Art-now the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Performing Arts- from which he graduated in 1982. He has subsequently appeared in television productions such as Louie, Bull and People You Know.
Meanwhile, another professional door would open for him thanks to his uncle, a former New York City Transit Authority bus driver. Vila said, “My Uncle Mario was just the coolest dude, and I wanted to be just like him, so I was determined to be a bus driver from age 3.” He acquired his Commercial Driver's License (CDL) in June of 1997 and started driving that October.
Now, with From Where I Sit, his life and his art as bus driver and storyteller will come together for the first time, a prospect he finds exciting.
“I was asked the other day what it is that, as a playwright, I’d like an audience who eventually see my play to take away from the experience. And as I heard myself responding, it occurred to me that the words I was saying apply equally to both my acting and bus driving careers. I said that I'd like audiences to gain a perspective on how we do this work, the passion it takes to do it, the insanity one must possess to execute it and the drive it takes to forget it’s not a job, but a calling. All of that applies to being before an audience and being behind the wheel.”
Vila and his director Patrick Marran hope to hold a series of staged readings of From Where I Sit in 2024 and use the feedback to shape the work further as they prepare it for a full production.
“ It’s been years in the making, and there’s nothing else out there quite like it right now, so we are really looking forward to our next 'stops.' It’s been an exciting journey so far and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead.”