How is it that a small-town girl from Royse City, Texas, finds herself at Guitar Center in Times Square purchasing a ukulele for Kristen Wiig?

Or organizing backup dancers for Bruno Mars?

Or chatting about improv comedy with Bobby Moynihan?

She’d likely attribute these memorable experiences to luck, but in reality it’s her dedication, hard work, and determination that landed Hailee Williams, SU ’17, a two-semester internship at Saturday Night Live that led to a job offer starting this week.

For someone who grew up watching SNL with her parents, laughing along to Land Shark and Roseanne Roseannadanna reruns, working at SNL is a perfect fit. The chance to be a part of the iconic show and work side-by-side with the cast, producers, writers, and the entire staff is a “dream come true.”

Hailee describes the internship as “an amazing experience,” with “some of the nicest, most genuine, hard-working people I’ve ever met.” Her behind-the-scenes look gave her even more respect for the popular satire show many of us have come to love (not to mention rely on for the latest political news). “Even the cast members and the most senior staff – they work just as hard as everyone and don’t complain about the 18+ hour days. There is no ‘off’ switch. Everyone works together to pull this amazing production together.”

She compares the weekly production to putting on a new play every single week. “You start from scratch - learn lines, develop costumes, build sets and rehearse something new, then perform it live in front of millions people. Then start completely over again the following week.”

Hailee’s theatre training helped prepare her for the intensity and focus needed in this type of environment. Involved in theatre from a young age, she attended Tal Lostracco, a summer theatre camp hosted at Southwestern, during two summers in high school. It was during those summers she first fell in love with the school. She felt at home here, so the choice to attend Southwestern was a natural one.

Southwestern provides many opportunities for students to participate in high impact experiences such as studying abroad or internships. The NY Arts Program is one such opportunity, which gives interested students the chance to work in an arts related field of their choice. It’s open to all majors, and selected students spend a semester living in New York City working as an intern or apprentice earning 15 academic credits in the process.  

The program partners with many amazing organizations, such as the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum or The New Yorker magazine, but when Hailee heard about the SNL opportunity, she crossed her fingers that would be her match. It worked! She was beyond thrilled to get a call from Lenny Pickett himself, Musical Director of the SNL band, offering her the job.

Hailee interned in the fall of 2016, quickly settling into the routine of the season. Although the shows can be very different, they all follow a similar weekly schedule. For example, on Wednesdays the music interns read the scripts and begin to pull out music to prepare for the show (because if Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon need a song for a karaoke scene, someone has to download and prepare it)!

On Thursdays, the musical guest for that week comes in for rehearsal. That keeps the interns busy with a host of jobs - everything from picking up food, making sure the band completes their required paperwork, keeping things on schedule, coordinating transportation, and whatever miscellaneous tasks are needed.

Hailee performed these jobs and more for musical guests including Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars. Once again, Hailee expressed how hard everyone worked. The musicians would spend hours practicing and coaching backup dancers, working on choreography and directing. “They have a passion and love for what they do. They know what they want, but they weren’t divas. I learned a ton from interacting with and watching them work.”

The vibe on set was an “organized chaos.” The nature of a live show is that you can plan and prepare, but unexpected things will inevitably happen and “you have to be ready to react quickly, adapt and solve problems.”

Hailee reflects on her college experience, and realizes that is one way Southwestern helped prepare her for this intense role. “At SU, there is a focus on effective thinking and problem solving. They teach you how to adapt, find solutions, and view ideas from multiple perspectives. You collaborate with different types of people from different backgrounds.”

SU not only armed her with the skills to actively contribute and solve problems, but also gave her the confidence to realize that “even if I don’t know an answer right away, I know that I can figure it out. It’s a ‘say yes’ mentality that is ingrained at SU.”

So when a problem comes up – a costume zipper breaks, there’s technical difficulties, a backup dancer calls in sick or Kristen Wiig needs a ukelele for her opening monologue — you figure it out and make it happen.

A New Season

This week, Hailee officially begins her new job as a production assistant for the film unit. She’ll help with hiring the background actors, handling the related details and making sure things run smoothly behind the scenes.

As for long term goals, she looks up to Executive Producer Steve Higgins, who has been at SNL for decades (though he’s perhaps most recognizable to the rest of us as Jimmy Fallon’s stoic announcer on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon). She admires his “genius work” and how he’s heavily involved with multiple aspects of the show, including the writing. She may strive for a similar role in the future, but for now she’s thrilled to be there at all and ready to learn, contribute, and play whatever role she can in making SNL’s 43rd season a success.

The SNL season kicks off Sept 30th with Ryan Gosling - though no word on whether musical guest Jay Z will be playing a ukelele.

For more information about Southwestern’s NY Arts Program visit the Office of Career Services website or call 512-863-1346.