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Joel Walker has full career in Portland area but the Great White Way still beckons

BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - Joel Walker returns to the Broadway Rose stage to play Seth, one of two childhood friends who meet again as adults and hike the Appalachian Trail together.Broadway's loss is Broadway Rose's gain.

Except for a quirk of fate, Tigard native Joel Walker might well be appearing in a show in New York City this fall instead of giving local audiences the opportunity to enjoy his performance in Broadway Rose Theatre Company's production of "Trails."

A year after graduating from Marymount Manhattan College in NYC, Walker returned to Oregon for a couple years only to decide to give the Great White Way another shot.

"I did tons of shows here – many with Broadway Rose – during that time and did the choreography for a couple of shows at Lakewood (Theatre Company in Lake Oswego)," he said. "I got an agent here. I was feeling strong. When you have an agent, you put their name and contact info on your resumé, so before I went back to New York, I changed the contact info on my resumé and had 50 copies printed."

But back in New York, Walker's career stalled. "I went to 50 auditions and didn't get one call-back," he said. When Walker looked at his resumé, he realized he had removed his agent's info but not replaced it with his own.

"I was devastated," he said. "I had gone to all of those auditions and didn't give them a way to contact me. In the process, I started to wonder if I should give up acting all together. I only went on about five auditions in the next year and a half. I did get some call-backs and developed relationships with casting directors but didn't get any jobs."

Walker added, "It's a numbers game there. Five hundred people will show up for an audition, and you wait all day. I would see a roomful of people who looked like me, only better looking, or people who looked like different versions of me."

He ended up moving to Los Angeles, but less than a year later he got cast in Broadway Rose's "Thoroughly Modern Millie," moved back to Oregon and is now totally in the theater groove.

"I want to move toward film and television, but at this point I'm trying not to plan too far in the future," Walker said. "I've been back here just over two years, I've made deeper connections, closer friends and lots of contacts. I've also worked behind the scenes, including doing props for Broadway Rose this past summer for the children's and teens' shows."

"While I think I would like to go back to New York at some point and have a do-over of that audition season, I'm actually not sorry it happened," he added. "Everything happens for a reason, and that got me on the path I'm on. I'm grateful to have met so many amazing people."

BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - In Broadway Rose Theatre Company's "Trails," Joel Walker (left)and Michael Morrow Hammack play former childhood friends, while Rachel Lewis plays several roles in the show.

In the meantime, Walker has a couple of musical theater shows lined up in Seattle this fall and next spring, and he will be shooting a feature-length movie this fall. "Right now, I've only got January and February open," he said.

"Trails," which is about two old friends hiking the Appalachian Trail together, is the first show Walker has not danced it, so he sees this show as an exciting challenge to communicate his character in other ways.

"I'm passionate about telling a story with music and action, and this is a cool experience," Walker said. "I had never heard this music (in "Trails") before so it's nice to be working on brand-new material because you don't have someone else's interpretation stuck in your head. It's rare for an actor to have that opportunity.

"These cast members are some of the most talented people I've ever worked with," he added. "I'm so excited about doing this. I think the show will resonate with the audience and challenge them. I can't wait to see people's reactions."

Growing up, Walker had minimal experience performing except for playing the piano and singing in his church choir, but he always loved watching movie musicals, noting, "Because of movies like 'Singin' in the Rain,' I always had it in my heart that I would be an actor even though I was very shy growing up."

When Walker was a senior at Tigard High School, he only applied to one college – New York University, and his dad flew with him to New York for his audition. "I didn't get in," Walker said, so he started college at Portland State University majoring in music. But that fall, a friend told him that Marymount Manhattan College was holding auditions for transfer students.

For his audition, Walker performed the first monologue of his life and won admission to Marymount. "I moved to New York a month later to start school," he said. "Marymount only did one musical per year but presented a lot of straight plays. We trained five days a week. I just dove into it."

Also in New York, Walker did a couple of musicals plus he sang in a concert series and took lots of workshops.

"I stayed in New York for a year after college," he said. "I met (Broadway Rose co-founders) Dan (Murphy) and Sharon (Maroney) there and told them I was from Tigard. I had seen their shows and knew they had a great reputation. I auditioned for 'A Chorus Line' and got hired.

"I came here to do the show but was going to go back to New York," he added. "I was really excited about doing the Broadway Rose show – it was a huge deal. At the last minute, I decided to leave New York altogether and called Dan. Instead of paying my plane fare, Broadway Rose gave me gas money. My dad drove to pick me up with all my stuff, and we drove back to Oregon together."

During his time here, Walker has been able to work consistently as an actor, so for now he's committed to projects on the West Coast at least for the next several months, but after that? "I'm getting a little restless," Walker said.

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