Walter Shatley Finds HomahaDec 30, 2021 11:46AM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Actor Walter Shatley was performing at The Rose Theater in the role of Prince Charming in spring 2006 while his fiancee Samantha Butler played the title role of Cinderella. The Associated Press wrote an article about the couple that was picked up by news outlets from Taiwan to Columbus, Nebraska.
Before the fairy tale, started, however, Walter had no idea he was going to live in Omaha or that he would get married here. He was born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners fan started acting in eighth grade when he performed John Travolta’s role in an assembly production of Staying Alive.
Walter said eighth grade was “a poignant year.” Like many adolescents, it was a time when he was discovering his passions.
It ignited his love of acting, and Walter took his first acting class as a freshman at Norman High School. His passion led him to the University of Oklahoma school of drama, from which he graduated in 2000 with a BFA in drama. One year later, he was acting in Philadelphia with a company called American Family Theater. By 2002, Walter had moved to Los Angeles, where he played in Pinnocchio and worked “a series of crappy jobs to pay the bills.”
It was a vampiric rabbit, however, that brought Walter to Omaha and the love of his life. In 2005, he joined The Rose Theater’s touring production of Bunnicula as the character Pete Monroe, replacing actor Andrew McGreevy for the California-Washington-Maine-Florida run. He also acted as puppeteer for about half of the scenes in which the titular bunny was used. Samantha was already in the area, having first been cast in Miss Nelson is Missing. Several months later, he returned to The Rose during a tour break, and ran into his friend Cat Nelson.
As it happened, Samantha, also a friend of Nelson, came to see her as well. Samantha was at that time rehearsing for The Berenstain Bears Onstage and simultaneously performing in Junie B. Jones.
“I had heard Walter stories, but I came out to see Cat and give her a big hug,” Samantha said, referring to the many local anecdotes about Walter’s fun-loving character. Walter kissed her hand by way of chivalric greeting. “I’m pretty sure he had me from that point.”
Walter and Samantha, who were married in July 2007, lived in New York City for the first three years of their marriage. The couple remained in theater, working on lighting and carpentry crews. Samantha performed off-Broadway, but the couple realized (as time progressed) the Big Apple might not offer the ideal life for a young family.
That’s when Rose Theater artistic director James Larson offered Samantha a role as Peter in Peter Pan. Walter, then 33, was cast as a Lost Boy. He showed up to rehearsals the first day sporting a beard. He learned one dance for the role…and at the end of the day was re-cast as a pirate.
They had been thinking about moving to Samantha’s hometown of Memphis, or Norman, or possibly moving back to Omaha. This casting call sealed the deal. The couple performed together for two years. Then Samantha found work at U.S. Bank to afford the couple health insurance in anticipation of having a family while Walter continued in theater.
Walter, knowing that working in theater is not conducive to raising a baby, began connecting through the local film community. One of his first connections was writer and director Faustus McGreeves, who had created the short film Bent Over Neal.
Walter was cast as Liam, and working on the film enabled Walter to connect with several actors and behind-the-scenes folks; folks who he and Samantha now consider friends. Those connections paved the way for other film projects. Walter acted in the local short film Ambush Avenue by Brian Roma, which was shown in the Omaha Film Festival 2015. That same year at OFF, he met writer/director Trevor Nealy and gained acting spots on his web series The Boulevard. He also later met writer/director Todd Graves through film festival connections. Last year, Graves asked Walter to audition for a film he wrote titled Buzz vs. Scooty, a comedy about two elderly boxers who come together for one last fight.
Walter now works at a bank. Samantha, meanwhile, has left the banking world, but continues to perform in local stage productions such as those at Bellevue Little Theater and Chanticleer Theater.
New York might be the pinnacle of many actors’ careers, but for Walter and Samantha, Omaha fits the playbill.
“I tell people in New York about the talent in Omaha, and they are astounded,” Samantha said.
“The people in Omaha in acting have chosen a life that is better,” Walter continued. “That doesn’t mean the quality of the acting is not just as good.”
In fact, she and Walter are the first to say that sometimes, the acting is better.
“My friend was running the spotlight [for] Troilus and Cressida, so I saw it for free,” Walter said. “The neighbor from Home Improvement (Earl John Hindman) was in it but outside of Hindman, the performances were not good.”
Walter recently returned to New York for the Crown Heights Film Festival in which Buzz vs. Scooty was showing, and the visit reassured him that Omaha is the right place.
“I was reminded how much it sucks to rely on mass transit,” Walter said. “How much time it takes. Here I can ride my motorcycle and get places in far less time.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.