Carol Drewes, our Individual and Legacy Giving Officer, recently sat down with Brown/Trinity Rep MFA graduate Louis Reyes McWilliams ’19 on how his experience was in the program and what being at Trinity Rep meant to him.
How did you learn about the Brown/Trinity MFA program?
I first learned about Brown/Trinity as an apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival when Chris Stahl (’17) was a non-equity company member there at the same time. Then the school kept popping up in playbills of shows I was seeing, and after some research, I knew it was a place I’d be excited to go for graduate school.
Where did you audition–and what do you most remember about that audition?
I auditioned at a hotel in San Francisco because I was going to college out there at the time. I remember a lot about the day actually. I was late to the mandatory info session and arrived right in the middle of Curt Columbus‘ speech about the program. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to remember this when it came time to audition. I also couldn’t really find a space to warm up, so I ended up on the street outside the hotel practicing my audition monologues and got more than a few looks from strangers. Curt was so kind, and the thing I remember most was that he had read my essay and seemed interested in me as an individual, not just as an actor. So often at these big auditions, they don’t even know your name, and won’t get to know you unless they think your work is special. But Curt was so open-hearted and was invested in you regardless of the quality of your work because you were there to share something with him. It’s the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in an audition room, and I think you’ll hear that sentiment echoed by many of the actors that come through this program.
What was your most memorable acting experience during your time in the MFA program–okay to list a few, really.
Too many! I feel like every play and scene showing I was a part of was such a special experience. If I had to pick one, I’d to say my final scene-showing of my third year where I played Pale in Burn This opposite my classmate Lizzy Lewis as Anna, directed by the wonderful Anne Scurria. The play is about grief and sudden loss, subjects that have a particular resonance for my class, and to get to share a piece of that play with that group of people felt like a gift and something that I’ll never forget.
Many people don’t realize that MFA acting program requires all participants to write–can you talk a bit about that?
Part of Brown/Trinity’s curriculum is that as an MFA actor, you also take classes in playwriting with Deborah Salem-Smith and directing with Brian Mertes, deepening your understanding of your role as an actor and ensuring that you graduate with a range of capabilities in the theater. Personally, I loved getting to work with Deb in playwriting. I took the class every semester of my MFA, and I found it essential to my growth. As you’re writing a play, you inherently gain a better understanding of how plays are constructed and what your job as an actor is when bringing the text to life. I plan to continue to write as I pursue acting, and I was even recently able to have a play I worked on in Deb’s class produced in a non-equity production at Williamstown.
What was the most surprising aspect of your MFA experience?
How much I had to learn! I came in thinking I knew what I was doing, but I saw so quickly that I hadn’t even scratched the surface of what it is to be a working actor. I tell people all the time that, knowing what I know after my MFA, I would have been a fraud to call myself an actor before getting my training. That’s not necessarily true for everyone, but for me, being at Trinity Rep pushed me to grow personally and artistically in ways that I could not have achieved outside the framework of grad school. And there’s still so much more to learn!
Anything else you want folks to know about the MFA experience?
Supporting Trinity Rep also means supporting the future of young artists. The most crucial experience of my MFA was being in residence at an amazing regional theater, and I learned the most in the time I spent in Trinity’s rehearsal halls and on its stages in front of audiences. It is one of the few places that continue a tradition of apprenticeship in the American theater, and I’m so grateful to Trinity Rep’s company members and audiences for investing in young actors.
How did your showcases go?
Showcase was great! It was absolutely stressful and very odd to attempt to express your full self in five minutes of work in front of agents and casting directors, but it was great to have one final project with my whole class before graduating. It didn’t hurt to get to take a trip to California either.
You’ve had an exciting summer since graduation–what’s it been like and how did the MFA program prepare you for your current gig?
Summer has been busy and adventure-filled! And my MFA has been essential in this initial phase of my career. The pace of the program alone has prepared me for juggling multiple shows at the same time, as I’ve performed in plays in Boston, Vermont, and New York all since graduating. Everything from clown class to technical tools, like dialects and breath support, immediately served me in Pride & Prejudice with Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston this past June. And currently I’m working on Coriolanus at the Public Theater, but I’m coming in after they’ve already been rehearsing for about a month, so my MFA has allowed me to make choices quickly and confidently and pick up blocking and fight choreography with ease.
Up next is tech and the first performances of Coriolanus at the beautiful Delacorte Theater in Central Park! Shakespeare in the Park has been a dream of mine since before Brown/Trinity, and to graduate and jump right into my dream job is unbelievable. After that closes in August, I’ll be performing as both Edmund and Edgar in King Lear with Actors’ Shakespeare Project up in Boston, so look out for that show this fall!