Being a small business owner, a mother to three, and a grandmother to six (with number seven on the way!) Felice McWilliams lives a very busy lifestyle, yet still somehow makes time to pursue her love of performing. Originally from California, McWilliams and some of her family moved here to Danville in 2014. She founded her organization “Making Danville Smile,” in 2017, a program created to teach and share the arts and positivity to the area. Through her creative work in town, she could meet many other local artists, those at Smokestack Theatre Company included. This is where her acting career began.
McWilliams’ first role was Juror #9 in a staged reading of Twelve Angry Men. Smokestack produced this show in 2018 with a twist, all the jurors were played by local impassioned women. She thoroughly enjoyed this experience and later returned to Smokestack to tell the powerful story of The Tribute to Enslaved People in the annual production of Ghosts and Gravestones. McWilliams shared she was apprehensive about taking on this role at first, but gave it a shot and ended up doing the role for three years.
Preparing for a role is no easy task, and McWilliams has it down to a routine. “I like to research any other performances of the play or role, study them, and then I start reading and reciting my lines over and over. I record myself reading my lines so I can listen to them each night and while driving. It’s a good working process for me. Once I’ve memorized it, the acting begins.” Once lines have been memorized and the acting begins, as McWilliams says, there are only a few rehearsals left before the show opens. Her favorite part of a production is that last rehearsal—final dress. She claims that, “When that night is done, the confidence is there, and the show must continue. It’s magical.”
Having gone through many dress rehearsals and productions, there is a special place in McWilliams’ heart for each role she has played, but her favorite of them all has been Calpurnia in To Kill A Mockingbird. She loved this role so much because all the previous shows she had done were readings or tours. This show was her first “traditional” stage play. Through this experience, she was able to prove to herself she can learn a large amount of lines and take stage direction. She also thoroughly enjoyed the special bond she could form with the other cast and crew members during her time in the show. Being cast in that role gave her the courage she needed to audition for more productions, both at Smokestack and at other theatres.
McWilliams has plenty of experience under her belt, but that does not make her stage fright go away. She says, “I am petrified every moment before stepping on stage. Thinking, will I remember the lines, go to the right place on stage etc.? That’s what makes it exciting.” She uses that nervousness and adrenaline to her advantage, and constantly is in prayer backstage to get through it. Never fear to those anxious about getting started as an actor. McWilliams’ advice is to, “Just go for it. You’ll never do it if you don’t try.” Stepping out of her comfort zone and trying things has created many acting memories for McWilliams. She will return later this month in Ghosts & Gravestones portraying a new character.