PEPPERELL -- Caitlin Wilayto's path to a performing arts career that she hopes will eventually lead to Broadway, TV or films is shaping up nicely in New York City and although it hasn't been easy, the time and effort she has put into fulfilling her dream has been worth it, she said.
It began when Caitlin was a student at North Middlesex Regional High School, where she performed in musicals and sang in choir competitions under the guidance of voice teacher Michelle Blake, who had been her music teacher at Nissitissit Middle School.
She credits Blake for helping her develop her talent, confidence and voice and as an inspiration for her dream.
"She's still there," Caitlin said of her former teacher, noting that the high school choir Blake leads competed in New York City this year. "That's why I chose North Middlesex," she added during a recent phone interview from her family's Pepperell home, where she stayed awhile before heading for rehearsals for her latest summer job in the cast of "Beauty and the Beast" at the North Shore Music Theater, which opened July 11 and runs through the end of the month.
Caitlin, who graduated from NMRHS in 2009, is now living her dream in NYC, auditioning for every suitable part that comes her way, on or off Broadway.
"It's very different from Pepperell," she said of her life in the Big Apple. "There are so many opportunities!"
It's also helpful to have a supportive family. Her parents backed her all the way, big city move and all. Now, they visit often.
Caitlin's two siblings are also in the business. Her older sister studied dance and now teaches Pilates in Chicago. Her older brother lives in California. A musician, he went to Berklee College of Music, she said. Both are married, with children.
Always on the lookout, Caitlin scans trade postings and bulletin boards for productions around Times Square. She auditions constantly and tries not to get discouraged when she doesn't land a part.
"It's difficult," she said. Sometimes, hopefuls are turned away on the spot while other times, it's a day-long wait. It's disappointing to audition every day without a call back, she said. "But you keep on trying."
She has an agent who scouts for her as well, she said.
While acknowledging the practical aspect of big city life as well as career challenges, Caitlin counts her successes as she builds a resume. And she's pragmatic about the dry spells. "I've moved a lot," she said.
To offset expenses, she shares living space with roommates, including friends from college. Caitlin obtained a liberal arts degree from University of Hartford's Hartt School, where she combined academics with performing arts courses such as musical theater, voice, instruments and acting.
Between roles, she cobbles together an array of part-time jobs to make ends meet, from modeling to babysitting to teaching tap at Uptown Ballet Academy.
This summer, Caitlin is playing one of Gaston's female admirers in "Beauty and the Beast," an ensemble part that will add to her resume and should be great fun, too.
Not to mention networking ops. One of her fellow actors in the production is Tony Award-nominee Christian Noll.
Asked what she'd say to aspiring young performers who might still be in middle or high school today but hope to launch a career as she has, Caitlin didn't hesitate.
"Go to college," she advised. "Training is important." Then, it's all about the effort you put into it, and determination, despite the odds.
It may be true that only a small percentage will make it, but in Caitlin's view, that's no reason not to try.
"If you really, really want it, go for it!" she said.