There is an old joke…the origin of which remains unknown but has been ascribed to various musicians such as Jascha Heifitz, Artur Rubenstein, or Jack Benny. A young fellow is walking the streets of New York, stops the musician and asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The famous musician replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”

And so it goes with the craft of acting. I have been taught by some great acting coaches, but a better teacher has been practical experience in community theater and in front of a camera. Practicing the craft has been valuable for me and has given the experience I needed for larger projects. But there is something more.

A typical resumé includes the actor’s training and credits, however, leaves out something that I consider very important in an actor’s repertoire…something that talent agents should know when considering a person for representation or casting directors should know about the person auditioning in front of them. That something is life experience.

What I value most as an actor has been my experiences in life during the past 78 years I have been on earth. As an example, if I were to be cast in a film involving the military, my drama training, though valuable, would not the best teacher. My best teacher would be my experience training combat medics in the U.S. Army, my work in the media supporting the U.S. Marines, my work as a USO volunteer supporting deploying soldiers, or flying in a U.S. Air Force aerial tanker filming the refueling of several military aircraft for a television program, just to name a few.

In the late 1960s and through the 70s, I worked for a major airline as a crew member. This gave me the opportunity to travel all over the world and experience different cultures. I have had breakfast in the Eiffel Tower in Paris and have climbed the Great Wall of China. I have enjoyed the hospitality of people in Europe and indigenous peoples in remote areas of South America.

For several years I was News Director for a radio station and hosted a regional television program. For my work as a broadcaster and local volunteer, I was honored with a proclamation by the city council in my hometown.

There are many more experiences, such as performing at the Hollywood Bowl four years before The Beatles, or flying in a glider and experimental aircraft.

OK…I’ve bragged enough, but I think you get the idea. Should I ever be asked the question by a Casting Director, “Tell me about yourself”, you can bet I have enough to bend their ears for some time.

A word of advice…as an actor, you may be asked in an audition to tell a bit about yourself. Never mention you are an actor and list your credits…they already know this and, frankly, it will bore them. People want to know what makes you unique as a person. Think about all the experiences you have had and be prepared to share them. Perhaps you have a musical talent, have had interesting experiences while travelling, work with animals, or anything else that would make an interesting story. Unless we’ve been locked in a basement all our lives, we can come up with something that would give people an idea of who we are and what shapes our emotions.

Embrace your uniqueness and have fun!

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  • Ray Watters

I see a number of posts from people in the business…actors, casting directors, drama coaches, et al, who preach that you’re never too old to begin an acting career. Their advice is right on; however, I chuckle because the people they are talking to are those who have worried about starting too late because they are already well into their 20s and 30s, and sometimes in their…horror of horrors…40s!

There was a great character actor who I had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion. In the early 1970s, I worked for a major airline at the Hollywood/Burbank Airport in Burbank, California. A passenger who came through a few times was a young fellow whose name was Burt Mustin. When I met Mr. Mustin, he was around 86 years old. You may not recall the name, but if you lived in that era, I guarantee you would remember his face. Mr. Mustin had several guest appearances on shows such as All In The Family, Petticoat Junction, My Three Sons, Bewitched, Gunsmoke, and many more. In all, Mr. Mustin appeared in approximately 150 film and television productions. One would think that at his age and with that many productions on his resumé, his acting career spanned many decades. Good guess, but you would be dead wrong. Burt Mustin’s professional acting career did not begin until age 67.

Burt Mustin’s background is an inspiration to me because there are several similarities in our lives. Both of us had been amateur actors, we worked in radio, and we were musicians, all of which laid the foundation for our later careers. The big difference between us was that I was significantly younger than him when I was first represented by a talent agency. I was a kid of 64.

I am amused when I hear young people bemoan starting a new career so late in life…even at the ripe old age of 35. As for me, I found that not only do I absolutely love the craft of acting, I find that it keeps me energized. While people look longingly at the prospect of finally retiring, I look longingly at keeping my acting career alive for as long as I can. I feel as long as I can handle the long hours on set and be able to memorize my lines, I will keep doing what I enjoy.

So, how old was Burt Mustin when he retired? His last gig was at age 92 in 1976. He passed away in January 1977 just before his 93rd birthday.

I guess at age 78 I still have enough time to add many more credits to my IMDb.

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  • Ray Watters

“Keep on keeping on.” We can thank Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for that phrase he uttered in a 1964 speech…a phrase many consider redundant and perhaps hackneyed several decades later, and yet still has a lot of meaning for the struggling actor. I have heard many actors talk about giving up because they feel their training and the ton of auditions have led to little or no recognition from Casting Directors, let alone bookings. I also know many actors who have persevered and have been successful.

My experience has shown that even at my advanced age, good things happen if you persevere. However, it wasn’t always that way. When I put away my microphone as a broadcaster eighteen years ago and moved to Texas, I found that I needed to be active to feel alive and useful. I thought about going back to my first love, which was acting, but thought that age 60 was way too old to start again. However, to quote another hackneyed phrase, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I continued training and joined others much younger than me in workshops and classes. There were times that nothing seemed to be going my way and I was ready to just give up on my love of acting, but I loved the craft so much that I decided to keep going.

The first few years brought little success; maybe an occasional role as an extra (which should never be added to your resumé), however, I continued training and managed to land an agent in Austin. During the past eleven years, I have booked co-star roles in five network series, to include a role in an NBC pilot that was to be a recurring character. There have been supporting roles in a couple of indies and a few short films and, after moving to Florida four years ago, a lead role in a Hallmark film and, post-pandemic, a co-star role in a series for the Disney channel. Seventeen years ago, I found it difficult to get an agent. Today I am represented by agents in Orlando, Austin, New York, Honolulu, and Chicago.

I am 78 years-old and have no thoughts of leaving the business that I love so much. I will continue to audition, and I will continue to accept rejection until that next booking again happens.

I will keep on keeping on.

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