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Aspirations of a Young Actress Play Out At Williamstown Theatre Festival

By Karen CampbellSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 18, 1996


"It's not like anything I've ever experienced before," says Erica Traylor with a trace of disbelief. As an apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this past summer, the Dallas-bred actress nurtured her dreams of a life in the theater in the heart of one of the summer season's most vibrant theatrical communities.

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"This is the farthest I've ever been away from home for any length of time," she says. "It's very exciting, quite different from any place I've ever been, just being around different people, the opportunity to see the craft actually applied in productions and even see my own work develop in monologues and scenes."

Traylor hadn't even heard of the Williamstown Theatre Festival until she met Michael Ritchie, the festival's producer, at the Kennedy Center last April. Ritchie was one of the judges for the 28th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, and Traylor was one of 16 students from around the country participating in the prestigious competition. Ritchie was so impressed by Traylor's ability and potential that he invited the Spelman College (Atlanta) senior to apprentice at Williamstown for the summer, and Traylor became the first recipient of a full Everett Scholarship. Named after the festival's board chairman, William H. Everett, the scholarship is designed to provide aid to minority participants.

Traylor's initial expectations were fairly simple. "All I had was this little pamphlet that said I'd be taking classes," she recalls. "I thought it would be a small group of about 15 apprentices working on little acting projects, with intensive attention in acting, movement, and voice."

What she got was an entree into a heady theatrical community informed by the likes of Arthur Miller, Joanne Woodward, and Olympia Dukakis, to name just a few of the stellar participants in this year's festival. For interns not coming from active theater towns, the exposure to an entire summer full of theater is one of the most valuable aspects of the program.

"I just saw 'All My Sons,' and it was absolutely wonderful," Traylor raves. "I'm very excited to see the new Miller works." ("The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" was given its American premire at the festival.)

The program, which ran June 2 through Aug. 19, is part of the festival's mission to provide training for the next generation of theater professionals. Apprentices can follow the program over a five-year course.

After apprenticing, they are eligible for Act I, a more exclusive and intensive training program. The following year, they can become members of the festival's non-equity company, which supplements the professional company. "After three years of that, they may have earned enough points to be awarded an equity card and become part of the professional community here," Ritchie explains. "That's what I hope for Erica."