While Ray Engler has directed shows before and will again, it's being on stage that gives him the biggest thrill.
Photo by Candace diCarlo
Wharton Center for Human Resources
Length of service:
Watches every Phillies game he can and is glad he didn't bet on Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament.
To be, or not to be, an actor?
For quite some time, Ray Engler chose not to be. Then, one day 12 years ago this month, his sister made him an attractive offer: Try out for the chorus of "Guys and Dolls" - the other 10 men on stage will be as scared as you are.
So he did, and he's been acting ever since.
"My mother always said that when they did 'Damn Yankees' and I didn't try out, she knew that I was not interested in theater. Little did she know that it would just take getting me on the stage in the first place," Engler said.
Over those 12 years, Engler has performed with community theaters from Quakertown to Wilmington at a fairly steady pace, appearing on average in four to six shows a year. The Glenolden resident and Villanova graduate also serves on the board of Ridley Park's Barnstormers, where he is slated to direct a show sometime next season.
This season, though, he's been especially busy: When he sat down for this interview, he had just finished a three-shows-over-eight-weeks marathon that concluded with a performance as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" that earned praise from a local newspaper reviewer not known for giving it.
Q. How do you find out about open parts? Do you run into the same people from company to company?
A. That's part of it. There's also this newsletter called Stage [that] lists all the productions that are auditioning in the area. A lot of times I end up getting parts because people know me already and they'll call me up and say, Are you free these weekends? That's how I got the part in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The original fellow they cast in the role of Big Daddy had quit. I'd never really thought of doing the part, I'm about 30 years too young for it. But it's just neat when you can get into a role that you don't think you're right for, but can enjoy, and then you hear people say, He did a really good job with that, and that's a thrill.
Q. What do you enjoy most about acting?
A. It's probably the feeling that, when you get out there, for those two hours or so, that you're someone else, that you get to let loose and let all the demons out.
When I was in college, I used to go to the basketball games and just be a screaming lunatic at those games. And after I graduated, I still went to the games once in a while and started noticing guys in their 30s and 40s sitting at the games being even crazier than I was, and I'm thinking, This isn't for me, I can't do this! But you still like to have that rush.
I don't drink, I don't do drugs, so it's a neat high to get out there and get that adrenaline pumping...especially for a role like Big Daddy, where you have to convince the audience for that period of time that you are this 65-year-old cancer-ridden patriarch. And when you can make that believable, when the audience really buys into it, that's such a neat feeling.
Q. Can you tell when that happens?
A. In a drama, it's harder. In a comedy, it's easy because they laugh. If they don't laugh, you know you've got a problem. But with a drama, you have to find those moments that you realize the audience is really listening. 'Cause if the audience isn't listening, you hear shuffling feet, you hear muttering. There are a couple of speeches that Big Daddy has in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" that you can really tell if the audience is listening or not: that place goes quiet, and you're talking, and you can almost hear your own voice echoing - that's such a neat feeling, I don't know how to describe it.
Q. Are there any characters you've done that parallel your own life experience?
A. The closest thing might be Warren Zimmerman in "Moon Over the Brewery" - that happy-go-lucky, cracks-a-joke-to-break-the-tension kind of thing. I try to put a little of myself into a character that I play, because I think that people who know me that are in the audience will understand that. People who don't know me, they'll see a side of the character maybe they don't see from another production.
Q. How many amateur actors are there among the Wharton ranks that you know of?
A. That is a very good question. I really don't know. Again, it's kind of like a lot of things. You don't go around saying, "Hi, I act, here, I'm doing a show." But now, you'll see I've got the reviews from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" posted on the wall, so I'm not as shy about it.
But as far as people within Wharton, I really can't say. I wish I knew better. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be kind of fun to start something within Wharton or even in the larger University just of staff. 'Cause as I said, I've noticed from time to time, they'll have auditions posted around the campus for different shows - not much this year, I'm surprised. Last year there was more around. But I get the feeling that most of those are aimed to get students involved.
Q. Would you care to venture as to why nobody's attempted to do some sort of staff dramatic production here?
A. Probably because it just hasn't occurred. There's enough real-life, work-life things that have to be done, that when you have your own free time, it's hard to just say, Okay, I'll stay around the campus for another three hours and rehearse. Especially the folks that have families and all. You're supposed to leave at 5, but you've got to stay till 7, till we can get everybody together, and then another two hours, then you're not getting home until 9 or 10 o'clock and that's - I don't know if the incentive or interest would be there. It probably wouldn't be a bad thought, but it's just not something that's come up.
Originally published on April 15, 1999