Having trouble getting cast in shows as a young actor new to Dallas eight years ago, Steven Walters made a bold move: He started his own theater company (with the help of four other fellow Baylor alums) and hasn't stopped working since. Second Thought Theatre, based in Addison and now in its eighth season, is one of the best small companies in the area, and Best of Dallas-winner Walters, now the only remaining founding member, boasts a résumé that includes acting, directing, screenwriting and playwriting, TV and film work, notably as a recurring character on two seasons of NBC's Friday Night Lights (he played guidance counselor Glenn Reed).
Now Walters has just been named the tenth member of the Brierly Resident Acting Company at Dallas Theater Center. In the announcement today, DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty praised Walters, an Equity member who's already been featured in several DTC productions, as "a dynamic presence on our stage, a valued collaborator, a generous spirit and an all around great guy." As a company member, Walters will perform in several productions next season (good guess is that he'll have a lead role in the season opener, The Tempest) and teach in DTC's collaboration with Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
Walters, 29, was raised in Fort Worth and graduated from Baylor in 2003. We've watched him grow up on local stages, from gangly comic presence to handsome, confident leading man (he was terrific as Prince Hal in DTC's Henry IV last fall). At the Uptown Starbucks the other day, and in some follow-up e-mails after that, we asked Walters what advice he'd offer to young thesps trying to break into the biz.
So now that you're a big-time Brierly Company member, how would you advise young actors about launching their careers?
Start a theater company. I'll take my cues on this subject from someone who knows more about a life in the theater than I do, David Mamet. In his book True and False, a book I highly recommend to actors, he says, "One can read all one wants, and spend eternities in front of a blackboard with a tutor, but one is not going to learn to swim until one gets in the water."
The best way to "learn to swim" is to found a theater company. I don't mean to discredit MFA theater programs. Some of the finest actors I've worked with attended graduate school. And if you have the opportunity to study at a program that suits your creative needs, then by all means, take it, especially if it's free. But if you're anything like me, trial by fire is the path to personal growth. I'm of the mind that the best way to hone your craft as an actor is to have an all-encompassing understanding of your medium. Founding and running a theater company, even a small one, will not only provide that, but it will give you a platform to grow, take risks, fall flat on your face and discover your identity as an artist. Running a theater, I can tell you from experience, is an enormous undertaking. But the rewards far outweigh the occasional headache.
When I co-founded Second Thought Theatre back in 2003, I was having trouble getting cast in Dallas. Instead of making myself miserable wondering what I could have done differently in the audition room, I decided to create my own opportunities. I partnered up with a group of like-minded theater artists, and I haven't looked back since. Years later at the audition in Austin for Friday Night Lights, the director looked at my résumé and said: "You Second Thought Theatre people are pretty fucking good actors." I said thanks. And I got the job.
You make it sound easy. But doesn't starting your own theater cost a lot of money?
We started Second Thought with $250. Each of us put in $50 and that was enough to print up the materials to send to donors asking for 100 people to give us $100. We got it and that's how we started.
But what about actors who don't want to be impresarios? Should young artists have a sort of game plan?
Just make sure you have specific goals that you can control. When I first graduated from college, my initial goals were quite lofty. Within three years, I wanted to work at a major regional theater. I wanted to be a member of AEA, SAG and AFTRA (the actors' unions). I wanted to sign with a talent agency. I wanted to get cast on a major network television show and I wanted to have a play published. Luckily I was able to accomplish these goals, but it didn't happen in three years, and when it didn't, I felt like a failure. Where I went wrong in my thinking wasn't that wanted these things. I went wrong because I couldn't control them.
Actors, by the very nature of our profession, are dependent upon others. We need a writer to write something for us to say, we need an agent to get us an audition, we need a casting director to believe in us, and we need a director to give us a job, and so on and so on. So ask yourself: What can I control? Read a play once a week. Go to the gym. Write 10 pages every day. Go to an open call audition once a week. Take an acting class. See as much theater as you can to learn about the market. If your goals are focused on elements within your control, you will be in a constant state of succeeding. This, in turn, will beget confidence and put you on the path to achieving what you want out of your career.
How did you learn to deal with rejection as a young actor?
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Learn the art of selective memory. If you don't know this already, let me be the first to tell you: Actors deal with rejection every day. NO ONE is exempt from this. A resident company member at a LORT theater won't always get the part he wants, and a celebrity in Hollywood will still get passed on by a studio executive even after they've won an Oscar. Rejection isn't going anywhere, and if you're in this business for life, then hopefully neither will you. So my advice: Leave it in the audition room.
When you have an audition, do your part, give an amazing read and when you walk out that door, don't ever think about it again. If you're the right type, you'll get the part. If you're not, you won't. Losing sleep or obsessing over it won't change the outcome. There's nothing worse than leaving an audition feeling that you didn't do a good job, or that you weren't prepared, or that you were in your head. Don't put yourself in that position. Be prepared. Act with boldness, honesty and truth. And move on. If you do these things, you've already succeeded. And the jobs will come.
Is there anything you're afraid of as an actor?
I'd be afraid to go the "Full Monty." It's not the idea of people seeing it; it's the feeling of doing it in front of a live audience. Also, I'm afraid of Hamlet. It's the best play ever written and the most interesting, complex character in history. I was terrified of doing Thom Pain [the one-man play he starred in at Second Thought earlier this year]. Opening night was one of the most sickening feelings I've ever had as an actor. But if you love it, you have to do what Thom says in the play, "Live without fear."