NEW HAMPTON - The town's televisions will be tuned in this month as a former resident's dream gets a foothold on a network drama.
Sarah Utterback moved to Los Angeles a year ago to pursue an acting career. She makes her television debut Sunday as a nurse on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."
"I'm expecting a parade when I get back," Utterback joked.
The role is minor - this week's episode features just one line of dialogue - but the small break helped earn the attention of a talent agent and an ongoing series of auditions.
"I'm lucky enough to have found an incredible community that has really taken me in and embraced me," she said.
Fifteen-hundred miles away in New Hampton, where Utterback graduated from high school in 2000, friends, family and former teachers are buzzing with curiosity and excitement about the appearances.
Sarah's mother, Terry Utterback, said her daughter has been quiet about the role's specifics - only warning them to be ready. In the season's final two episodes, Utterback's character ends up in a love triangle with one of the hospital's doctors.
"It's kind of racy, and I think she's involved in some of that," Terry Utterback said.
The medical drama follows a group of first-year surgical interns at a fictitious Seattle hospital. Reviews are mixed, but the series averages about 18 million viewers weekly. It was reported this week ABC would renew "Grey's Anatomy" for a second season.
Utterback is crossing her fingers the next batch of shows includes a continued role for her character. She said the show's producers haven't ruled out the possibility.
Meanwhile, with the help of a newly hired agent, she's also meeting with various casting directors and auditioning for other shows, films and theater roles.
It's been a humbling learning experience, said Utterback, who still waits restaurant tables to pay bills. Even after four years at a prestigious New York art school, she said she arrived in Los Angeles overly idealistic about the industry. But she's also been struck by the kindness and generosity of many people she's met. Actress Mare Winningham, whose resume includes three decades of roles from "St. Elmo's Fire" to "Turner & Hooch," has been her most influential friend.
Utterback said the random encounters with Hollywood celebrities is inspiring and grounding.
"You'll be out with friends and you look over and you're dancing next to Kristin Dunst," she said. "It doesn't really phase me too much. They're out here doing the same thing, and it's kind of cool when you realize they're just out with friends, too."
Charles Carlin, a speech and theater instructor at New Hampton High School, said it's fun to see a former student succeeding with their dream. He recalls Utterback's full plate of activities in school, including several plays and concerts.
"She was just a real natural talent and somebody who took it very seriously when she took a character role," Carlin said. "She will work hard and gain parts on a steady basis because she is really driven to be successful."
Utterback will return to New Hampton in two weeks for her brother's high school graduation. The trip happens to coincide with the "Grey's Anatomy" season finale, and Terry Utterback hasn't ruled out rolling out the red carpet for a viewing party. Of course, the menu would probably consist of graduation party leftovers, she said.
"She's real proud of it, but she's like, 'Oh, Mom, don't make a big deal of it,'" Terry Utterback said. "She'd rather downplay it because it's not a huge part, but it's a start."
Contact Dan Haugen at (319) 291-1565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The final three episodes of the first season of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" will air May 8, 15 and 22. New Hampton native Sarah Utterback, who moved to Los Angeles last year to pursue an acting career, makes a brief debut Sunday. She has a larger role in the final two episodes.