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BWW Interview: Julia Hoffmann Is Swinging Across The Country in ONCE

JULIA (CENTER) Swinging in during tech rehearsals for "Ex-Girlfriend"

Julia Hoffmann is currently swinging her way across the United States in the national tour of "Once" understudying Girl, Ex-Girlfriend, and Réza. Based on the Academy Award-winning film, the Tony Award-winning musical "Once" shares the story of how musicians not only compose melodies but also love between people from around the globe. With a folk-like score by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová and deceivingly simplistic book by Enda Walsh, audiences have been falling (slowly) in love with this beautiful and honest production since its first performance on Broadway in 2012.

The ensemble is made up of twelve actors, who also double as musicians: playing all of the music in the show. Audience members are bound to leave the theater with their toe tapping and a tune in their ear. After having graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with a BFA in Acting in 2015, Julia Hoffmann is quite the performing chameleon, ready to swing on for her three roles at any moment.

Christopher Castanho: I remember that while you were in school you had gotten called back for the Broadway company of "ONCE", how does it feel to finally be performing this show?

Julia Hoffmann: It's so cool. It's been such a journey with this show. I got my first callback in my sophomore year [of college], and I just kept getting called back for Reza and Ex-Girlfriend. Finally, this tour came up and I auditioned, and the rest is history...

CC: How do you like "tour life"?

JH: I love it. It's so much fun. My favorite part is definitely the company, we're this little family. It's such a tight-knit cast; we have some separation anxiety issues [laughs]. Like we're on break right now, but we just hung out for New Years, and we see each other when we're not on the road together. It's kinda funny. I couldn't imagine not getting along with anyone, it's so nice that we are all super close and work so well together.

CC: How long have you been traveling with this production?

JH: We started rehearsals in December of 2015, and then we opened early January [of 2016], so I've been doing this a year, which has been great. Of course, the show has evolved incredibly; we've had some people leave and new people come in, so it's a different show than it was a year ago, just because of that. But it's been really neat watching everyone grow as musicians too. I'm definitely a better musician after this experience. At the beginning of our music rehearsals our music director (Martin Lowe) said "You will be better musicians after this show" and everyone in the cast was already great so we were like "Yeah, okay." because we've all trained and taken our music lessons and can now play at a professional level, but when he said that I had no idea I would be this kind of musician a year from now, and I think that everyone in the cast can agree. We've all really learned how to play with other people and be a part of this bigger thing. That has definitely become true. And swinging for this show--how can you not be a better musician swinging for this show? [Laughs] Gosh, the pressure of having to learn all of the material, I feel like I can do anything after "Once".

ONCE understudies Tom McGovern, Julia Hoffmann, Adam Potter, Angel Lin, Barry DeBois, Lynn Flickinger, Luke Wygodny and Grant Watkins

CC: What do you do during the show when you're not swinging in/performing?

JH: We practice a lot of the times. There are eight understudies, and twelve roles in the show, so we almost have a full cast of understudies. We're actually able to run the show by ourselves pretty easily, we just usually say 'I'm playing this part!' when we need to. It's really nice that we can do that independently. And I'll watch the show, once or twice a week just to keep it fresh and remind myself of different tracking. I'll watch it and watch for one of my parts typically. When I do that I usually only see an act at a time, so I'll watch the first act and track girl, and watch act two the next performance tracking ex-girlfriend. But now that we're more comfortable with the show we definitely jam a lot backstage, we do different covers--

CC: I saw that you guys actually started this group called 'The Understudies'.

JH: Yeah it's like our little band, we also started our own web series, so that's been really fun and a nice break from the show. As it can get to the point where you live and breathe it and you need a break. We've definitely taken to making covers and stupid videos backstage. [Laughs]

CC: I was dying while watching the Pilot of The Understudies web series, at the end where you're barking at the little girl--

JH: Did you see at the end there's an outtake of that? That is my favorite part! I can watch her do that laugh/scream a million times. She's the best.

CC: How many kids travel with you to play the young girl "Ivanka"?

JH: We have one girl. Last year, that little girl: her name's Theo, she actually went back to school. So we have a new girl named Lily [Caputo] because their contract can only go so long since they're so young. We have Lily now and she's great, she travels with us with her Mom and brother on the road. "Once" is kinda their playground: it's so fun.

Julia before her first "swing-in"

CC: Speaking of fun, I can imagine being a swing is kinda disorienting but also exhilarating, what has been the most memorable experience swinging in?

JH: Oh my gosh! I guess probably the first time I swung in. It was so crazy because my roommate [Nyssa Duchow], who plays ex-girlfriend; I cover her. I honestly didn't think I would ever go on last season because our cast is so healthy and they weren't calling out. But this upcoming year, because the schedule's so crazy, we have planned swing on dates; so we'll go on at least twice a month regardless if people get sick. Last year we were in Milwaukee and I thought she'd [Duchow] call out because she was sick, but then she didn't. Then the next day we drove to Eastern Pennsylvania, which is right in between my hometown and "Philly", where my Mom works, and Nyssa called out, so then my Mom was able to come and some of my high school friends got to see me perform. It was kinda magical and a crazy experience. The first time I ever swung on was definitely nerve-wracking but awesome.

CC: Since you mentioned traveling, do you have a favorite location that you've traveled to on tour?

JH: That's like a five-way tie. [Laughs] I really liked Albuquerque, New Mexico, that was a really cool spot. I loved Burlington, Vermont. I liked Los Angeles, surprisingly, I didn't think I would. And Denver was cool too. We hit a lot of cool spots, especially last season, and we try and do as much as we can in each location even though the schedule's kinda crazy. I've never been one for hiking, but because of this tour, everywhere we go we find the best hiking spots and that's been really fun. This cast is really adventurous and really likes doing things, which is great because sometimes I'll just get to a place and everyone just wants to crash but we're all like 'No! No! We should go do this!' And we're really good about finding new things and doing stuff even though we're all tired.

CC: How long are you in this production?

JH: It ends in April, and then it goes to regional theaters around the country. I'm going to Yoga school to get certified in the spring and then I will be moving to New York after. I've finally made up my mind! It's been weeks of 'Do I want to move to Philly or New York?' And I've realized that New York is the place to be. Which feels really good to make that decision.

CC: I also saw on your website about this film you did called "Flashlight Tag".

JH: Yeah, a fellow Shenandoah graduate, Edwin Wilford, he directed me in a bunch of things at school and then he actually wrote this incredible screenplay "Flashlight Tag' which is amazing and based on a true story of a kid in his hometown who died of a heroin overdose. It's brilliantly written, told in all flashbacks and flashforwards and then meets in the middle. He came to Shenandoah and auditioned a few people, and then auditioned people in his hometown. And I got the part, so the day after I graduated I drove to Maryland to shoot the movie for six weeks. It was insane because I was trying to move out of my apartment...but it was awesome. As it was based on a kid who lived in this town we were filming in, we got to meet all of these people who knew him and were really excited about the project; opening their doors to film in people's houses. The police actually got involved and wanted to use this film as part of their drug awareness campaign and actually donated an ambulance to shoot the scene where he gets taken away. It became this cool community project. That premiered a couple months ago and it was received very well, it's going to film festivals next and we'll see where it goes from there. It was such a rewarding process, to be a part of this community, I got to hear so many stories of this person: he was this great kid. I actually got to meet the girl who my character is based off of, which was so crazy. I met her briefly at a party, it took her a lot to come out because she was so close with the whole situation. But I was really really happy that I got to meet her and talk with her a little bit.

CC: So just to wrap up, I always love asking people what the overall story of their show means to them--so what does the story of "Once" mean to you?

JH: I feel like I have a different answer for this question every time I'm asked. [Laughs] Because it kinda changes for me as I grow on this tour and in this show. I guess right now it means that love and music are universal and everyone needs those things. I think they're more important than people think they are. It used to be about 'Guy' and 'Girl' and this missed love, I had this whole answer before, but I feel that 'Guy' and 'Girl' is everyone. Everyone has that missed love, but also love and music are always with them.

Be sure to catch Julia and the rest of the cast on tour with "Once" by clicking HERE to get tickets.

ONCE features the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, a book by award-winning Irish playwright & screenwriter, Enda Walsh (Penelope, Hunger, The New Electric Ballroom), direction by the acclaimed Scottish director of Black Watch, John Tiffany, movement by Steven Hoggett (Black Watch, American Idiot) and music supervision and orchestrations by Martin Lowe (Mamma Mia!). The set and costume design are by five time Tony Award winner Bob Crowley (The Coast of Utopia, Mary Poppins), lighting design is by Tony winner Natasha Katz (Aida, The Coast of Utopia), and sound design is by Clive Goodwin.

For more information about the film Flashlight Tag make sure to follow TalleyWags Films on Facebook

Be sure to follow Julia on her Website, FaceBook, YouTube Channel, and Instagram.

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From This Author Christopher Castanho