Up & Comer: Writer/Director/Actor Robert Walters, Part 1
Though Robert Walters launched his entertainment career in NY while in grad school and then lived in Los Angeles for a few years, he is a great example of someone who has connected with existing entertainment-related opportunities in his “outside LA” area and formed his own creative community for getting his stories out there. Robert is host/creator of “Mondo Tulsa” and co-founder of Seven Tummy Productions. He also teaches drama and competitive forensics and is an award-winning director of local professional theater. Part One of his story, below, covers his life before moving back to Tulsa, OK with his wife and two kids. Part Two covers what steps he took and what he has accomplished since then. Readers will certainly learn a lot from Robert about how to identify and capitalize on opportunities to use their creative talents no matter where they are.
Hometown: Sapulpa, OK
Current Location: Tulsa, OK
College: University of Tulsa for undergrad, New York University for grad school
YII: Robert, thanks for taking the time for answering a few questions. We were particularly impressed with how many different things you are doing.
Robert: Well, this is a kinda special time in Tulsa’s development. What’s great about living here is that there is still so much waiting to be pioneered.
YII: You grew up in the community where you currently live, right?
Robert: Yes, Sapulpa, Oklahoma. It’s about ten minutes from Tulsa.
YII: So fill us in on your entertainment career before you moved back to Tulsa.
Robert: My time in Los Angeles was rather productive. I received one of those prestigious Academy of Television Arts and Sciences internships with the Wolper Organization, where I pitched a lot of shows.
While I have an acting and writing background, I ended up doing more TV hosting work in LA than anything. I started off as an entertainment correspondent on a start up network called LTN (or Local Television Network) on a show called “Rough Cut: LA.” To this day, it remains the best job I ever had. We had 3-5 million viewers and nine great shows with lots of young talent on and off screen. Unfortunately, we couldn’t woo any serious sponsorship dollars so we closed after less than six months on the air.
At that point, I had more than enough material to put a hosting reel together and someone from LTN recommended me to an agent friend. I was repped in hosting, theatrical, and commercials by AKA Talent. Later I was repped by The Schibel Group for hosting and TGMD for commercials. I did a lot of internet gigs and did either comic commentary or hosting gigs for TBS, MSN, Reelzchannel, and at least four shows on the Fine Living Network. “American Shopper” on FLN was a three year gig for me. We were preparing to “take things to the next level” (agentspeak) right about the time the economic crunch came creeping along.
YII: Why did you choose to move back to Tulsa?
Robert: Being Midwestern, I decided to get married and have kids rather young. I have three wonderful children, but it puts a lot of pressure on you to figure out where the next dollar is coming from. That, plus my wife had stopped working a couple times in LA to birth our boys. Oh, and we were sending our daughter to a nice private school. So, the economic reality of life in Los Angeles stacked up rather quickly against us. Neither of us were really interested in moving, but decided for the sake of our children and our financial future that relocation was necessary.
We miss LA, but we’ve got few regrets. My kids see their grandparents all the time. School is free (although now we’re looking for private schools in our area). A starting home in our section of Sherman Oaks was going for about $550,000. We just built one in my hometown for $120,000. Honestly, there’s no comparison.
YII: What entertainment-related connections did you have in Tulsa as a result of having attended University of Tulsa?
Robert: I wrote for all four years at the campus newspaper. I was entertainment editor for two of those years. I was also active in our theater department first as an actor, then later as a writer and director. I was the guy who wrote the theater advances in the newspaper whenever a show was about to go up. I also worked for a year at our campus TV station.
YII: What other entertainment-related connections did you have outside of having gone to school there?
Robert: I was the only full-time black male in a department that sometimes let its colorblind casting policy slip so, when I couldn’t get cast in some university shows, I started doing shows for other companies in the area. I worked with American Theatre Company, Oklahoma’s first professional theater company, on a production of “Romeo and Juliet” where I played Mercutio.
The summer I graduated from college, they made the unusually risky step of letting me direct their Shakespeare in the Park production of “As You Like It.” It wasn’t my best work, but it got me acclimated to their way of doing things. I directed “The Gin Game” for them months later.
By that time, I had gotten a job at the local daily newspaper, The Tulsa World, where I became the theater reviewer and wrote other entertainment stories. It was a great place to learn about some of the nuts and bolts of Hollywood. I interviewed Bernie Mac, Brett Butler, and Pauly Shore when they came through town for various gigs.
It’s easy to become a big fish in the relatively little pond that is Tulsa. Working as a paid director of the only pro theater in town and being the resident theater critic of the 2nd largest newspaper in the state made me feel pretty good coming right out of college.
YII: What was your career objective when you moved back to the area?
Robert: My objective was to have my manager keep sending me out for more cable shows. He’d scored a lot of work for me just on my reel and phone interviews, so I was hoping he could continue doing just that. A lot of Scripps shows, Food Network, Travel Channel, and FLN are in Tennessee, which is rather close. Bravo has shows in Colorado which is also pretty close. Of course, Texas has a decent market for hosting. It seemed like a reasonable plan. But like some old person once told me, “Man plans. God laughs.”
I’d also wanted to see if I could start my own show somehow. There were a few in existence in Tulsa, including one in particular that was generally well-received. I knew in my heart that I could probably make a more entertaining show, though.
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