William Andrews would have been a viral YouTube sensation if YouTube had been around when he was a toddler.
“When I was two my mom started to encourage me to perform,” he says. “The first performance I did was at my third birthday party where I sang ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy?’ by Rod Stewart. My family really pushed me to sing in front of anyone, and it didn’t take much.”
His true performance skills were cultivated in church.
“I grew up singing almost every Sunday,” he says, “but it clicked for me in sixth grade when I did Bye, Bye, Birdie at Blackhawk Middle School. I had one line: ‘He’s coming, he’s coming! Conrad Birdie is coming!’”
Like many in theater, he inherited the performance gene.
“My grandma was the yodeling champion of the county fair in 1943,” he says. “My mom and aunt did shows when they were young. When they were 10, they devised their own flying [effect] for Peter Pan. They hung a rope over a tree and jumped. In high school my mom was in a rock band called Andy and The Impacts. She was lead vocalist and faked playing the guitar. They mainly played gigs on my grandma’s porch for the other kids in the neighborhood.”
As a sixth grader at Blackhawk Middle School, he auditioned for the role of Mr. Bumble in their production of Oliver!, directed by Elaine Nichol.
“Sadly, I didn’t get the role because before my voice changed I had major pitch problems,” he says. “I was cast in the ensemble, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven because for the first time in my life I met other kids who did what I loved to do.”
Not getting the role he wanted was a minor setback. He recognized his limitations and began taking voice lessons with Dr. Joseph Myers, head of the IPFW vocal department at the time. Andrews’ vocal prowess improved and, most importantly, his confidence grew. He started getting bigger roles.
He also grew as an actor.
“I used to just paint on my show choir smile and go for it,” he says of his acting method. “Now I have to feel it from the heart to mean it.” This more careful consideration of emotion onstage led to several award nominations and an Anthony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Play for Biloxi Blues at the Civic in 1998.
Andrews and his partner Justin Cooper moved to Indianapolis in 2005, but returned to Fort Wayne in 2007. Andrews was cast in a show at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, and two days later, Justin’s job transferred him back to Indianapolis.
Back in Indy, Andrews made a name for himself in the Indianapolis theater scene, both as an actor and as a director, working for a variety of theaters, including Theatre on the Square, Footlite Musicals, The Artist Studio, Buck Creek Players and Meyers Dinner Theatre.
“It was a shock when I moved to Indy because I started getting good parts right away,” he says. “I was given a chance to grow and hone my skills.”
In 2010 he had his first foray into directing with Crazy for You at Footlite Musicals. He soon amassed over 20 award nominations, and many of his cast members won acting awards for their productions.
“Directing is a lot of hard work,” he says. “In acting you only need to worry about yourself, but in directing you have 20 to 40 people to worry about.”
He has been called a tough director, even by the professional actors who have worked for him, but he believes this is because of his high expectations based on his years as an actor.
Though an award-winning actor, Andrews feels he is stronger as a director.
“It’s easy for me to read a script as a director and know exactly what I want,” he says. “As an actor, I need direction.”
When he directed his first show in Indianapolis, several key crew members unexpectedly left the production for personal reasons. “Justin jumped right in,” he says. “He is now an award-winning scenic designer, set decorator, and light and sound designer in his own right.”
The couple returned from Indianapolis this February to care for Andrews’ terminally ill mother, Diana. He took a hiatus from theater, but when he learned that Jake Wilhelm was making his directing debut with Violet at Arena Dinner Theatre, he decided to audition. The musical centers around a young woman (played by Darby Bixler) with a severe facial scar who goes on a physical and spiritual journey, seeking healing, and Andrews portrayed the televangelist Violet believes to be her salvation.
It’s was a role he considers to be his most challenging. “[The Preacher] has a scar just like Violet, but it’s on his soul, not on the outside,” he says. “I have walked a fine line between being real and making fun of him, but I have had a great director who trusted my instincts.”
His instincts came from a place of familiarity.
“I used childhood memories of growing up Pentecostal to play this role,” he says. “I have experienced many people just like this preacher in real life.”
Andrews appreciates being welcomed back to the Arena after so many years away. “The cast and staff have been super sweet,” he says. “We have had a wonderful time putting the show together, and it shows in the final product.”
Violet was the 112th production he has been a part of, including acting, directing, designing and crewing, and he shows no signs of slowing down. But whether he’ll remain in Fort Wayne or return to Indianapolis – and when – remains to be seen.
“When I moved back to Fort Wayne in February, I was only planning on staying six weeks,” he says. “All I can say is I am here for now and living day by day.”