by Julia Freyer
A Chorus Line is a musical about twenty-four dancers auditioning for eight roles in the ensemble of an upcoming Broadway musical. One of those auditioning dancers is Judy Turner. Over the past nine years, I have had the joy of playing Judy in four different productions of A Chorus Line.
I was 22 years old and one week from college graduation the first time I was cast as Judy Turner. It was a National Tour directed by Baayork Lee. I was so excited and SO YOUNG. The character of Judy is relatively easy for me to “tap into.” I consider Judy to be an amplified version of myself...she shares her quirkiness a little more readily and her ankles are a little looser. Learning the show, the iconic choreography and the history from Baayork was an experience I will never forget. As an actor, A Chorus Line is a dream show. You say the words and the Pulitzer Prize winning book does the emotional work. But, being lucky enough to have landed this job even before graduation, I had yet to legitimately experience unemployment or my mortality as a dancer, in the great debate of “what to do when you can’t dance anymore.” Candidly, I found myself more aware of my nerves regarding (the dreaded) ‘turn, turn, out, in’ than anything else.
After tour, I moved to New York City. When I was 24 years old, I was cast as Judy Turner again, this time at Paper Mill Playhouse, directed by Mitzi Hamilton, another legend in the A Chorus Line family. I had not worked in theatre since the tour closed one year earlier. I was floored by the caliber of the company; I was so proud to be present and standing on the line with artists that I so admire and respect. When we faced out during “What I Did For Love,” I was overwhelmed with a feeling of ‘oh my god, I am working again AND I am working with THESE people.’ I rode the emotional wave of the show in a different way than I had previously.
Two years later, at 26 years old (Judy’s scripted age!), I played Judy at Sacramento Music Circus, directed by Stafford Arima with the original choreography reconfigured for the round by Randy Slovacek. We formed the traditional line only once, at the end of the Montage. Instead, we stood in a circle, alternating between facing out and facing in towards each other, while the stage slowly rotated on a turntable. As an artist, that experience was incredible. In its traditional staging, A Chorus Line can, at times, feel isolating. It is just you and the voice of Zach while standing in that line. Experiencing the show in a circle forced each actor to be present in a completely different, collaborative way. For example, as Judy, I typically never communicated with, or even saw, actors who stood on the end of the line because Judy stands near the center. In the round, we faced each other much of the show. I experienced the show in a completely different way: A Chorus Line somehow felt vulnerable and safe all at the same time.
Last month, I had the opportunity to play Judy at Transcendence Theatre Company, directed by Amy Miller with choreography by Jim Cooney. I am 31 years old and have been in New York City for almost ten years. I have now experienced unemployment in theatre for long periods of time. I have been in final callbacks for Broadway shows. I have injured myself and wondered if I would be able to dance again in the same way. I have seriously considered changing career paths—wondering just like Sheila, “Am I copping out? Am I growing up? I don’t know.” A Chorus Line is a gift to performers at any age, but I am so grateful to have experienced it again this summer. As artists, we are shaped by experiences and those experiences help create richer characters and the ability to trust our instincts as storytellers. While I proudly own my previous incarnations of Judy, I can say this was the first time I fully trusted myself in the role, owning the Julia inside of Judy. Life experience is an incredible gift and it allowed me to finally trust myself as a dancer and storyteller in A Chorus Line, which was WILDLY freeing. I hope I have not said goodbye yet to Judy Turner. I would love to see where she lands inside of me again in a few years.
A Chorus Line has always made me proud to be a dancer and even more so, proud to be an artist. It makes me so proud to reflect back upon what I do, and have done, for love!