Joining a Soap Opera "Changed My Life"

Question: When did you first develop a love of performance? 

Judith\r\n Light: When I was three years old was when I first developed the \r\nlove of performance. My mother had helped me memorize “Twas the Night \r\nBefore Christmas” and I performed it for my father and it was in that \r\nmoment that psychiatrists or psychologists say is the palimpsest moment \r\nwhere you have this moment of clarity and it was in that moment that I \r\nsaid, “Oh, my. This is what I want to do.” So, that was when it started.\r\n It changed over the years for very good reasons, but that was the \r\nactual moment. 

Question: What struggles did you face \r\nas a young actor and how did you overcome them? 

Judith \r\nLight: The development of myself as an actor really started when I \r\nwent to Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, and I was studying \r\nacting there. And in the brochure for the school it says, “This course \r\nis as rigorous and exacting as theater itself,” and they were not \r\nkidding. So that’s really when the difficulty started for me, because \r\nhere I was with everybody who had been the star of their high school \r\nplay. And so, we were in this milieu of about 60 people at the time and \r\nwe knew that at least half of us would be cut. My graduating class of \r\nactors that had come in with me was 15. 

So, it was a really \r\nrigorous program and I thank God for it because it was an amazing \r\ntraining program. And so, then I left there and I went into repertory \r\ntheater and then it was at a certain point that I knew it was time for \r\nme to either go to New York or Los Angeles. And I called this \r\nextraordinary woman who I had become friendly with at the TCG auditions \r\nwhich are the Theater Communications Group auditions which is really, at\r\n the time, where you went to be seen by all the artistic directors of \r\nall the repertory theaters all over the country. Her name is Rosemary \r\nTishler and I called Rosemary and I said, “Okay, is it time for me to \r\ncome to New York?” and she said, “Yes, I think it is.” 

And that \r\nreally was a huge decision because it was a decision that changed my \r\nlife and I thought that it would be like it had been in repertory \r\ntheater. I thought I would have all kinds of parts and that it would be \r\neasy and I would audition and I would get it. And then I didn’t. And so,\r\n I went through a real crisis in the late '70s, and I really had to look\r\n at myself as a human being first and as a performer second as to what I\r\n really wanted because when I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted, \r\nI’ve often said this to people. It was really part temper tantrum and \r\npart existential crisis because I didn’t know what to do about not \r\ngetting what I thought I wanted. 

And it was over time, but there\r\n was one specific moment where I said, “I have to give up. I can’t do \r\nthis anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. What is it... how is it \r\nthat I’m contributing? Because I don’t have an experience of \r\ncontributing, I don’t have an experience of making a difference. And I \r\ndon’t like my life and is it going to matter if I go somewhere and do \r\n'Streetcar Named Desire' or is it going to matter if I go somewhere and \r\ndo another play somewhere? What does it all mean?” 

And it was at\r\n that time completely broke and my agent called me and they said, “They \r\nwant you to audition for an understudy for a soap opera.” And I said, \r\n“You don’t understand. I’m never doing a soap opera.” And I said, “And, \r\nby the way, just so you know, I’m never doing a sitcom either. So, just \r\nto be really clear.” She said, “Well, you have no money, so it’s $350 \r\nfor the day if you get it.” I said, “I’m there.” 

So, I got it \r\nand I didn’t go on that day because the gal who was playing the part was\r\n not ill that day, but they did ask me to audition for the role because \r\nthey had decided to replace her. And they asked me on the day that I \r\ncame in to understudy her, they asked me what I would do with this part \r\nif this were where the part were to go. And I thought to myself, "This \r\nis interesting. This format reaches a lot of people. This could be some \r\nway to make a difference," And also to make money because I was living \r\nin New York City and New York City with no money, as everybody knows, \r\nit’s tough and you can only live so long on unemployment. 

And I \r\ngot it. They gave it to me and it changed my life. So, those were some \r\nof the things that were difficult times for me. I mean, there's more, \r\nbut that’s just sort of the beginning of the process, of my becoming a \r\ndifferent kind of person and a different kind of actor, not the little \r\ngirl who wanted her father’s approval when she was three years old. 

Recorded on May 10, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Not getting the roles that she wanted right out of school sparked a personal crisis for Judith Light. It took a job as a soap opera understudy to launch her career.

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