Dreaming Big Like Julie Wright-Costa

By Madge Slack

The last line of a song in the second act of the musical “Steel Pier” is “But first you dream.” Julie Wright-Costa used it to illustrate her advice for young artists: “You are enough. Believe in your dreams.”

It certainly worked for her. Wright-Costa is the voice area head for the Music School at the University of Utah. She has a BA in music with an emphasis in music education from Pfeiffer College and an MM in Vocal Performance from the University of Michigan. She is only one course away from a DMA in vocal performance. She is also the assistant artistic director of the Ohio Light Opera (OLO) and is in charge of casting.

Wright-Costa has performed too many times to count, directed 25 shows and cast even more. Since joining as a performer, she has been with OLO for 29 years.

There seems to be a stereotype when it comes to artistic career choices: people have dreamed from the time they were a kid of being a famous actor, artist or singer.

Wright-Costa breaks this mold. She fell in love with music while singing hymns with her mother and grandmother, but she originally planned to study medicine in college. It wasn’t until her senior year of high school, after winning a spot in the North Carolina Honors Chorus, that she realized it was possible to actually major in music.

With the aid of her somewhat dubious parents, Wright-Costa did just that. How did it all work out?

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve waited tables and worked in retail during school and right after,” Wright-Costa said. “However, I’ve supported myself entirely through music for the majority of my life.”

She did this by taking every opportunity and learning everything possible about theater.

“I endeavored to learn all I could about teaching, stagecraft, theatre and ultimately directing,” Wright-Costa said. “What success I’ve enjoyed has come through hard work, curiosity, discipline and a passion for music.”

Passion is a good word to describe Wright-Costa. She believes that “the arts have never been more important in our world.” Music for music’s sake and art for art’s sake are necessary to the human condition.

“Whether you participate in your art full-time or as an amateur, you speak and spread the international language of human understanding and compassion,” Wright-Costa said.

Though she spends more time teaching and directing now than performing, she still loves music with all of her heart. She was in a performance of “Hello, Dolly!” just a couple years ago.

As a young artist, her biggest fear was that her voice wouldn’t matter. She experienced rejection, work that wasn’t as glamorous as she’d hoped and the feeling of being unimportant and forgotten.

One day she was late to a rehearsal and in the midst of her profuse apologies the director said, “Smile dear, it’s only going to get worse.” This turned out to be a positive experience after a somewhat shaky start, and Wright-Costa recalls learning a lot during that show.

To Wright-Costa, all you need is dedication, passion and a wild imagination. Returning to Kander and Ebb’s “First You Dream.”

“First you dream

Dream about incredible things

Then you look

And suddenly you have wings

You can fly you can fly

But first you dream

Dream about remarkable times

Close your eyes and see how your spirit flies

You can fly you can soar

Feel the wind hear it roar

It’s easy now

Imagine that

But first you dream.”

So dream a little.

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