Grads hitting the road in search of dreams

May 5, 2010

PLAINVIEW – For the past eight years, Rachel Morgan Williams has been working for this very moment. A dream of performing in musical theatre has kept her working hard and studying harder for the past four years at Wayland Baptist University, and now she finally gets to take all that training and pursue her dream.

A native of Plainview and the daughter of Polly and Jerry Morgan, Williams will cross the WBU stage on Saturday, May 8, with a Bachelor of Music degree. Soon thereafter, she and husband Jordy Williams, a Shallowater native who graduated in 2009 from WBU, will hit the road for Chicago, trying their hand at the theatre and musical world they both love.

“The plan is to go there and start auditioning and see what happens,” said Williams. “We picked Chicago because it’s a good size city but a little closer to home and still good possibilities as far as musicals, operetta and theatre.”

Williams said she knew from an early age she wanted to perform. Given her talent in singing and acting, she took the next logical step, immersing herself in opportunities to do just those things anywhere she could. From singing in church to performing roles in plays at Plainview Christian High School, where she attended and her mother teaches music, Williams took to the stage immediately.

But she wanted something bigger. And her senior year, she pursued it, auditioning for a role at Wayland under the direction of Dr. Marti Runnels, professor of theatre and director since 1989. She first performed in Shorts and then got a part in The View From Here in 2006 while a senior at PCHS; then as a WBU freshman, she earned the lead role of Vada Love Powell in the fall WBU production of The Exact Center of the Universe. In the spring, she earned the lead role of Percy in the musical The Spitfire Grill in 2007 and got to test her vocal skills on the stage.

Williams was cast again in the 2007 production All My Sons and 2008’s Frame 312, in which she played a young woman working with the Zapruder films of the John F. Kennedy assassination. She then co-starred with Runnels in the centennial homecoming musical Man of La Mancha in 2009, testing her musical theatre skills once more. In true theatre major fashion, Williams has also directed several Shorts pieces, done some lights and sound, stage managed and helped with the set, all adding to her well-roundedness.

It is that breadth of theatre background, added to her vocal music major and heavy involvement in the opera scenes productions and children’s opera over the past several years that Williams counts on helping her on the next leg of her journey. While musical theatre has been a long-time interest, her experience at Wayland has broadened the dream to include writing, directing and acting in straight theatre as well. She’s also dabbled in musical composing and choreography. She hopes to stay involved in a little of all that while in Chicago.

Her marriage to Jordy Williams in June 2009 only solidified the dream as he shared the same goals and interests. A veteran of the WBU stage who majored in English, Jordy shared the theatre spotlight with Rachel for a few productions before they married. Then last spring, just before their wedding, they co-produced an arts experience at Wayland called The Burning, including some dance, music, poetry, visual arts and dramatic reading with original works by both and participation by many of their cohorts in the schools of music and fine arts. That awakened even more desire by the pair to venture off and pursue the performance dream.

Rachel said the pair honeymooned in Chicago to do some research and decided that after her final year, that would be their destination. While she wrapped up her Wayland degree, Jordy taught English at Floydada High School and continued his own creative and dramatic writing. Having a husband who shares the dream in many aspects has been helpful.

“I describe him as a writer first and an actor second,” Rachel said of her husband. “He really has a lot of the same goals I do so that works out well.”

Rachel said the plan will likely follow the pattern of fellow artists starting out, pursuing jobs with great flexibility like restaurants that allow actors to make auditions and work around their rehearsals.

She admits that the months ahead bring a mixture of fear and excitement at what lies ahead. While she’s glad to finally bring all her skills and training together and go for the big time, she’s also a bit fearful of leaving the small, secure community that she’s known for the past years, a theatre world where everyone is cast and the competition is not fierce. Things will not be that simple in Chicago, Williams knows.

But she knows she’s taking some great training with her, both at Wayland in summers spent honing her craft, once in the Palo Duro Canyon production of Texas and then at the Square Top Repertory Theatre in Pagosa Springs, Colo., under the direction of WBU alums Charlie and Rebekah Pepiton. She’s taken heavy academic course loads each term, some summer terms and immersed herself in musical and theatre events to really hone her craft.

“I feel like I’ve gotten more personal attention and on-stage time here because Wayland is so small,” she said of the benefits she’s received. “The fact that I started classes with Dr. Runnels and have been acting with him since high school has helped too. I think I have a better understanding of vocal styles and techniques because Jeff Kensmoe (director of vocal studies and opera/musical theatre) is so good. Not many people get to work with someone like that.”

Williams’ mother Polly said she’s excited for her daughter’s opportunity, though she hates to see her go so far away from home.

“I’m glad she’s got Jordy with her,” she smiles, getting a nod of agreement from Rachel. “This is the time to pursue that dream. We’ll pray for them a lot, but we know God didn’t give them that talent and drive with no plan for it.”

“We know that we both have a lot of things we want to do in our lives. And moving to Chicago to pursue those things is pretty risky, but we also know that it’s better than never knowing,” added Jordy.