Press "Enter" to skip to content

Berks veterans excited for acting workshop to help them readjust to civilian life

For many veterans the transition from military to civilian life is difficult, often made tougher by post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-related injuries.

Sometimes finding a new passion outside the service can be a challenge.

So to help provide Berks County veterans find a therapeutic and creative outlet, film and television actor Robert Morgalo of Shillington is offering a free seven-week acting workshop that starts Monday in Reading.

Morgalo, 56, has more than 45 film and television credits, including appearances on “Law & Order SVU,” and has done about 50 commercials. He has written and produced nine film projects in Berks in the past two years, receiving awards at film festivals around the world.

His workshop is intended to help veterans learn how to get into the film, television and commercial acting industry, a career Morgalo until recently never dreamed he could have.

“God has blessed me, and now I want to give back and share with others,” he said.

Morgalo served 26 years in the Army, including his deployment to Iraq from 2003-04 as a combat medic, before he retired from the service in 2015. Three years later, when his mom died, he was dealing with a lot of emotions and wasn’t sure how to handle them.

He saw an ad for a company holding auditions for someone to play a 1940s Southern racist, and despite his Latino heritage he tried his best imitation of a Southern drawl and got the part.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “And after that I got one role after another.”

Opportunities for veterans

Morgalo’s goal with the class is for his students to have fun, try something different and maybe eventually make money, which are all things acting has brought to him.

He is maybe best known for the four commercials he’s done in the last few years with NFL star Rob Gronkowski for USAA insurance.

It was those commercials, in which the company wanted actual veterans to make the ads more authentic, that Morgalo realized there was a demand in the industry for vets with acting skills.

“It opened my eyes to the opportunities for veterans to be in commercials,” he said.

Actor, producer, director, screenwriter, US Army Veteran and local Berks County resident, Robert J. Morgalo, is offering a free seven-week acting workshop to local veterans who are interested in getting into professional acting. Here he visits the Berks County Veterans Administration, 726 Cherry St., with director Ken Lebron, left. Sept. 8, 2022. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Actor Robert Morgalo of Shillington, right, is offering a free seven-week acting workshop to fellow veterans interested in getting into the profession. Berks County Veterans Administration Director Ken Lebron says the workshop is an opportunity for veterans to expand their horizons. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

There are openings for 20 students in his class and as of Friday about half remained open. Those interested can email Morgalo at to apply and find out more.

The workshop will include veterans ranging from the Vietnam era to those discharged much more recently, with both men and women signed up.

For some it will be their first attempt at acting, while others have some experience.

“Some wanted to do it when they were younger, but life took them in a different direction,” Morgalo said.

For him, acting has been a life-changing experience and a way to relate to different types of characters.

“I see my story in those characters,” he said. “For me it’s so fun.”

A way to cope

Morgalo is considered fully disabled by the VA, having been diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury that cause him sensory and concentration problems.

Acting, though, has been a tremendous tool for coping with those issues, he said.

“It’s helped me a lot,” he said.

Morgalo admits that when he started acting he had no idea what he was doing, but he learned quickly by taking lessons and following mentors, a role he is now hoping to fill.

“I’m really excited to do this for other veterans,” he said. “I’m a little nervous, but excited.”

The workshop, which will be hosted at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Reading, will run once per week starting Monday and continuing over the following six. It will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., with a certificate of completion awarded by Outhouse Production Films at the end.

In addition to acting, students will learn how to interview for roles and about connecting with management companies and talent agencies.

Berks County Veterans Affairs Director Ken Lebron sees the workshop as an excellent opportunity for local veterans to expand their horizons.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “Robert is a very accomplished actor, and now he wants to give back. And with his experience and knowledge, he’s perfect for this.

“And (for those taking the workshop) you never know when an interest or a hobby is going to turn into something more. He can help you navigate that process.”

Lebron also expects Morgalo’s students will enjoy being around other veterans and stepping outside themselves, and benefit from it.

“I think it will be therapeutic,” he said.

Honing their skills

Randy Criss of Robesonia, an Air Force veteran, said that since he left the service in 2015 he hasn’t been able to figure out exactly what he wants to do, but he is excited to give acting a shot in Morgalo’s classes.

“I figure why not try something new, and something creative,” said Criss, 34. “I think it will be a healthy way to spend my time and to get out of my comfort zone. It sounds super fun. And hopefully I make it to the big screen.”

Ed Haney, 52, of Kenhorst is an Army veteran now working as a home health nurse, but he acts, too, including a role in a YouTube comedy series and parts as extras on television. He is hoping the workshop can take his craft to the next level.

“I’d like to be a working actor,” he said. “I want to improve my technique and connect with an agent. I feel like I have what it takes, so I’m taking this seriously.”

Edward Haney
Edward Haney

On the other end of the spectrum is Vietnam veteran Clyde Hoch of Pennsburg, Montgomery County, a former Marine who will be trying acting for the first time at the age of 75.

“When we hit a certain point in life we should branch out and learn new things,” he said. “This sounds exciting.”

Clyde Hoch
Clyde Hoch

Hoch is an author with 10 books in print, but also still struggles with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and at times has thought of suicide. The worst thing for him is to isolate himself, he said, so he thinks being around others in the workshop will help with his healing.

Twelve-year Army veteran Juan Guevara, 43, of Mohnton can relate, saying he, too, has had a tendency to close himself off from others since he left the military in 2010.

He knows that isn’t healthy, and the pandemic made it worse, turning him into a shut-in, he said. During visits to Puerto Rico in recent years he went months without seeing anyone.

“I know that’s not good,” he said. “Loneliness kills you. We’ve got to try to break that habit.”

Juan Guevara
Juan Guevara

He also sees the workshop as a way to socialize and communicate with others, and is attracted to the idea of acting.

“Trying to be another person for a little bit seems like it will be cool,” he said.

Desiree Cook, 30, of Reading was a six-year Army veteran, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq before getting out last year.

Desiree Cook
Desiree Cook

The isolation forced by COVID was hard on her, too, and since her deployments finds herself to be less outgoing and enthusiastic, a trend she hopes to reverse.

“I’m more afraid of things now,” she said. “But to be in a room full of veterans, people who have been through what I’ve been through, is going to help.”

Source: Berkshire mont

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply