In this clip, Ray discusses his journey to a love of theater and acting. Acting has taught him a great deal about life, and is a critical part of his identity.
Ray: So, um, my English teacher in my freshman year English class also happened to be the guy who ran the drama activities at Springfield College. This is 1961 we're talking. He was always trying to get the jocks to try out for the - because he never had enough bodies for the plays that he was doing.
Then I tried out for a play in the spring quarter of my freshman year and I got a small part in a play called - by Tennessee Williams - called Cat on a Hot Tin Roof! So I got to see all the plays that they did, which was an eye-opener to me, because I had never seen a play before, really. Never seen the live theater.
I fell in love with the idea of making theater. It was imaginative, it was like you all created to- as a, as a group of people, you created something, and, that was imaginary, and you lived in it! And you got to express a part of yourself that might not be able to be expressed in the rest of your life! It seemed very magical to me.
So anyway I had decided, “Well I’m going to transfer and become an English major.” But I also said, “Maybe there's some theater going on over at the junior college, maybe they do something in the summer.” So I went over, offering to work backstage, but they said, “Aren't you going to try out for the plays? We do two plays in the summer. You should - ought to do that.”
So I tried out for the first play and got a supporting role in it! I'm sure I was terrible. (Laughter) But, I did it, and found it interesting. And then the guy who ran their theater program at the junior college, he directed the second play they did in the summer. And he cast me in the lead for that without me even having to audition! And as it turned out, also I got a headline in the paper, in the Flint Journal, a review, and it said “Burke Scores in Local Play.” In all the time I did athletics, there was no recognition at all, and suddenly I had a degree of public success that just blew me away! I had - amazed me! It made me really turn my head around. Not just to switch and become an English major; I wanted to study theater.
That fall, I suddenly was in Evanston at Northwestern University, and found myself as a full-time theater student. My focus was to be acting, but I loved all aspects of working in the theater.
After I finished graduate school I did teach, uh, at Southern Methodist University, for, uh, three years. And then that led into working in more professional situations, and eventually I left the educational theater behind.
And said, I want to try and see if I can't make it as a professional actor. There’s the same kind of progression that you do there. That led to, you know, working in regional theater for 14 years, which led to I wanted to work in a larger kind of framework, so I said I wanted to do television and film. So we all moved to Los Angeles and I was there for 20 years, doing TV and film and some theater.
And after twenty years, um, we shifted and moved to the Twin Cities where I still continued to, ‘cause they have wonderful regional theater there, a really great - the Guthrie Theater. And I worked there for 16 years and only occasionally in television and film, when something would come to town that I’d get a part in.
So I’ve been, now, a professional actor now for fifty years, and a student of acting for almost 60 years. My wife has always said that acting for me is a practice. It's not a career as such. So it’s more than just the way I turn my living, it's a way that has shaped me and fulfilled me as a human being. I think I said to you once that I'm a better actor because of having a full personal life. I'm also a better person for having been an actor, I think.