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"He Never Settles"

By David Boyce

“No matter how well senior Garrett Williams performs in a school production at Liberty North, or does a class assignment, he never settles. Williams continues to work and work.”

Those words come from Liberty North forensics teacher Kimberly Lenger, who has taught Williams for three years.

“He is a talented kid,” Lenger added. “We are lucky to have him.”

It is important to understand that it took more than talent to give Williams an experience in mid-September that only a few of his peers across the Kansas City metropolitan area got to enjoy. Williams was one of 15 high school students who performed in the teen ensemble in Grease at Starlight Theatre September 8-14.

“I think everything is a stepping stone,” Williams said. “The teachers at Liberty North have helped me build a solid foundation. After that, I was able to try out for something that was way over my head just to gain that experience.”

Williams went into the auditions last spring, with about 80 other students, feeling confident. Earlier, he was nominated for the Blue Star Award for outstanding actor in a leading role as Bert for his work in last fall’s school production of Mary Poppins. He didn’t win, but he wasn’t discouraged.

“It was a fun experience to get nominated,” Williams said.

Actors at any level quickly understand they are not going to get every role they try out for or win every award for which they are nominated. They keep working.

Williams brought that mentality with him when he tried out for Grease. He knew he was auditioning with equally talented actors his age across the city who all wanted to work with professional actors and perform in front of 8,000 people at Starlight.

“It can be difficult, emotionally distressing,” Williams said of auditions. “What you have to realize is you are showcasing what you can do. It is subjective. You are presenting yourself the most authentically as you can, and if they don’t like that, then there is nothing you can do about it. You have to learn from every experience.”

Well, they liked what they saw in Williams, and he got to join a teen ensemble that had students from Oak Park, Lee’s Summit West, Truman, Shawnee Mission West, Olathe South, and several other high schools.

Lenger said it is a very nice goodwill gesture when touring shows come to Starlight and include local talent in some of their theatrical productions.

“It speaks well of Starlight Theatre, because they have a lot of cool community outreach and education programs,” Lenger said. “Whenever they can bring the community in, it makes theater a lot more personal in Kansas City. It was a huge deal for Garrett to be one of the teens in the show. Anytime an actor can be directed by new people, they grow as an actor. Meeting up with professional actors who are touring in the country are the kind of connections that are invaluable.”

Twelve days before the first performance on September 8, Williams did dress rehearsals each day at Starlight. It all became very real to him on the first day of rehearsal when director Philip Wm. McKinley walked in.

“You don’t get the opportunity to work with professional actors, much less the director we had,” Williams said. “He’s a Tony-nominated director. He directed several Broadway shows. It was intimidating. It was a good learning experience.”

Williams also got to spend many hours talking with professional actors and learning what it takes to succeed in the business. As for Williams, he is still in the discovery process of what he wants to do once he is finished with high school. He plans to go to college somewhere in the South where he grew up early in his life. He is looking at the University of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Florida State and trying to decide between musical theater and political science.

“Political science incorporates a lot of what I like,” Williams said. “I like public speaking, international affairs. I also like government and business.”

Regardless of what direction Williams takes in his life’s journey, he will remember September 8 for quite some time.

“It was surreal,” Williams said. “You go from seeing an empty venue for 8,000, and the next day every single seat is filled. We had parents there. We had an opening night cast party. It was fun, because all the elements came together after a stressful week.”

Williams is thankful he is in a school district that encourages students to participate in the fine arts and other extracurricular activities that help build a solid foundation to succeed in the future. In some form, Williams has taken part in at least two theatrical school productions each year while at Liberty North.

“School theater productions are enjoyable, because you are not just on stage; you are doing everything,” Williams said. “At Liberty North, it is a holistic approach. The people who are wearing the costumes help sew them. People who are on stage helped paint the sets and design the sets and lights. We learn not just performance, but we learn pretty much everything that goes on to make a production.”

Williams also competes in speech and debate.

“It is so much fun,” he said. “We get to travel. We get to compete almost every single week and meet just a ton of people. It is a close-knit community. I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for our school’s theater department, especially speech and debate.”