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Arbiter or Actor? Arlington Judge Embraces Both Roles

(Updated at 2:05 p.m.) A local judge is taking his talents from the bench to the stage in an upcoming musical.

Hon. William T. Newman Jr., who serves as chief judge on the Arlington Circuit Court, will have a headlining role in WSC Avant Bard’s production of “The Gospel at Colonus.” The play, which premieres later this month, is a gospel retelling of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.

Newman plays one of the musical’s main characters, a preacher who turns the tragedy of Oedipus into a modern parable full of story and song.

“It’s a very fascinating play,” Newman said. “The whole premise is that it takes place in a Pentecostal church wherein the pastor is giving a sermon talking about one’s destiny.”

Though Newman makes his living as a judge, acting is one of his greatest passions. He’s performed since elementary school and even has a bachelor’s degree in theater.

“Acting has been all my life,” he said. “Theater is something that’s always been apart of me.”

If Newman looks familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen him perform. Recently, he’s taken roles at the Lean and Hungry Theatre and the Arena Stage in The District. He has also appeared in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” starred in several local commercials and played a character on “Somerset,” a soap opera from the 1970s.

Additionally, he had some time in the limelight as a result of his 2005 marriage to BET co-founder Sheila Johnson.

Despite his love of acting, Newman jokes that the law is a “jealous mistress.” His work schedule means he can only take on one or two plays a year, and he’s usually only able to rehearse during the evening or on the weekends.

Still, making the mental switch from arbiter to actor isn’t as difficult as one might think. Newman said that when he dons his judge’s robe or puts on a character’s costume, it’s like he becomes another person.

“As I change clothes, I change personas,” he said.

And the contrast between being a judge and being an actor works out in his favor in the end.

“The acting part of me helps me be a better judge, and some of the things I see in courts help me as an actor,” he said.

“The Gospel at Colonus” is scheduled to run Feb. 23 through March 26 at the Gunston Arts Center, located at 2700 S. Lang Street. Tickets can be purchased on the WSC Avant Bard website.

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