By Don Redman
Will Williams was a successful pharmacist, enjoying life as a husband and father of three children when he says he was tricked into acting at Slidell Little Theatre and he has never been the same.
Since his stage debut in the 1991 production of I’m Not Rappaport, Williams has appeared in the HBO series, Treme, as well as the movie, The Runner, featuring Nicholas Cage, and several independent films. But live theater remains his primary passion. He developed his craft in New Orleans at the Anthony Bean Community Theater and has appeared on stage at regional theaters in Houston, Pittsburgh, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Columbus, Ohio.
Will was introduced to the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences, by August Wilson in 1993. Since that first introduction, he has become sort of a fixture in Wilson’s plays within the New Orleans theater arena.
He has recently returned from Ohio participating in a festival of August Wilson’s works and has been asked to return to take on a role in another Wilson work as soon as he completes directing A Lesson Before Dying at SLT.
Will's route to the stage is a convoluted and amusing story that began about 25 years ago when he was coaching his son’s youth basketball team and looking for a place to practice. That lead him first to Gwen Wade, the principal of Alton Elementary at the time, who then recruited Will to participate in Leadership Slidell (now Leadership Northshore). It was through the community leadership development program that Will met Dr. Joan Archer, Leadership Slidell’s curriculum facilitator and a longtime patron of Slidell Little Theatre – and, according to Will, a devilish trickster.
It was during SLT’s 1991-1992 Season that Will was “tricked” by Joan into becoming an actor. He explains: “During a segment covering Cultural Events, Joan assigns me to cover an audition at SLT to become familiar with the organization’s workings. So, I appear at the audition ready to take notes and to my surprise I am asked by the director of the play, I’m Not Rappaport, to read for a character, Midge Carter, an old Black man. I explained to the director that I was only there to cover the audition for an assignment by Joan Archer. He told me that was not what was told to him by Joan Archer.”
Realized he had been set up by Joan Archer, Will reluctantly read for the part, largely because he didn’t want to appear rude. A week later, he received a call from the director asking him to start attending rehearsals for he had been cast in a leading role. Will met the director at the theatre and protested the casting, explaining he had never done theatre in his life.
One of the co-leads in the production – Bob Gault – overheard the conversation and became enraged that the theatre was trying to rope Will into a role that he did not want or ever intended to audition for. “(Bob) practically cussed the director out,” Will recalled.
But there was a reason Joan Archer and others were adamant for Will to audition and accept the role. When a playwright specifies a character’s race, the theatre is obligated to cast the role accordingly or must cancel or postpone the production until the role is filled as written. “SLT had scheduled I’m Not Rappaport, a play that called for a role of an old black guy conversing on a park bench with an old Jewish guy, without considering where they were going to get the old black guy from,” Will explained. “The season line-up hinged on them securing an old black guy as the co-lead in the play.”
Recognizing the theatre’s dilemma, Will reluctantly agreed to take the role. “The long and the short of it, I’m Not Rappaport became my first play(not by choice); Bob Gault became my best friend in Slidell Little Theater (by choice); I received the Ginny Award that year for Best Actor; and SLT completed its season without canceling a show.”
|Will Williams, seated next to the late Bob Gault,|
with the cast of SLT's 1991 production of I'm Not Rappaport
It wasn’t until a couple of months after his debut on stage that Will realized he had been bitten by the acting bug when he was asked to perform in a staged production of Driving Miss Daisy. “My wife insisted that I do the show because she had just read the book,” he said. After that, he was definitely hooked.
“I was attracted to theatre after meeting and working with so many people that really loved what they were doing,” he said. “The passion put into performing by all involved became sort of intoxicating.”
He maintains his interest in theatre today because he relishes the opportunity to allow audiences to see themselves portrayed on stage, as characters with whom they can identify or empathize. “It is fascinating to hear people say to you after they have seen a live stage play, ‘That was my uncle or father or brother or friend up there.’”
When offering advice to actors, Will passes along the words of wisdom he received from the artistic director at the Anthony Bean Community Theater in New Orleans: “Sit on a busy corner of any city or town and watch and listen to the people that pass by—they will tell and show you all you need to know about them.”
Will has come a long way from his first cold read from a script for I’m Not Rappaport, and he has developed some opinions about the auditioning process. “I have come to conclude that no matter how you prepare, it is all decided by some person that has it in his mind what type of ‘look’ he or she wants on his stage or in his film,” Will said. “You may deliver a perfect word-for-word monologue and if that person does not see you as what he sees in his mind, you are not getting that part. So don’t sweat it. Learn to take rejection, but prepare to the best of your ability.”