Kathleen Walker, actor and educator, is the artist of the week. Walker stars in Stratford Player’s September production of “The Lion in Winter” by James Goldman. Photo by Marshall Smith
Kathleen Walker, actor and educator, is the artist of the week. Walker stars in Stratford Player’s September production of “The Lion in Winter” by James Goldman. Photo by Marshall Smith

For Kathleen O’Boyle Walker, soon to star in Stratford Players’ “The Lion in Winter,” acting was the beginning — of everything. “In school I was very shy,” she recalled. “There were problems at home and I just went into a shell.”

And as it has been with many artists, personal demons and difficulties can be the formative Petri culture out of which a career in art emerges. “In high school, I stumbled into an acting class,” said Walker. “I discovered for the first time there was something I could do very well. I could do or say anything I could not in my real life. I was hooked.”

Walker attended Stevens College in St. Louis and then Penn State University in State College, studying acting. After receiving her bachelor’s degree she remained at Penn State to complete a master of fine arts in acting. “It was glorious,” she said. “After college I was courted by Julliard and asked to audition for their acting company.”

At the same time, Walker was offered a role in an off-Broadway production, “Moonchildren,” by Michael Weller. “It was a chance to get my Equity card and understudy all three female roles,” remembered Walker. “I thought it was a great opportunity, so I took it. The play was a hit and ran for over a year and a half. Later, I was offered the lead role that Jo Beth Williams had played.

“Even with the success of the show and my prior university training, I still felt as though I lacked sufficient [acting] technique,” said Walker. “I began a three-year intensive course of study in Sandy Meisner’s [acting] technique with Robert Patterson of the Neighborhood Playhouse. It was just what I needed. I supported myself as a waitress and went to auditions in New York. It was a treasure of a time, and something I will never give up or forget.”

Later, drawn by her desire to act Shakespeare and the classics, Walker joined a Shakespearean touring company. “I had a ball touring the country and later appeared with the Missouri Rep Company. I had several agents in New York.”

In 1980, then-Kathleen O’Boyle married actor Channing Walker. “I took a 10-year break from acting, became a teacher, both elementary and high school, and raised my children,” she said. “I loved teaching. I got to introduce my students to great literature — Shakespeare and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

“Later, I thought the acting bug was gone, but it was not. We were living in Glendora, California, and I got involved with an acting company in Hollywood, The Grace Players. “We did good work as an ensemble — terrific plays, classics and new plays.”

Then in 2006, the family moved to Idyllwild. “My husband loved the mountains,” said Walker. And, as many have done before, Walker brought her performing art training and career to Idyllwild and became involved in its art scene, in Walker’s case, with the Stratford Players because of their emphasis on the classics.

Asked what it is about acting that has sustained her, Walker said, “For me, it’s about connecting, playing a scene with another actor, being in the moment. There is something very special about bringing an audience into what you are feeling and experiencing. And if you are honest and in the moment, you can sometimes hear and feel this hush that comes over the audience. It is why we do this.”

Looking back over her acting career, what it has given her, and why the theater is so important as a civilizing influence, Walker referred to Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman.” Linda, Willie Loman’s wife, is speaking to her sons and to the audience about her husband: “I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid.”

Walker believes and cherishes the fact that theater takes us on a journey into the lives of others — others we might otherwise overlook and to whom we must pay attention. “People walk around oblivious to the needs of others. As actors and audience, we are forced to look at the lives and needs of others.” And that, according to Walker, is a very good thing.