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NKU Student Following in Mom's Footsteps as Aspiring Actress & Social Worker

It’s the Great Depression and the Joads, a family of tenant farmers in Oklahoma, journey from the horrors of the Dust Bowl to the promised land of California, confronting almost unendurable suffering along the way.

This is John Steinbeck’s epic literary masterpiece about endurance, sacrifice, and family, made into a theatrical masterpiece by Frank Galati, who captivates audiences as he captures the themes -- dreams are shattered but Grapes of Wrath is an unforgettable affirmation of the indomitability of the human spirit.

The show opens this week at Northern Kentucky University.

Christina Tully plays family matriarch Ma Joad and notes that there are clear parallels between then and now, particularly in regions like Kentucky. “So much of what this family is experiencing is the indirect result of a governmental push for migration of a 'lesser class' of people," Tully said. “It is abhorrent to me that our government - particularly our justice system - so blatantly oppresses specific sub-populations in 2016. One would think that the nearly 90 years between The Dust Bowl Era and the 2010s would have opened more eyes to the injustice of systematic discrimination.”

When she auditioned, what she wanted most was to work with director Corrie Danieley before she graduates.

“When Corrie was describing the character to the group of us who were reading for Ma, she said ‘Ma is the root of the family.  She's loving, but she's stern.  Ma is...Ma is a river.’ I remember getting chills when she said that. I was like, ‘Ooh my god...I really, really want this role.’” 

Tully, a senior from Alexandria, is a double major in musical theatre and social work – following directly in the footsteps of her mom Deana Tully, who had the same double major at NKU in the ‘80s.

“My mom is my biggest source of motivation, encouragement, and has taught me everything I know about unconditional love and loyalty. I think my always wanting to be like her as a kid played a huge role," Tully said.

“I saw her doing community theatre, I got the bug. I saw her helping clients through social work, I wanted to help. I decided to study musical theatre and social work in college when I was at a 6th grade college fair and never once changed my mind. I saw her practicing yoga, I'm now working as a yoga teacher...she's been my best friend and role model all in one, you know? She's my rock.”

The only time they shared a stage was when Tully was in eighth grade. Her mom was playing the title role in Mame, Tully came down with “a hideous stomach virus during tech week and by opening night I had given it to her. She had 19 costume changes. We had to set up buckets at every wing she changed in in case she got sick. I felt awful!”

Theatre is a family affair for the Tullys: dad Chris is the producer of Hair at Footlighters, which opened the season this month.

Tully believes social work and theater are a perfect fit. “I am a huge believer in the power of the arts in healing. I am participating in dramatic therapy every time I'm acting through baby dolls with a child client or engaging with them by singing something from Frozen. (That part's not my favorite).  

“More seriously, art - whether it's performance or visually based - is something that resonates with everyone at some level. It's a common ground between you and a client you may have nothing else in common with.”

Tully’s schedule this semester is not for the faint of heart: rehearsals, performances, studying, teaching yoga, and, oh, yes, a social work internship. (She’ll begin rehearsals for holiday show Thoroughly Modern Millie the week after Grapes of Wrath closes.)

“The juggling act is definitely hard,” Tully laughs. “My days usually run from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. almost straight through. I am definitely learning some time management skills!

“I take 21 academic credit hours, rehearse six days a week, teach 10 yoga classes/private sessions, and the social work internship is 25 hours a week of unpaid work at an elementary school.  

“The internship is emotionally exhausting because we are seeing children who've experienced trauma that I couldn't imagine dealing with as an adult, and seeing it multiple times per day. It gets tough, but I am constantly reminding myself that while I am crazy busy, I have a life that is literally consumed by doing every single thing I love, every single day. I am really, really lucky.”

Tully is excited about December show Thoroughly Modern Millie, in which she plays famous singer Muzzy van Hossmere, who’s hosting a party and gets a big number. “Muzzy is such a fun, luxurious role! It will definitely be a nice lighthearted breather after Grapes!”

Tully has plans in place after her spring graduation. She begins a program in February to earn her 500-hour Advanced Yoga Therapy certification in December ’17. “I'll use that time to save money/breathe a little after graduating in May, then make plans for the move to New York.

“Yoga is big in New York, but it’s a competitive market for teachers. The additional certification will open up a lot more job opportunities with a flexible schedule for day time auditioning.”

The Grapes of Wrath, Sept. 29-Oct. 9. Northern Kentucky University, Corbett Theatre. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $14, senior citizens $11, students $8. 859-572-5464 and here.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Photo provided