Tallahassee Young Actors Theater designer Tina Williams bows out

Forty-six years old. This is about what it takes for a loving parent to feel good and truly sure that a “offspring” – born and raised, nurtured and protected – did. May this beloved creation stand ready to continue for years and years. That a legacy will endure.

Maybe that’s what Tina Williams, executive director – for next month – of the Young Actors Theater in Tallahassee, feels as she conducts her latest show, “Grease.”

Almost half a century ago, it created what has become one of the largest performance venues for young people in the country.

On August 1, she will hand this title and the intimidating legacy of YAT to Sarah Doolin Roy, a professional arts administrator with a stunning resume and her own deep connection to the Young Actors Theater – Sarah Doolin Roy is the niece of its founder.

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Indeed, looking back on the life and legacy of Tina Williams, the YAT has truly been a “family affair”.

Tina Williams poses for a photo at the Young Actors Theater ahead of a performance of Grease on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Williams has created what has become one of the nation's largest youth theater venues.  On August 1, she will award this title.

Family moves and Tallahassee roots

Williams was born in Tallahassee, but would immediately begin what was to be a traveling youth. Zoltan Farkas, Williams’ father, was an artistically trained photographer born in Hungary. Taking his young family to New York, he became sought after for high fashion shoots by Vogue, Miss, and even photographed Grace Kelley, whom he advised to “return to Philly”.

He had met Williams’ mother in a photoshoot as she modeled the full-skirt models of the time. But by the time little Tina was in fifth grade, the family decided to leave the big city – and even Farkas’ profession – and return to the safety of small-town Florida.

While in Florida, Tina took acting and dancing lessons and posed for fashion photos taken by her father. But by the time she entered high school, the family had returned to New York City, where Zoltan Farkas’ new leadership had enabled her to open what would become a national fundraising organization with offices in New York, LA, Atlanta. – and finally Tallahassee.

Tina Williams, left, watches the cast of Young Actors Theater's Grease warm up before performing to a live audience on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

In high school, Tina Williams attended Professional Children’s School in New York City, herself a professional model and starting to think about an acting career on the road. But even though she moved to Los Angeles and was signed to a major modeling agency, it looks like Williams felt an inconvenience at home.

In this case, the house meant Tallahassee and the South. She attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, her mother’s and great-grandmother’s alma mater, and later the University of Florida, where she graduated in theater, hoping to eventually return. in Los Angeles.

But after graduation she got married and before she knew it the couple found themselves firmly bonded with the kindness and warmth of Tallahassee, taking part in the life offered by society. from the 1970s.

First show:

Drama lessons from the living room

And it was during one of these social events that in 1975 a little seed was planted, one that would become what was first called the “Tallahassee Children’s Theater” and later, the Theater of young actors.

At a spring event in Tallahassee, a friend had casually said, “I wish there was an acting class in town.” And through Tina Williams’ mind flashed the response, “Well, I could do it.” Classes that would first start in Williams’ living room, with her husband moving all the furniture twice a week, would later move into William’s grandmother’s basement.

The first class had “six or seven students,” then a friend brought a whole troop of Girl Scouts. And the families of Tallahassee “joined”. There was a summer camp; then the Tallahassee Little Theater provided stage space for some productions. Along the way, Williams had a baby, though classes grew to 60 and 70 theater-loving kids, whom she taught four days a week.

It’s time to “build a theater”

A few years later, it was time to move. Enter the loving businessman / father, Zoltan Farkas. He had found a little “green and yellow house” on Glenview Drive. Although not tall, he knew it could be remodeled to create a teaching space and a small stage.

And he bought it. In 1983, Williams says that she and her musical director, Alison Grimes, and choreographer and director, Alison Bundrick were putting on small productions, although they still depended on the Little Theater space for larger works. But their ambitions had grown. And after Farkas’ death in 1984, Williams and his mother decided to “build a theater.”

“My husband said we were crazy, but my mother, who is extravagant, said ‘yes!’ “

Using funds from his father’s estate, Williams would set up a non-profit organization, build a theater on the property that could accommodate 216 people, make room for rehearsals and music and dance lessons, as well as present five or six professional productions. one year.

Emmy winner Tony Hale poses with Young Actors Theater mentor Tina Williams at a reception for Hale at the Old Capitol in 2014.

275 students, many notable alumni

Today there are nearly 275 students and YAT has trained thousands of young people in theater, dance and music over the past 50 years.

Some of her notable alumni are Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”) and Allison Miller (“A Million Little Things”).

Tina Williams, 69, seems as energetic, lively and detail-oriented as she was supposed to be at the start of YAT, says, “It all started just for having fun and exposing the kids to the theater. It has become something much, much bigger… and I hope for better.

In 1995, YAT built a second floor to house additional classrooms, as well as costume and set rooms. The productions are often animated Broadway musicals which, in addition to the cast, may have 20 or more technicians handling the production behind the scenes. The annual operating budget has ranged from half to three quarters of a million dollars from tuition, ticket sales, fundraising, grants and contributions.

One thing Tina Williams is particularly proud of is Outreaches by YAT. “We have the Young Playwright Festival; studio singers; Act One, which goes to schools, and Backyard Broadway, where we put on shows literally in people’s backyards during the COVID era. “

The Young Actors Theater cast of Grease is heating up before performing to a live audience on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

Operation theater remaining in the family

And why is Tina Williams choosing to retire this time? “It was just time. My husband passed away in 2016, ”she says. “Early he turned on the lights, and before he died, my mother took the tickets and greeted everyone at the door. It was indeed a family affair, ”said Williams.

“My daughter and her family now live in Michigan. I bought a house there to spend about half of my time there. But what was wonderful was that my niece, Sarah Doolin Roy, wanted the job that I quit! perfect fit Perfect!

The Young Actors Theater cast of Grease is heating up before performing to a live audience on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

Sarah Doolin Roy was most recently Director of Marketing Communications and Partnerships at the American Ballet Theater, partnering with Bank of America, Equinox, Celebrity Cruises and Random House. Representing ABT, Doolin Roy has collaborated with the Metropolitan Opera House, Kennedy Center and Bryant Park.

Last year, she was a member of Women inPower, mentored by the chairman of the board of the Public Theater and the chairman of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She holds an MA in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management and Politics from New York University, after graduating summa cum laude from Marymount Manhattan College.

Doolin Roy is married with two young children, and says she is delighted to be returning to her hometown and the Young Actors Theater, which she has frequented for many years and has personally championed throughout her life.

Others share the feeling of YAT at home.

  • “Ms. Tina gave me the opportunity in Alice in Wonderland to take on the role of assistant manager. Without YAT, and especially Ms. Tina, I would never have learned as much as I have. or had such a clear plan for my future, ”said Evan Marty, YAT student and president of the Sail student body.
  • “I have learned so much from Tina in the 15 years I have spent with her. It allowed me to make mistakes and to grow. As Director of Education, I will continue this mindset, empowering my students just as Tina empowered me. It is of the utmost importance that the theater built by Tina continues to grow, change and inspire the youth of Tallahassee, ”said Natalie Futrell, Director of YAT Education and Fat Producer.

“Grease” will run until July 10th. Places may still be available.

YAT’s next production, “Crossing Jordan,” will open August 20-29. “Crossing Jordan” is a production based on the award-winning book by local author Adrian Fogelin. Set in Tallahassee, the story touches on racism and is a poignant reminder that barriers separate us too often.

Visit youngactorstheater.com for a list of all 2020/21 productions and class information.

Marina Brown can be contacted at [email protected] Brown is the author of RPLA 2020 Book of the Year, Pitigliano’s Orphan and other books.

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