Taylor Williams played the Wicked Witch of the West in the 2010 production of “Wizard of Oz” when she was in 10th grade. In 11th grade, she played Will Rogers’ wife, Betty, in “The Will Rogers Follies.” Will Rogers was played by Trent Davis. In senior year, Taylor starred as Golde, Tevyes’ wife in “Fiddler on the Roof”, once again played by Trent Douglas.
According to her father Ron Williams, “Taylor and Trent had amazing chemistry on stage because they grew up together in school and church. They played each other’s talents like professional actors, often at will with each other. They were so good together.
Taylor was followed onto the Opera stage by her younger sister, Caitlin. “They actually starred in a production together, the ‘Will Rogers Follies’ in 2012,” Ron Williams said. Taylor played the wife and Caitlin, who was in middle school, played her oldest daughter.
As a freshman in 2014, Caitlin was “Cinderella’s” evil stepsister. She was cast as the lead role of Maria in “The Sound of Music” as a sophomore, and as the Cat in the Hat in “Seussical” as a junior. She missed her senior year due to illness.
For Ron, the scariest moment on stage occurred during a robbery scene from The Wizard of Oz. “During the second performance of ‘Wizard of Oz’, they tied Taylor to the cables to fly the bike. They snagged the bike, but not her safety cable. She realized this as they started She and she managed to get the flight crew’s attention and they lowered her, she ended up cycling across the stage at will instead of flying to continue the performance.
Almost as frightening was seeing her daughters getting married on stage in plays. Ron
said: “As a father, it was very strange for me to see my two daughters getting married on stage. Each time I got emotional because it felt so real and they were so beautiful. Taylor got married in an incredible wedding scene in Will Rogers Follies and Caitlin got married during the “Sound of Music.” Caitlin didn’t want to kiss her “husband” in the scene because she had a boyfriend at the time, so she held up her bouquet of flowers to cover up the fake kiss. In fact, it seemed to please the audience more than a real kiss.
Each performance of the girls became a Williams family event that culminated in a celebration. The family volunteered behind the scenes. Ron said: “As parents, my wife Ricci and I attended all performance. Ricci sold and delivered tickets and organized the T-shirts and after-party for the children. I used my big cargo truck in which I deliver office supplies to move and load props and sets to each room. It was especially difficult during Will Rogers because the set was huge. We had a family tradition of going out for dessert after every performance. It was dubbed a Williams celebration.
Ricci fondly remembers their years at the Opera. The time spent on stage brought the family closer together. “Taylor and Caitlin grew up performing on the Opera stage. We as a family enjoyed that experience. I loved seeing our daughters perform on stage. We’ve always made it a family event. I remember driving Caitlin to her rehearsals several times and having her kick me out of the theater during rehearsals because she wanted me to be surprised when it was show time. positive for our two daughters.
Ron also recognizes the long-term importance of the arts in the lives of his children. “Both girls have wonderful memories of their time at the Opera and credit their time on stage for their success in life, particularly in terms of self-confidence and public speaking.”
Caitlin sums up her time at the Opera. “I believe my experience at Opera had a profound impact on me and helped me become the person I am today,” Caitlin said. “I spent countless hours at the opera throughout my childhood, whether it was a trip to see a performance in elementary school, spending a week with the children’s theater in Missoula, staying late to nail the “Rivertown Follies” dance number or rehearsing Maria’s quick costume changes for the “Sound of Music.”
I knew many of my peers felt more confident and comfortable on a football, basketball or baseball field, but that wasn’t for me. I felt most alive when I was on stage. It’s ironic that playing someone else on stage was where I felt, and still feel, that I can be my most authentic self. Center stage in front of a packed house is a feeling you can’t convey in words. He must be experienced. I will cherish my Opera experiences all my life and look forward to more in the future.
Caitlin Williams is now events coordinator for the NCMC foundation and professor of communication at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey.
— Kathy King Johnson is the former Executive Director of the Cheboygan Opera House.