UCB LA’s Jake Regal Part 2

UCB LA’s Jake Regal Part 2

Here’s the second part of my interview with UCB LA’s Jake Regal.

How has improv changed?

When I was first taking classes, the philosophy was a very much a writer’s philosophy. It seemed solely about the game – finding the unusual thing, playing the move. It was very mathematical. Almost too mathematical. Never as bad as detractors made it out to be, but you knew the cheat/short cut system to isolate funny. I think the theater has increasingly incorporated more acting technique and human response to its improv.

Tell me about coaching. What do you love about it? What’s your philosophy?

I love seeing how a team changes over time and I’m happy to have been a part of it. I can shape a young team in a positive way. Philosophically, I’m trying to stop the evil improv in the comedy community – uncommitted improv performed for other improvisers and joke telling for each other. I consider my duty to teach people not to do that. My goal is to get people to commit to the reality of the universes they’re creating.

Who were/are your mentors?

Chad Carter. I had him for three classes and he coached my practice group for a year and a half. He always said, “Keep being funny until you can’t be funny anymore.” He was great at getting the game play side of improv working.

Eugene Cordero. He worked the humanity side of improv – play more like a person on stage vs. robot moves. He always pushed emotional moves.

Will Hines. He was critical to the development of Cardinal Redbird and created a very specific insanity that has meshed with the team.

What makes a good improviser?

  1. Willingness to not be funny. The most important thing in my opinion is a willingness to not be funny. That is the breakthrough between 301 and 401 students – they learn/start to tell the jokes at the right time. The transition to good improviser is to exist in their space, create a baseline reality and the ability to just be there is invaluable.
  2. Actor or human being skills. Be more present, active and be a better listener. I love seeing two human beings on stage.
  3. Perseverance. It will take you time. It is as much about willing to stick it out as it is about talent. Improv will be there for those it’s worth it to. If you legitimately enjoy it, it will be there for you.

We’re chest deep in Harold auditions. Any tips?

  • Set reasonable expectations. Don’t put your entire life’s purpose on getting on a team. There’s 20 spots or fewer and 100s of people auditioning.
  • Have fun. Don’t focus on making a team. Be enthusiastic about the attempt.
  • Commit. Don’t play for laughs. Most people auditioning lose commitment. You will impress the auditors if you’re a committed human being listening and reacting in your scenes and responding honestly. If you’re playing the game, great.

I wrote a bunch of blog posts about Harold auditions.

Any advice for those pursuing an improv career?

It’s a lot of work. I made a Harold team and played on Harold night. Then our team blew up and I got kicked off. I told myself, “I will not stop to get back on Harold night!” I had four years of depression. I took classes and worked incredibly hard. You have to figure out to yourself if it’s worth it.

There is no correct way to do it. Every method has proved correct and incorrect.

Team chemistry is a fickle beast. Getting put on a team doesn’t necessarily translate to team chemistry. Form your own team. Play with people you enjoy playing with.

Remember – improv is fun above all other things. It’s not about how to do things. It’s a celebration of this stupid thing we’re doing. That will eliminate stress of having to be somewhere as an improviser.

The people that perform at UCB love improv, even after they “make it.” Improv isn’t necessarily the means to the end.

Don’t expect riches. I was fortunate to book a national commercial every year, but I was basically poor. I didn’t spend money. It wasn’t until very recently that I began to live like a human being.

Personally, I love it. I’m a huge egoist. I love people laughing. I get to play with other people and that’s where I get a lot of fun. Art in general comes up in improv. I love those moments of unexpected honesty. They happen in music and movies. Truth permeates and that can happen a lot in improv. That’s why the commitment is so important. Be a person on stage. The unexpected honesty – I find those the most gratifying moments.

Do the Long Hard Improv Jam. I started hosting it for the same reason as the 3 on 3 tournament.

Back then, the Jam was a train wreck. People would steam roll other people out of scenes. I felt so uncomfortable. I knew I needed to keep doing it until I was comfortable. I had to keep going back until I gained confidence.

Now the Jam is much more patient. It’s still more wild than the average improv show because you don’t know the people or why they might make certain moves and they’re aggressive, but it trains your confidence muscle.

To connect with Jake, follow him on twitter or email here if you’re looking for a coach.

twitter – @jakeregal

If you want to enlist Jake as a coach – [email protected]

UCB LA’s Jake Regal Part 2

UCB LA’s Jake Regal Part 1

If you’ve ever caught a Harold show at UCB, you’ve likely seen Cardinal Redbird. And if you’ve ever had a practice group, you’ve likely heard the name Jake Regal suggested as a coach. Jake plays with Cardinal Redbird. And he’s one of the best improv coaches I’ve had in LA. He’s efficient with time, specific with notes, and malleable with exercises.

I sat down with Jake to learn more about his story.

How did you get started in improv?

I was always interested in acting. We did improv exercises in drama class in middle school and I enjoyed them. We had the Improv Olympics (not to be confused with iO), which was a series of short form games. One of those was a debate game and I quoted SNL while I was debating Sarah. I called her an ignorant slut from the infamous Weekend Update sketch and almost got in trouble for it.

I went to college at UC Santa Cruz. I had huge academic apathy. I stopped doing work to determine where I wanted to go to school. I just applied sight unseen to Santa Cruz and was accepted.

There was an improv team called Humor Force V, UCSC’s oldest improv troupe. HFV specializes in performing long-form improv comedy, and while the members have changed over the years, the creed stays the same:

  1. Friendship
  2. Pizza
  3. Improv

I auditioned for it on a whim as a first year student. I did well, but didn’t get on team. I auditioned my sophomore year and did worse. That felt like shit. I took UCB classes in the summers as a way to get better at auditioning for Humor Force 5. It took me four years to get on Humor Force V.

I really started pursuing improv earnestly when I graduated college. I started UCB 301 when I graduated.

Interestingly enough, my father was an improv comedian with Chicago City Limits in the 80s. It was a happy coincidence. It’s interesting. I went to see my dad do a reunion show in the 90’s and he was played with the new cast. I recently found the playbill. The names of the new cast included Sean Conroy, Paul Scheer, Eddie Pepitone, Andy Sucunda, and Andy Daley.

Tell me about your first Harold team.

In February 2009 I joined my first Harold team – Lincoln’s Bedroom. Even though we were eight very talented improvisers, it was one of the least successful Harold teams in LA history. Not a joke. We just didn’t have the perfect chemistry as an ensemble.

I joined Cardinal Redbird in October 2013.

What makes Cardinal Redbird unique?

We’ve always been strangely on the same page. We started doing bits early like we were on a team for a year, but we barely knew each other. We were a Frankenstein team, put together with a whole bunch of different people, but we instantly clicked. We had that going for us early. Interestingly enough, for the first six to eight months though, we struggled to find and play the game in our first beats because of our organic opening, but our second and third beats were always solid. We were technical, but finding the game steadily improved without losing the fun energy. I’d like to think we’re solid all around these days!

What do you love about improv?

My favorite teams are not necessarily the most technically adept. There are some great teams at UCB who do improv so well, but my teams are the ones truly enjoying themselves. The ones being inclusive and sharing experience with the audience. Teams like Flap Jackson, Last Day of School and Bangarang! Cardinal Redbird is following in those footsteps.

There’s a period of time when you’re doing improv and you transition from in your head to second nature. Can you talk about that?

It’s not like it clicks one day. You keep improving in ways you didn’t think you would. I don’t think I was a really good improviser until my first Harold team. I was in my head for the first year trying to figure out what do I need for this scene.

I played in the 3 on 3 tournament. Toni Charline, Jason Sheridan and I made it to semifinals by beating a well-known team. We were 301 students and they were the god team to me. I thought they were so funny. It was huge for my confidence. I thought, “Maybe I’m funny too.” We were no names before that tournament.

It’s a constant plateau, then progress, and then plateau again. You don’t have the perspective because it’s incremental progress.

I recently hosted the 3 on 3 tournament because it was an opportunity to give back to up and coming improvisers today.

How has improv changed?

When I was first taking classes, the philosophy was a writer’s philosophy. It was about the game – finding the unusual thing, playing the move. It was very mathematical. Almost too mathematical. Never as bad as detractors make it out to be, but you knew the cheat/short cut system to isolate funny. I think the theater has incorporated more acting and human response to improv. I love seeing two human beings on stage.

Ever see a show that changed how you improvised?

Yes. I saw Jason Mantzoukas (The League) do a one-person completely silent monoscene for a cagematch. The suggestion was hermit. He was so slow and patient. You could see he was dialing a girl’s number and hanging up when she answered. At the end, he reached into a space dresser and there was an audible gasp from the audience because they knew he had a gun. He put the gun up to his head and they pulled the lights. I vividly remember that show. He had the best reactions and that was a breakthrough moment. That’s when I really learned that lesson – let a facial expressions be a line – show don’t tell basically.

Now that continues on. I do a two-person show with Laura Chinn. They are really patient monoscenes. Total opposite of Cardinal Redbird and I love them equally. I get to be insane and then I get to act the shit out of scenes with Laura.

Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Jake next week.

LA Headshot Photographer Vanie Poyey

LA Headshot Photographer Vanie Poyey

Within two weeks of moving to LA, I scheduled my headshot session with Vanie Poyey. You can read about that experience here. Every agent and casting director I’ve worked with says I look like my headshots. Damn right, I do!

I always like hearing the stories about what makes an artist tick. Like many artists, Vanie started when she was really young. Here’s my Q&A with her:

Why did you become a photographer?

Two main reasons. First, my dad was a hobbyist, and a camera was always around, so I took photographs just because my dad did. Second, as a teen, I was a bit of a rebel. I had big wild social life and I wanted to document my funky friends and the the things I did.

I loved taking pictures of dark and underground places back in the day of film. My favorite was black and white pictures. It was very exciting to turn it in to the lab and wait in anticipation for them to process it. Half was junk. But I’d have a gem in there.

I didn’t actually do much photo printing until after I was already a pro and continuing classes. I was already shooting on digital when I took a film class. It was the most painful “A” i ever got. I was used to digital – checking my work, making sure it was good and doing post instantly and being done, no chemicals, no waiting. In this class, I was doing portraits, burning and dodging. I wanted to print a photo I took. It’s on my website in lifestyle section, but it took probably 10 tries to get it done correctly.

How has photography changed since the days of film?

The big change is the photographer has now become the photo lab. We’re doing a lot more work than we did in the days of film. Now, you’re doing social media, advertising, your own processing because it gives you the ultimate control to stylize your work. I’m definitely working longer hours.

How did visual arts at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and then at Otis School of Art and Design influence you?

I am influenced by film and TV. I don’t even look at other photographer’s work. I’m constantly changing. I never stay the same. Two years ago I was shooting differently. The imagery I’m exposed to changes my approach. Actors are always looking at TV and film and dissecting the acting and how they approach character. I’m doing the same thing with lighting. I’m looking at shows like True Detective or movies like Birdman and looking at how it’s lit. I like a specific look, I want to recreate it.

What do you love about working with actors?

Personalities. They are not boring. It’s fun because they have more to give. It’s easy to extract personality from them. Actors are very interesting.

Working philosophy? How do you approach a headshot session?

We talk about marketing. Most actors I work with are seasoned and are ready to have that conversation. They understand a headshot is a business card, not a glamour session. I find out the age range they’re trying to target, I hone it down and also what auditions they want to go out for. I get them talking about notes agents gave or age range they want to play and then give them some marketing looks that are popular right now. After that, I hone down which marketing looks work with them and then fit it into a packages offer.

My philosophy is there is no real difference between theatrical and commercial shots. I believe the essence and context will change. Once you figure out your target market, you’ll realize that you will play the same character commercially as well as theatrically.

For example, a businesswoman theatrically might be nice blouse and a suit. A little upscale. To look like a detective, lawyer, or FBI, or teacher in a classroom, she may ditch the jacket and simply roll the sleeves up.

How do you capture personality knowing casting directors are only going to see a thumbnail?

That’s where the technical stuff comes in. To capture attention, you need a vibrant, strong photo and to make sure the actor is acting on camera so personality comes through in the photo. You need to entice casting directors to click on the photo. Back in the day, you would shoot a 3/4 body shot, because the body could communicate more. That was the 90’s and early 2000’s. You can’t anymore. You can’t have the body. That’s why I have actors act with me on camera – you can’t help but bring out their personality. They’re not just posing.

That was a hard shift from physical to facial expressions. Again, headshot trends change, so I have to stay current. Images are getting tighter, color is unforgiving and you have to completely rely on facial expressions.

How come the color on your photos pop?

I use a secret formula that’s good for actors. There’s two schools of thought when it comes to headshot photographs. Shooting in RAW (image capture that pros use) is the equivalent of a film negative – you take it into light room, process and contrast, burning/darkening, etc. Amateurs shoot in jpeg – the camera processes the image for you, so it’s pre-processed. Camera doesn’t give you optimum control. You can’t selectively burn and dodge and create images to liking, and the color balance might be off. The shot is influenced by surrounding color more so than negatives. The contrast and way you want to present images is out of your control. They tend to look drab and flat and the photographer who shoot jpegs, hands you your CD and you’re done. The shots look like crap and don’t grab attention. I’m a purist. I shoot in RAW and modify without touching original file. I can process it a million ways. I process colors one way and apply secret formula (vibrant look), especially for online and print.

What should your headshot communicate?

Your brand. Very specifically your brand and what you can act/play. Headshots shouldn’t confuse the viewer as to who you are. Less is more too. I believe in the KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid). It’s the number one sales technique for a reason. There’s a tendency to over do it and give people too many choices, but they don’t buy. 10 – 15 photos is redundant. It’s different outfits with same smile. They will wonder who you are. Actors should really cut down what they post online. Be very specific with marketing looks and make sure brand is clear. Few pics should communicate the specific roles you play, e.g., “I can play dad, blue collar or FBI agent.”

What can an actor do to make their headshot session successful?

Do the research. Do your due diligence. The photographer is going to work for them. Ask agents, friends, spend time with photographer talking about needs, portfolio/reviews and general consensus. Let go and trust you’ve made the right decision. Come in with a good attitude. I can’t tell you how important that it is. A negative attitude is contagious. If you want positive results, you need positive attitude. Nobody wants to let a client down. That neg attitude is a lot of pressure, it stifles creativity and my ability to be me and do what I do successfully. Mimicking the wording in breakdowns to make sure your specific look matches what casting directors need.

If you want quality headshots that will work for you, go to Vanie. Tell her I sent you.

Katie Adler Part Two

Katie Adler Part Two

 I want to work with people who inspire me and that I can learn from so I can grow personally and artistically. I want to stretch myself.

Katie Adler

Here’s part two of my interview with Katie Adler.

A reminder: Katie currently plays “Linda” in Jim Beaver‘s play “VERDIGRIS” at TheatreWest. Beaver is best known for playing Whitney Ellsworth on the HBO Western drama series Deadwood. He portrayed Bobby Singer in the CW television series Supernatural and Sheriff Shelby Parlow on the FX series Justified.

VERDIGRIS was just extended through April 26, 2015.

 

After studying the Meisner technique Wendy Ward, The Ward Acting Studio, Katie researched Meisner teachers in Los Angeles. She decided to study with William Alderson, who taught along side Sandy Meisner at The Neighborhood Playhouse Professional School and was the school’s associate director for 20 years.

Katie studied with Alderson for three years. While studying, she didn’t go on a single audition.

“I got the training of my life. I focused on the work because I wanted to make sure I was a legit actor before I stepped in front of casting directors.”

After completing the program, Bill recommended Katie study with Jack Waltzer, a lifetime member of the Acting Studio who has worked with Dustin Hoffman and Sigourney Weaver.

“It was a privilege to be in his presence and his student.”

Feeling prepared, Katie started using her acting tools. Two years ago, she joined Theater West as an associate. She did the grunt work of cleaning toilets and slowly worked her way up by doing play readings and performing in the theater’s children’s shows. Last summer, she auditioned for and earned the role of Susan in “Against the Wall,” a play written and directed by Charlie Mount and based on his experiences in New York’s stand up comedy scene.

“I got my chance to demonstrate my capabilities and use everything I’ve learned. I incorporated it into the character and the show, which was amazing. It scared the shit out of me. As I was reading the script, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can be funny’, but I knew it was something I needed to do. Thankfully, I felt really safe exploring it with Charlie.”

Serendipitously, Charlie suggested she research Sue Kolinsky, a stand up comedian to get a better feel for the role. Katie recently waited on Sue while working at the W Hotel.

The response to the play was extremely favorable. It was an LA Times Critic’s Pick and The Hollywood Reporter praised Katie’s performance:

“Adler’s performance is the main reason to see the new play.”

“…Adler has appeared mostly in supporting roles in five plays with the company. In Against The Wall, she’s given the chance to shine, and shine she does.”

“I was taken aback and blown away by the great response we had and grateful for all the kind words in the reviews.”

The show earned a four week extension.

Theater West’s current production, “VERDIGRIS“, is the 30th Anniversary Revival of its 1985 Hit. Katie is one of 11 cast members and the ensemble experience is very different from “Against the Wall.” Under the direction of Mark W. Travis, Katie has stretched her improvisational muscles through character interrogation (responding to questions as the character) and character play dates (getting together with other characters on a play date and remaining in character the entire date).

“It’s really great to be a part of something so special. Opening night, I felt the biggest high. We received a standing ovation and the response was moving. That’s why we do theater. It’s a story that touches you. I thought, ‘I could die happy right there.'”

What’s next for Katie Adler?

“I have no idea. And I’m totally okay with that. I’m embracing that. I want to work with people who inspire me and that I can learn from so I can grow personally and artistically. I want to stretch myself. I love watching movies that touch your heart that change you. I want to be part of stories like that.”

When Katie’s not acting, you might find her immersing herself in nature. She often goes on road trip adventures with her best friend of 17 years, Melanie. On their outdoor hikes, she carries a handful of dresses to change into when inspiration strikes, and Melanie shoots a bunch of photographs. I suggested she turn these into a coffee table book. I’ll take the writing credit.

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 Katie Adler

“Spirituality is really important to me. I feel closest to something higher than me when I’m in nature. I go outside to regroup. It’s crazy here. It’s a grind. It’s a hustle. I feel like you need to check in with yourself and nature’s my favorite way to do that. It’s an equal passion of mine. There are so many great places just hours away. I don’t have places like this in New Jersey, so I’m trying to take full advantage.”

Katie Adler Part Two

Katie Adler Part One

What’s next?
“I have no idea. I’m totally okay with that. I’m embracing that.”

Katie Adler

Katie currently plays “Linda” in Jim Beaver‘s play “VERDIGRIS” at TheatreWest. Beaver is best known for playing Whitney Ellsworth on the HBO Western drama series Deadwood. He portrayed Bobby Singer in the CW television series Supernatural and Sheriff Shelby Parlow on the FX series Justified.

Katie and I live in the same apartment building. I bumped into her doing laundry the second week after moving in. I vaguely remember our conversation, but one of the themes I often come back to is acting in Hollywood is a process. It’s doing the work, surrounding yourself with like-minded people and constantly putting yourself in a position to succeed. Every time I chat with Katie, we talk about the process, but she reminds I really need to enjoy the journey.

Katie is like chicken noodle soup – she makes you feel better. She exudes warmth, comfort and she’s present – she takes in everything you say and responds in the moment. It was great talking with her.

Like many actors, Katie’s acting journey started young. At seven, Katie started dancing, taking ballet classes. She loved moving around. Her parents were involved in a community theater in New Jersey and a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had a profound impact on her life.

“I knew, watching my mom on stage and seeing how much fun the kids my age were having, that I needed to do that.”

Katie attended a performing arts high school. While she initially wanted to attend a regular high school, her parents enrolled her, encouraging her to give it a try.

“I wanted to be ‘cool’ and watch football games, but I saw kids dancing in the hallways like Fame, and I thought, ‘All these people are just like me!’ I found my people. I stayed. It was the best experience of my life. It changed everything.”

She spent her four years dancing and participated in several musical theater productions. When she wasn’t in class, she was taking extra dance classes or in rehearsal at the community theater.

“We did every musical you could think of and my family performed together. My father is a lawyer and he joined the theater.”

As a child, she played Annie and Cabaret was her favorite in high school.

After graduating, Katie enrolled in Montclair State University as an undeclared major, but after seeing all the dancers and actors, she declared a BFA in musical theater with a concentration in acting the second semester of her first year. While she was there, Montclair unveiled a new Broadway style theater. Her first show was in the new space.

“The scale of teachers was amazing. They had Broadway backgrounds and the caliber of talent among my peers made me realize very quickly we weren’t there just for fun. My friends, Jelani Remy, is Simba in ‘The Lion King’, Mike Liscio is in ‘Avenue Q’ and Rob McClure is a Tony nominated actor who starred in ‘Chaplin’ and is currently in ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ on Broadway. At one point, I wanted to be on Broadway too.”

After graduating, she was skimming Backstage Magazine‘s auditions and came across an opportunity for FMA Live, an interactive, traveling hip-hop concert that teaches Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity and Three Laws of Motion to middle school students. She submitted. A day later, she auditioned. She was called back. They conducted a phone interview. And she received the call a couple days later.

“I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and almost got into an accident because I was so excited!”

The show went to almost every state. She traveled the country in a tour bus three months at a time and then took a month break. She did three tours.

“I loved performing for those kids because the appreciation level was genuine and clear.”

The same company was casting other traveling tours and loved the dynamic between her and her fellow cast member, so they cast them in Nickelodean’s Slime Across America Tour.

While both tours were excellent experiences, the dancing was taking a toll, so she began to reevaluate her career path.

“I loved these shows, but my soul wanted something deeper. I also injured my knee and the shows were pretty taxing on my body, so when I wasn’t on tour or had free time, I looked up my favorite actors on Wikipedia to get a better idea of their career path. I realized I needed to do hard core training, studying was really important and I wanted to do it right.”

Katie searched and found The Ward Acting Studio, which teaches the Meisner technique. Wendy Ward traveled from New York to teach at a studio in Philadelphia.

“From first class, I felt like this is it for me. This is the technique I’m supposed to learn. I did Wendy’s classes for a whole summer and then went back on my third tour. The whole time I was away, I was itching to get back. I felt like, ‘I have to pursue this.'”

After performing a scene in class, Wendy told her, “If you really want to do this, you could.”

That validation sent Katie on her next adventure:

“That’s it, I’m moving to LA.”

In the second half of my interview, I’ll share Katie’s LA experience, her work with Theatre West and what’s next.

UCB LA and Julie Brister Part 1

UCB LA and Julie Brister Part 1

“Everyone would be a lot happier and a lot better off if they had a little improv in their life.”

Julie Brister

If you’re going take improv classes at UCB Los Angeles, you have to take Julie Brister’s class at some point in your journey. Period.

Julie taught my 301 class and here’s what I like about her: she’s efficient with time, succinct with notes and super supportive. She’s also old school – no talking heads scenes. She wants you to get into the environment, she wants real emotional reactions and she wants you to slow down and listen. While UCB may be known for fast and funny improv, Julie wants it to come from a richer “what’s happening in the world of this piece” place.

Julie fell backwards into improv. She was taking acting classes for a long time in New York, but wasn’t really pursuing acting projects. She was burned out on acting classes and knew she wanted to do comedy. She did stand up briefly, but hated failing. She was a dinner party one night and a friend of a friend had a toe in the comedy world. His wife worked at Catch A Rising Star and he was faxing jokes in for the weekend update. Julie was intrigued.

In New York in the late 90’s, there were really only two improv comedy places to go – Chicago City Limits or UCB. She lived on the East side and said it was a dead zone. Chicago City Limits was pretty far from her place. UCB was five blocks from her apartment. She decided to check it out. The evening she went, she saw show with four people in the audience. She loved it.

They were doing sketch and some of those sketches showed up on TV show later, like when Besser plays a weed dealer people can’t get away from. After the transaction, he keeps talking. Five or six people did a Harold, including Billy Merritt, Michael Delaney, Sean Conroy and Linda Delaney.

I thought, “This is creative and fun and I was certainly intrigued about the performance, not about playing somebody else,” said Brister.

After the show, Julie stayed in the lobby and talked with a few people. Someone approached her and asked if she was interested in classes, including an upcoming workshop for women taught by Amy Pohler and Tina Fey. She signed up.

“We were asked if we’d previously improvised. I lied. And immediately regretted it because I could tell there were guidelines for scenes I wasn’t following. I knew playing make believe. I saw a show and understood the basics – commit to reality and play broadly. I asked a lot of questions. I was hooked immediately,” said Brister.

Julie added that Tina offered gentle guidance and both were incredibly supportive.

“We laughed a lot. They were both very thoughtful in how they shepherded us through scenes,” said Brister. “The workshop featured a lot of scene work, but we also sat in a circle and talked about what it was like to be a woman in comedy and our frustrations. It was very illuminating.”

Amy played a profound role in Julie’s teaching style.

“Amy was my favorite teacher. The perfect blend of support and tough love. She had no problem calling you out if things start to go awry or if the energy was cluster fucking, she’d put the kibosh on it right away. Her notes were supportive. I had her for three different classes. I really liked her teaching style,” said Brister.

Julie was among the second wave of incoming students for the burgeoning theater, even though, at the time, there wasn’t officially a theater. The UCB was operating out of a solo arts space.

“Their first classroom space was in a martial arts studio. We had two classrooms. It was amazing! That was a step I got to be a part of. Glad I got to be there,” she said.

They had performance nights. And her class formed a practice group in her 201 class and started rehearsing with a coach. Her practice group became one of the theater’s first Harold teams – Mexican Popsicle.

Her team performed every week, sometimes twice. Julie was working a full time job and would have a show every night.

“It was very different from how theater is now because we were really allowed to be terrible. We were so green. We really figured out a lot on our feet,” said Brister. “Today, when people get on a team, they’ve been improvising for a few years. By the standards we have now, I’d never get on a team.”

The team helped sharpen her comedy chops, which lead to some work on Conan in 1999. She did bits a few times a month – 30 bits overall.

She eventually started teaching in January 2001.

Julie was in New York for 18 years, but decided a change was needed. “Before 30 Rock, there wasn’t a lot happening in terms of TV in New York. It was soap operas, dramas and Conan. There were commercials. And MTV stuff. But I was ready for something new. And I knew the theater was opening in LA and I was excited about starting over,” said Brister.

Julie moved to LA in 2006 and started teaching.

I’ll share the second chapter of Julie’s UCB career in LA in my next post. In it, Julie discusses how improv is playing a greater role in TV and film, what makes a great improviser, improv and life and how longform improv has evolved.ro