Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Married: Husband, Rodney; son, Jake.
Education: Notre Dame High School, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga,
Job: Copywriter with True North Custom Media
Julie Van Valkenburg has several memories of her first acting experience. She got to play a dragon's claw in "The Reluctant Dragon" in fourth grade.
A shy person by nature, she remembers being nervous, but she also discovered that it made her somewhat of a star. People who weren't talking to her before were suddenly starting conversations.
"That helped me open up a little," she said.
She remembers that the boy who played the dragon's tail grew up to be a lawyer, and she remembers something else about another cast member.
"I was very jealous of the girl who played the head," Van Valkenburg said. "She got more lines."
The two would cross paths again in the theater department at Thrasher Elementary.
"I wrote a play in fifth grade about Betsy Ross, and the head of the dragon got to be Betsy, so that made me mad."
Most of the theater experiences since then have been positive. She is currently in the cast of "God of Carnage," a Circle Theatre production at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. She has been doing plays there for about 25 years, she said. She has also been in shows with the Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, Destiny Theatre Company and Backstage Dinner Theatre. She also was in plays at Notre Dame High School and the McCallie School before that.
"I did a comedy ["The Night of January 16th"] at Notre Dame, and I had some short funny lines. I would go to the chalkboard during class and people would yell out one of my funny lines. It was great. I felt like a star."
After college, Van Valkenburg said she devoted her time and energy to her career in journalism, first at the Chattanooga Times and later at the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
When she moved back to Chattanooga several years later, she felt she needed a hobby and got back into community theater.
She tried out and got the role of Stella in "A Streetcar Named Desire."
"That was a big deal because I really took a risk and stepped out of my comfort zone," she said. "It was a good life lesson."
A mutual friend introduced her to future husband Rodney Van Valkenburg, who was the youth theater director at the CTC. The two have appeared in only two plays together. The first was "Our Town" and the second was "The Yellow Boat," a play about a teenager who dies after contracting the HIV virus through a blood transfusion.
The lead was played by the couple's son, Jake.
"It was very emotional," Van Valkenburg said. "I would cry during rehearsals."
Van Valkenburg tries to do a play every year or so, but only ones she finds meaningful. Still a shy person, she said it's the process and the people that appeal most to her.
"I love rehearsals," she said. "I don't necessarily get the thrill that some get in front of an audience. In fact, it scares me to death but I love the creative process. I love pulling meaning out of a line or a scene. I love working with directors."
She also likes challenging herself. In "Enchanted April," she spoke all of her lines in Italian and in "God of Carnage," she has to vomit on stage.
"I won't tell you how that is done," she said.
One of her toughest roles was in "And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little" because she was cast against type, she said.
"I was an awful person and my director pushed me to be ruthless and cold and calculating and I had to work hard. I'm not saying I'm a saint, but I had to work hard. I won a Miss Annie [a CTC award] for that."
Van Valkenburg also exercises her creative side by writing. In addition to the Betsy Ross opus she wrote in grade school, she has written a 10-minute play as part of a workshop at the CTC. She rewrote it into a 15-minute play for WUTC and she wrote a one-act play about local baseball icon Joe Engel.
"My goal is to write something that has an intermission," she said.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...