Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, September 22, 2017

Part-time student, full-time star: 63-year-old actress hopes to earn AU degree

‘Dreamgirls’ performer Arnetia Walker sacrificed college for acting

Part-time student, full-time star: 63-year-old actress hopes to earn AU degree

Arnetia Walker, a part-time student at AU, performs in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," an August Wilson play, in 2016. 

Stage and screen star Arnetia Walker is pursuing the one thing she’s always wanted: a college degree. At the age of 63, Walker is a part-time student at AU, majoring in film and minoring in literature.

Walker grew up in Columbus, Georgia and moved to New York City when she was 11 with the dream of becoming an actress. She landed her first role on Broadway at the age of 16, and her career immediately took off after she graduated from the High School of Performing Arts in New York City.

Walker cemented her position in show business by working with famed choreographer and director Michael Bennett in the Los Angeles, national and international theater companies of “Dreamgirls” in the late 1980s.

“‘Dreamgirls’ took my career to a whole other level,” Walker said. “Michael Bennett was a creative genius.”

Walker’s role in “Dreamgirls” led to guest spots in sitcoms “Nurses” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” as well as a film role in “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.” Her hectic acting career put her education on hold, but after settling down in the D.C. area, she decided to get her degree.

“I just kept working and I never continued my higher education,” Walker said. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Walker has been working part-time on her degree at AU for seven years due to her acting schedule. Although she is much older than most of her classmates, she enjoys learning from her younger peers.

“I learn a lot of different things and also meet people, a lot of younger people,” Walker said. “I get a whole new perspective.”

When she isn’t attending AU or taking on acting roles, Walker teaches drama and musical theater to children and directs the drama department at the Washington Cathay Future Center in Rockville, Maryland. This past summer, she directed 10 weeks of summer camp theater productions at the center.

She wrote a different show for the children to perform every two weeks, drawing from stories from all cultures and introduced the children to different genres of music. One of her shows was based around the theme, “Tales from Around the World,” where she drew upon fairy tales from places like India, Cambodia and France and incorporated songs from each country to move the stories along.

“It’s a program I developed to expose the children to all kinds of music,” Walker said. “It’s a joy for me to teach them and they still love learning.”

After her long, successful career, Walker continues to encourage young actors to continue learning and research the parts they play to get a better understanding of their character.

“If you don’t do the work, it will show,” Walker said. “As an actor, I’m always learning.”

lcalitri@theeagleonline.com


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