UCB LA and Julie Brister Part 2

In the second half of my interview with Julie Brister, she addresses questions about acting in Los Angeles, what makes a good improviser, how improv has changed since she started, how UCB has changed and what’s in store for her future.

Most everyone who moves to LA with dreams of pursuing their passion is faced with the artist/commerce conundrum. Julie said, if you’re not full time on your passion, it’s a grind, unless you’re equally passionate about your day gig.

“In New York, I had a full time job. And ‘wow.’ I do not how people do it and still pursue their passion,” she said.

During her first year in LA, she focused most of her time and energy on kick starting her acting career.

“I was pretty dogged about pursuing acting work. I created opportunities for myself. It’s a hustle. And that work paid off. It’s not easy. It’s hard. And it took time. I still look and see what’s on Actor’s Access. This is my job,” she added.

One of the traps of Hollywood is getting wrapped up in product vs. process, the idea that success is right around the corner. It very well may be, but there are no guarantees.

“Once you accept how random, arbitrary the chances are you’re going to get this thing, you can forgive yourself for doing it,” she said.

I asked Julie what makes a good improviser:

  • Listens and respects others
  • Be someone who plays well with others
  • Be brave and take risks
  • Be willing to commit as an actor in the scene. There should be no delineation between an improviser and an actor. In one of my early classes, Ian said, “This is an acting class” and there was a rustling among the 20 something’s. You have to react. If you don’t, you’re not going to be good until you get that. You have to be affected by what’s going on.
  • Have other interests and bring them to the scene. Don’t just do improv and don’t just focus on comedy. It’s important to feed the well because it makes everybody better.

With respect to UCB, she said:

“They’ve done an incredible job. I’ve seen it from the beginning. They brought together supportive, like-minded people that want to create funny work. Besser in particular said, ‘We want keep cost of shows down and provide a place where people can play and take risks – not pay to play.’ That’s rare to tell people we want people to push themselves and be dangerous on stage. I think that’s exciting. And to see it go from small thing to enormous thing is so satisfying. I’m proud of us. That we’ve made that happen. When I started classes at UCB, you gave your check to a lady to a lady named Celia who was helping them with classes. From having her put it in an envelope to five spaces to two major schools. That blows my mind!”

I asked about the evolution of improv:

“I’ve watched style, even within long form, change. I love watching improv evolve. I love it all – fast and gamey style scenes and slower, more patient improv. TJ and Dave was a shift for me personally.  There was a realization that we don’t have to always come in with a premise. The fast style of play works great in a Harold, but sometimes, as an improviser, you want to slow it down. And they are the masters. It was a re-energizer too. We all get in slumps or get a little burned out. Seeing something like that – patiently listening and not letting anything get by and really using information given to you – that’s so much fun to watch.”

As for what’s next, Julie said it’s going to be a little more of the same:

“Hopefully more performance opportunities. I’m in a couple episodes of “Review” (2nd season). I have a couple movies coming out this year, including “Kitchen Sink,” a zombie/vampire/alien movie. “Night of the Living Deb” is coming up and “Is That a Gun In Your Pocket?” which has women go on sex strike if men won’t give up guns. It’s a modern day “Lysistrata” (ancient Greek play).

I asked Julie about how improv has infiltrated TV and film. She said:

“It’s really amazing to see how far improv has come culturally. There are a lot of improvisers in TV shows and it is so much a part of the working process today. That’s super exciting in the minutest ways. As an actor, seeing how it changed is exciting. Back in the day, most actors would be like ‘I don’t know what to do off script’ and it was a real edge to be an improviser. Now, most people have some improv experience, especially here in LA. There are so many more opportunities for it. It’s exciting to see it’s become part of the mainstream.”

I asked Julie about improv and life and she said, “The basic tenants of being a good improviser, playing well with others listening, these are life rules. If that bleeds into society, that’s a good thing. Everyone would be a lot happier and a lot better off if they had a little improv in their life.”

I said in in my first post and I’m going to say it again. If you’re taking improv classes at UCB, Take class with Julie.