Family Portrait: Ryan Murray Walter

If you’re looking to get into the Halloween spirit, look no further than Ryan Murray Walter.

He has done turns as an evil scientist, a Scottish king, a wicked stepmother and even a frog. No, he’s not a multiple-personality sociopath; he’s an award-winning actor who has studied his craft with a number of respected teachers, including the former Mrs. Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad. Lucky for us, he’s brought his talents to our fair city. In addition to treading the boards on stage, Walter teaches and, especially exciting this time of year, he brings thrills and chills as one of the guides on the Ghost Tour of Philadelphia. But scary creatures alive or dead had better beware: Walter has studied (stage) combat training and is conversant with rapier and dagger, saber and quarterstaff. Very scary!

PGN: You just moved to Philadelphia. Where are you originally from? RMW: I was born in Albany, N.Y., but when I was about 3 we moved two hours north to a small historic village called Saugerties, where I grew up.

PGN: How did you end up here? RMW: Well, I got my B.A. in theater at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie about two years ago. After graduating, I went to Maine for a summer and then a year ago I moved here. I knew that I wanted to be an actor but I didn’t want to be poor, so New York was out. I’d heard that Philadelphia was the place to be for theater. Since I moved here, I’ve been acting and doing the ghost tours as well as teaching after school at Friends Select.

PGN: Are you an only child? RMW: I grew up as an only child. I have two half-brothers but they’re both significantly older than me.

PGN: What did your parents do? RMW: My father is a lawyer and my mother is a carpenter. She owns an all-women carpentry company.

PGN: What’s the coolest thing your mother ever made for you? RMW: She actually made me a whole playground outside of my grandmom’s hotel.

PGN: Wow, your grandmother had her own hotel? You must come from a line of strong, accomplished women. RMW: Yes, very strong. It’s kind of cool; the hotel has been the congregating place for the family for years. When we moved to Saugerties, we moved into my grandparents’ old house and my mother built my grandma and her mother a new house.

PGN: Speaking of women, wasn’t Vassar an all-girls’ school? RMW: There is still a large female student body, but it’s been coed since 1969. There’s also a large gay population at the school, something like 30 percent of the men and I think the female statistics are even higher. They still have an all-female dorm so that they can remain one of the Seven Sisters schools.

PGN: What were you like as a kid? RMW: I’m not going to lie: I was spoiled. I was the only child among a very, very large family of adults, so I got a lot of attention. They would do what they called “The Ryan Show.” They would put me in the center of a room in my grandma’s hotel and just watch whatever I did. Other than that, it was a normal childhood.

PGN: Favorite toy? RMW: I loved Legos. I had thousands upon thousands of Legos stored in huge bins. I love the idea that something so simple can be used to make complex things.

PGN: What was your first memory of being on stage? RMW: I was in a production of “Peter Pan” when I was young. I was one of the Lost Boys and I remember I got to “air” whittle. I wanted to actually whittle, but they wouldn’t give me a knife because I was only 5.

PGN: Worst moment on stage? RMW: I was in a production of “Grease,” I was about 17 and we were doing a scene and someone forgot their lines. It went silent and everyone froze. No one could remember what the next line was or what should be happening. We sat there for what seemed like 10 minutes in total silence. Finally someone remembered lines from the next scene and we jumped to that. I can’t remember feeling so terrified.

PGN: Coming out? RMW: I think I first realized that I was gay when I was about 14. I didn’t tell anyone until I went to college and then decided to tell everyone at school and my friends back at home. Surprisingly enough, I still haven’t told my parents. Though, I’m sure they have an inkling. I was a typical gay child and played with a lot of Barbies and would only wear dresses until I was about 6. My other favorite toy was “My Little Pony.” I know that they wouldn’t care, it’s just never been brought up.

PGN: Are your ghost tours on foot? RMW: I do on foot and on the trolleys. We also started doing a new walking tour where people get to ghost hunt with [electromagnetic field] meters.

PGN: What’s the oddest incident you’ve had hunting ghosts? RMW: On one of my school tours, I was telling a story and I noticed that two of the boys kept looking over my shoulder the entire time. I talked to them afterward and they said that they saw this strange guy hovering in the shadows behind me at several of the sites. He was just staring at me from behind with a malevolent look on his face. That was creepy.

PGN: I went to Salem with my ex to go ghost hunting and we got an amazing picture in one of the old cemeteries. RMW: I know, I’ve seen some incredible things caught on camera. I saw a photo of a head floating up from the ground at Independence Hall; I’ve seen green eyes glowing from City Tavern at night and countless orbs. It’s astounding how much evidence is out there.

PGN: So you deal with the supernatural. What are you afraid of? RMW: The very natural. I’m deathly afraid of wasps. My mom used to have to kill them for me. I’m not allergic, just very uncomfortable with the thought of them crawling on my skin.

PGN: A favorite family tradition? RMW: We are sort of Jewish, so at Eastertime we have a very relaxed Passover ceremony. It’s very unorthodox and very person-centric as opposed to being God-centric. All the family gets together and it’s wonderful.

PGN: A habit you’ve broken? RMW: [Laughs.] Well, I’ve broken it many, many times. I was a very big diet-soda addict and I’ve kicked it and gone back to it off and on over the years.

PGN: Which member of “The Breakfast Club” are you? RMW: I’d probably be the quiet girl in the back, Ally Sheedy’s character.

PGN: The worst hairstyle you’ve ever had? RMW: I grew it long once and it poofed out like a clown!

PGN: With Halloween approaching, who would you contact in a séance? RMW: I’d contact Antonin Artaud. He was a proponent of what he called the “Theatre of Cruelty,” which was an attempt to wake audiences up from their complacency into reality. He felt that theater serves a purpose and that it could be used to make people aware of the pain and horror of life. He meant cruelty not in the sense of violence but “the cruelty it takes for actors to completely strip away their masks and show an audience a truth that they do not want to see.” I’m fascinated by his theories and would love to have the chance to talk to him.

PGN: Your most unusual possession? RMW: I have a great old gaudy Victorian-style lamp that I forced my parents to buy me when I was about 14. Everyone is appalled by how ridiculous it is, but I love it and have taken it with me whenever I’ve moved.

PGN: Any stupid human tricks? RMW: Well, I can bend the first knuckle on all my fingers independently and I can touch the back of my hand with my pinky finger. I strive to be a juggler, but I have no coordination whatsoever.

PGN: Something that made you laugh out loud? RMW: One of my favorite movies is “Saving Grace.” It’s about an older woman who starts growing pot because she needs money to save her house. There’s a scene where she gets high for the first time with her old gardener and they start laughing. When I saw it in the movie theater, I couldn’t stop laughing either.

PGN: Ever play any sports? RMW: Uh, no. I was an avid anti-sports kid.

PGN: Any pets? RMW: When I was a kid, I had a dog named Stormy. She died when I was 7, but she was surly and wonderful. But my favorite dog was Allie. She was an Australian red heeler. She was left behind by a rodeo family who couldn’t take her on the plane. One of our neighbors took her and gave her to us. She was tiny and looked like a fox. She loved to chase cars and got hit twice. She survived both times and was brilliant and fun to be with.

PGN: What actor would you want to play you in your life story? RMW: Philip Seymour-Hoffman. I love him; he’s an incredible actor.

PGN: Least-favorite word? RMW: Moist. There is something just creepy about the way it makes my mouth feel when I say it. Interestingly, though, it is also one of my favorite words. [Laughs.] Yes, I know it’s contradictory, but I revel in dichotomy.

PGN: Are you an arts-and-crafts person? RMW: Yes, that’s what I teach after school. I love to do things with my hands such as origami, knitting and lanyard work.

PGN: What’s the craziest project you ever made? RMW: Last year I made this amazing scarf: It was about 6-feet long and about a foot wide and had two different sections. The first half is a mix of red and yellow, and the second half is a mix of blue and purple.

PGN: The last live performance you attended? RMW: It would have been “FATEBOOK” during the Fringe Festival. My friend Cindy Spitko was in it and it was amazing.

PGN: Natural talent I wish I were gifted with… RMW: I have always wanted to be able to play the piano, but I have never had the patience to practice.

PGN: What was your favorite cartoon as a child? RMW: Hmm. I had so many, but one that I’ve always remembered is the “Pirates of Dark Water.” It aired in the early ’90s and was about these pirates who were trying to save the world from the evil menace of dark water. It also had a flying rainbow monkey — maybe that was indicative of future choices …

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].