St. Johnsbury Academy Alum Named Director of SJA Theatre
There is a saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That journey can lead you a long way from home, but it can also, eventually, lead you back home. For Ray Walker, St. Johnsbury Academy’s new acting teacher and director of SJA Theatre, that journey has brought him home, and it all started with a step onto Fuller Hall Stage. With stops on Broadway, concert halls in Moscow, and stages around the world, the trip has been long and adventurous and filled with acclaim and outstanding achievements.
Since leaving SJA as a member of the Class of 1981, Ray has put together an extensive list of performances. He made his Broadway debut as Marius in the smash-hit musical Les Misérables in 1987. He followed that with other Broadway credits including as Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, as Doody in Grease! with Rosie O’Donnell and Brooke Shields, and as Whizzer in Falsettos. Ray also appeared in the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind, directed by Hal Prince.
Other credits include critical acclaim for his portrayal of Freddie in the off-Broadway revival of Chess, understudying Donny Osmond in the National Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, co-starring with Melissa Manchester in The Music of the Night, appearances in The Radio City Music Hall Magnificent Christmas Spectacular, and starring roles in numerous regional theatre productions.
Ray’s achievements go beyond acting. In concert, he has sung all over the world, including a concert tour with Academy Award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch, in concert with the Bolshoi Symphony in Moscow, with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford at the London Palladium, and on a North American tour of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In 2004 Ray founded the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory (NCT) and served as the artistic director, while also thrilling audiences in NCT productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Chess, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Children of Eden, and Evita.
Ray took over as the SJA acting teacher after the retirement of Janet Warner-Ashley and is now the director of SJA Theatre following Bill Vinton’s recent retirement. Ray will also serve other roles in the performing arts department such as assisting with chorus.
Fine Arts Department chair Rosie Prevost said, “Ray brings real-world experience to our students and models that, in fact, dreams can come true. His positive energy and love for the Academy make him a perfect addition to the Fine Arts Department. We are thrilled to have him.”
Headmaster Dr. Sharon Howell said, “We couldn’t be more fortunate to have Ray here to work with our students; he is the real deal, and that our students will have experience with an award-winning professional during these years is a huge gift. We’re so excited to see what he brings to the program.”
Returning home has been on Ray’s mind for quite some time. He said, “After founding the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory and spending 15 years teaching there as artistic director, I wanted to give back to the community and the Academy that gave me so much! I have maintained my family camp at Joe’s Pond throughout the years, so I was returning during the summers, and I still have family in the area I wanted to be closer to.”
He credits his acting teacher Margaret Ryan for lighting “the flame in me as a student in the Academy and supplying me with the self-confidence to pursue a career on the Broadway stage. I am forever grateful to her and many mentors I had at the Academy and in the community.” It is this sense of confidence and inspiration that Ray wants to share with his students, to give them a home within the Academy. For him, the theatre meant a place where “I could express myself and it provided me with invaluable training and opportunities on stage.”
Plans for theatre productions, like everything else this year, will be dictated by health guidelines put in place by the state and the school. The current plan, subject to change, is for the group to meet once a week in an outdoor location as a club — providing the students the chance to come together to develop their acting skills and to begin to coalesce as a group. Any actual productions will not be held until the spring, at the earliest.
When asked about his vision for classes and SJA Theatre, Ray shared, “Since my passion and experience lie in musicals, I want to expand the program and offer a range of musical theatre classes so that we are training students in all aspects of theatre. Without a doubt, these are trying times for the arts, especially theatre. The most significant responsibilities I have as an artist and a teacher are to keep the “flame” alive and to pass my experience and love of the theatre to the Academy and its students.”