You may know Steven Walters as a member of the Dallas Theater Center’s resident acting company. Or as a founder of Second Thought Theatre. But this weekend, you can get to know Steven Walters, the screenwriter. A film he wrote plays at the Dallas International Film Festival. Here’s the story of one of the hardest working men in local show business.
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If Steven Walters had a business card, his title would have more slashes than a horror movie. He’s a playwright/producer/actor/artistic director.
And this year, he adds another slash – screenwriter. That’s because a film he co-wrote, called The Bounceback, debuted last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival. It plays the Dallas International Film Festival this weekend.
“I’m a storyteller,” Walters is how Walters sums it up. “I have different ways of doing it, but that’s what I like to do.”
The Bounceback is about dating in your 20s. The idea came from Walters’ personal life and his friends’ stories. It follows the two halves of a former couple who each return to Austin to visit friends on the same weekend. Stan hopes to “accidentally” bump into Cathy. Meanwhile, Cathy’s trying to move on. At least she’s doing better than her friend Kara.
CATHY: “So, what happened with Ralphie?”
KARA: “We tried. I threw up. All over his face. And he actually wanted to keep going. Can you believe that? Puke, all over his face. And he was like, ‘I don’t mind.’ Ugh, you always get the normal ones.”
That little story is child’s play compared with other parts, which could easily be scenes in a Judd Apatow movie. That might surprise anyone more familiar with Walters’ stagework. That involves saying stuff like: “Welcome, then, Thou unsubstantial heir that I embrace. The wretch that Thou hast blown unto the worst fears nothing from thy blast.”
That’s because earlier this year he played Edgar, one of the plum roles in King Lear at the Dallas Theater Center. It’s been a year of interesting timing for Walters. Last May, he was on the set of The Bounceback, tweaking the script and even playing a small role. His part was as a competitor in an air sex competition. It’s like air guitar, but … you know.
During filming, he was also prepping A Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip-hop version of the Shakespeare comedy. It was being produced by Second Thought Theatre, the Dallas company he co-founded a decade ago. And all the while, he was memorizing his lines for King Lear.
“It felt like there was a runaway train coming, and I was strapped to a tree, right in its trajectory path,” Walters says. “Definitely going from air sex, to hip-hop, to Edgar was an interesting journey.”
But that willingness to accept any challenge has made him a valuable partner.
“In his acting and in his writing, he’s just kind of fearless and doesn’t necessarily care about looking ridiculous,” says Austin’s Bryan Poyser, who directed The Bounceback. “Which is kind of the best thing you can hope for in a collaborator – somebody who’s just going to give and give and not feel self-conscious about it.”
Walters says he was never really satisfied with his performance in Lear. There’s a reason it’s been called an impossible play to master. But always looking for ways to improve is probably another symptom of an incredibly active mind.
“I think part of what drives Steve to write plays and screenplays, to produce movies, to run a theater company is the fact that when he’s acting in a role that’s simpler to do, his brain is still running a 100 miles an hour,” says Kevin Moriarty, the artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center who directed Walters in King Lear. “So either that role is going to be as complicated as his brain is – like in King Lear – or he’s going to have just a lot of extra capacity that he needs to fill up.”
He says the writer in him fills up most of that capacity. He’d give up the acting and other stuff if he was forced to choose. It has something to do with being responsible for the beginning of the creative process and seeing it through all the way to the end.
He says that’s what made The Bounceback’s debut in the biggest theater in Austin last month so thrilling.
“Of course, my girlfriend was with me, and I had my hand on her thigh and when I removed it at the end of the movie, there was like, claw marks there where I had been squeezing her leg because I was so nervous. But hearing that laughter and hearing that people were receiving it and enjoying it, it was one of the cooler moments of my artistic life.”
Walters is, of course, already working on his next project. It’s a piece based on the life of John Wilkes Booth. Naturally, he’s writing it both as a play and a screenplay.
The Bounceback screens Saturday at 10 p.m. and Sunday at 7:15 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center.