Film star has acted to keep the faith in her industry
Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Finding a Christ-centered community was not always a common occurrence for “Identity Crisis” actress Laura Leigh Turner.
While she attended college at Oklahoma City University for her Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre, she struggled to find others who shared her faith.
When she moved from her home in Little Rock, Arkansas, to New York to start her career on Broadway, she again found herself seeking the company of others who shared her love for the Lord. Only 59% of the city’s residents identify as Christian, according to Pew Research Center, which meant that Turner was going to need to work that much harder to find that sense of community she values.
And that’s why she created her own Christian community, through the establishment of Rise Collective Women, an online discipleship for women in their early 20s around the world. In addition to a strong online presence, the group also has a yearlong leadership development training program housed in New York to provide a jumping-off point for young women who want to connect with their faith and learn how to survive in the city.
It was all thanks to the “coincidences” God placed into her life, a journey she shared with Grand Canyon University students Thursday afternoon.
Students from several programs in the College of Fine Arts and Production (COFAP) gathered in Howerton Hall to learn the intricacies of navigating faith in the industry.
It is the sort of question-and-answer session that is critical for students before they graduate, COFAP Dean Dr. Craig Detweiler said:
“This is exactly the kind of experiences that we want our students to have – to have working professionals coming to campus, showing students how it’s done and sharing how their faith inspires their art.
“Laura Leigh’s lived experience on Broadway demonstrates the importance of faith, community, Sabbath and Scripture. She’s a living witness to the power of Christ on Broadway.”
Turner, who played Karen Smith in the “Mean Girls” Broadway musical, shared with students her struggles navigating the industry in the pandemic era as well as her journey of finding others on Broadway who share a love for Jesus.
In addition, Turner also shed light on her most recent role, Harper in “Identity Crisis,” Alexandra and Andrea Boylan’s recent film project on GCU’s campus.
It was an event Turner initiated because she wanted to give back to students and share the Christian perspective of a career in the arts.
“I hope that they’re encouraged to continue to seek God and grow in their understanding of His love for them,” Turner said. “I hope that my journey and my story are just a testimony to His goodness and faithfulness and that they’ll continue pursuing their careers in the performing arts or wherever the Lord takes them.”
Immediately following the completion of the question portion of the event, several students took the time to not only thank Turner for her testimony but also share with her the impact her story had on them.
Some tears were shed.
Hugs were exchanged.
It was the kind of response that highlighted the Lord’s presence at the event for Turner.
“In those moments, it’s just so evident how the Holy Spirit uses us and the Body of Christ to speak exactly what other people need to hear,” she said. “I didn’t know who He would bring to this auditorium, but to see ‘Oh, that part of your journey is really what I needed to hear today because I’ve been struggling with this thing, but now I believe that God can do whatever it is,’ it gave me endurance.
“It gives me endurance to continue to just share it and to believe that God has something for someone else through our stories.”
That struggle to find your footing in the early stages of your career is a struggle that many aspiring artists and performers face.
Which is why moderator and GCU acting instructor Michael Kary believes it resonated so much with students in attendance.
“That’s what I’ve learned, how many of our stories are similar,” he said. “We have tons of different paths, but we all have that gap after school that’s so scary. Sometimes it’s a month, sometimes it’s a year, sometimes it’s five years, but we all experience that.”
It all goes back to main point of the afternoon – community.
Knowing that you’re not alone can make all the difference in such a fast-paced field.
If there’s one thing Turner’s story makes abundantly clear, it’s that the Lord is with you every step of the way.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].