Western graduate will perform on Broadway

Steven Barnum , News editor

A 2009 graduate of Western Illinois University is now a cast member in the Broadway show “Waitress.”

Melody Betts will play nurse Norma on the show, which will run now through August. Previously, Betts landed roles on “Chicago PD” and “Chicago Code,” which she feels were stepping stones to even bigger and better projects. She said that it certainly helps to have those credits, but professionalism is perhaps the most important impression to make.

“Whether it’s television or Broadway, they all have the potential to open doors for us as actors and actresses,” Betts said. “When you complete these jobs successfully, you’re professional and pleasant to work with, then people will trust you to do more. Trust leads to work. When people know that you can be trusted, they won’t hesitate to hire you.”

Through her experience in “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” Betts had the pleasure of working with entertainer John Legend. She admired his kindness and his work ethic, qualities that she also thinks are critical in the business of performing. But even if she surrounds herself with talented and confident people, the nature of the career is still going to create instances where she has to combat nerves.

“I used to find some success in settling my nerves by centering myself through closing my eyes and doing a little deep breathing,” Betts said. “But then the more people who showed up to see me, the more pressure I felt to impress. So now I specifically choose what I will and won’t focus on and take authority over my mind. If you can control what you think, you can control your nerves.”

Betts is thankful for Western’s theatre program because she believes that it effectively balances the academic and performance side of the craft. The program gave her ample stage experience outside of Macomb, which she found helpful.

“You’ll need that before joining the workforce. Every actor needs to experience what it means to work with different types of people from different culturesand places.”

As for what the program could have done differently, Betts said that she was disappointed in the lack of diversity within the characters, which presented a lack of opportunity for all students. She also recalled a time when she personally wasn’t cast in a play while she was a graduate acting student, something that she later used as motivation.

“There was nothing available for me and I felt as though I was an afterthought and forgotten at a time when I needed the program the most,” Betts said. “It wasn’t pleasant but it taught me to fight for myself, which was a much needed tool for the real world experience.”

When it comes to pursuing a career path like Betts has, she said that there is no right or wrong method. Her mother told her that college isn’t for everybody, but it just so happened that it was a productive experience for Betts.

“Everyone doesn’t need to go to college to do what they love, are passionate about and are purposed to do,” she said. “But I absolutely loved graduate school. I had waited for such a long time to get to the part of school where my education was concentrated in my chosen area of study.”

Whether aspiring performers attend college or not, Betts said that there are other qualities that are just as or more critical to have when looking to stand out.

“If you have the gifts and talents that work well in this career, then go for it. You’ll have to love it in order to stay in it and succeed,” Betts said. “Go at your own pace because comparison kills. You must be a whole person who knows what they want and knows who they are so that you don’t get eaten alive or eaten up – and just like any other entity, there is no such thingas perfection.”