Bellarmine’s adjunct professors have some pretty incredible “secret lives.” From a swing dancer to a former chief of police and now a television star, they carry their passions from real world practice to classroom application.
Takayla Williams’ secret life is not so secret. Her passion for acting and performance touches all aspects of her life. As an adjunct professor in the Theatre department, she teaches Acting 1 to non-majors. Outside the classroom, she spends her time auditioning and performing.
In March, she appeared as a homeless woman named Mo in an episode of the NBC series Chicago Fire. She fully immersed herself in the role from the moment she received the audition notice.
“I literally just did my hair … and they said the character was a homeless person,” Williams said. “So, I cut all my hair out except for a couple of pieces and I went to Goodwill and asked myself how a homeless person in Chicago would dress. I went all the way, because if this was the one time I was going to be able to act [on television], I wanted to do it all the way. I didn’t care. That’s the attitude I’ve started to take with any audition.”
She was Mo from the moment she entered the audition to the very end. “Normally at the end of your lines you say, ‘Okay, thank you,’” Williams said. “I didn’t say thank you. After my last line I picked up all my stuff, went over and grabbed my glasses and walked out mumbling under my breath.”
The casting directors appreciated Williams’ dedication to the character and gave her the role. While on set, she had the chance to meet the director of Chicago Fire, James Hanlon, as well as some of the actors, including Kara Killmer. She was even assigned a trailer where she could practice her lines.
While she really enjoyed her time on set and hopes to land another television or film role, she said she won’t let the success go to her head. “I don’t want to get to the point in my life where I’m waiting for someone to get my food or wait on me,” Williams said. “I’m not on that larger scale anyway … I want to experience this for myself.”
Chicago Fire was an important audition, but Williams puts this level of commitment into every role she plays—from a middle-aged king in Edá to a 280-year-old woman in Gem of the Ocean.
“My favorite show that I’ve ever done was Edá, which means ‘every man’ in Yoruba and was my thesis project for my MFA,” Williams said. “I played a really mean king and I had a mustache and I braided my hair and wore a cap. I looked like my dad. I came out and my family didn’t even recognize me. It was so much fun.”
Williams received her bachelor’s degree in theatre from Clark Atlanta University with plans to act in television and film.
“I did not realize there was a difference,” Williams said. “Where I’m from [West Palm Beach, Fla.] not too many people are like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to go see a play.’ I went to see Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and I thought it was really weird. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it was beautiful.”
In 2012, during her time at Clark Atlanta University, Williams wrote and produced a play called The Stoop, for which she won the Horizon Theatre’s Young Playwright Festival award and the National Black Theatre Festival’s Collegiate Playwrights Competition.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Williams earned her MFA in performance at U of L. Since then, she has worked as an adjunct professor and actress, as well as working in childcare at St. Joseph’s Children’s Home. Her job at St. Joe’s allows her to spend time with her 3-year-old daughter, Makayla Jackson, every day.
Williams claims the role in Chicago Fire was just the spark she needed to reignite her passion. She continues to audition for television, film and theatre roles as well as writing her own productions. She says her dream casting would be a recurring role on How to Get Away with Murder or Grey’s Anatomy. Ultimately, she hopes to one day own her own production company, giving her the opportunity to combine her passions for acting, writing and directing.
“I’m a mother and a wife, so I’m trying to find that balance. I try not to be a negative Nancy because I can’t see the forest for the trees,” she says. “I know my passion and I know this is what I’m supposed to do. I know the Lord has not brought me this far for me to stay in this place. So, I keep trying to audition and write and I try not to get discouraged.”
By Emily Gahafer ’17