Bruin ’05 acts in short films, television commercials
Karisa Bruin ’05 came to the College wanting to study veterinary medicine but found herself involved in theater and improv. Now, Bruin works as an actress, director and writer, including her latest work, the short film “Broke Juke” (2014) and a series of ads marketing the Affordable Care Act.
How were you involved in the arts at Dartmouth?
KB: I double majored in theater and Spanish literature, and I did a lot of theater productions from both sides. I acted and directed and designed shows. I was also in the Dog Day Players, the improv group. I spent the majority of my Dartmouth time in the Hopkins Center.
Did your interest in theater begin prior to college, or was it something you found while at Dartmouth?
KB: Well, I always had done theater. I did my first play in kindergarten. I actually came into Dartmouth wanting to be a large animal veterinarian and very into math and science. I started on the pre-med course at Dartmouth. I never thought of acting as the career I wanted to have, I never really viewed [it] as a career. My freshman year I took “Acting 1” to fulfill my arts requirement and I just liked it and kept taking the acting classes. In my mind, I was taking acting classes to balance out my science classes. I really enjoyed the acting program and I applied and went on the [foreign study program] in London.
In my professional career I’ve encountered a lot of actors that did a conservatory-style [program] and a Bachelor of Fine Arts as opposed to just a [Bachelor of Arts], but I think I prefer the well-rounded nature of the Dartmouth experience. It’s certainly made me a more interesting person as opposed to studying only just theater.
How are you involved in acting now?
KB: Right now I’m an actor and I perform regularly at iO Chicago Theater and I’ve done a lot of commercials and radio. In the last year and a half, I’ve started to write a lot more and enjoying that, so I’ve decided to go back to graduate school. I’m currently getting a [Master of Fine Arts] at DePaul University in screenwriting.
How did you enter the professional acting world?
KB: My entry point for professional work came from doing improv comedy. Immediately after graduation I moved to New York and studied at some improv theaters and then I moved to Chicago, which is kind of known to be the comedy capital of the world in a lot of ways.
I was on a performance group and an agent represented a guy on my team. His agent came to one of our shows and they liked me. They brought me into their office for an audition and I auditioned for that, and they signed me, and then I started going out on auditions, commercial auditions, film, some [television] — all kinds of stuff. It wasn’t that I was discovered, but when agents called me, I had all the professional stuff — headshot, resume — lined up so I was able to present myself professionally. It’s lot about working really hard, making opportunities for yourself, being ready when bigger opportunities come to you.
What are some of the challenges of the entertainment industry?
KB: If I do 85 auditions and I book eight jobs, that’s actually very good, that’s paying my bills and a good rate of return, but it’s insane. If you were a surgeon and succeeding eight out of 85 times, you would be fired or sued for malpractice. In this business, not getting it is part of the process.
But I also think that is part of the reason I picked going into this business and stayed in it is I like the uncertainty. I like that my days are different every day. There are times when that gets a little terrifying in terms of, “What am I doing?” But the good thing is that my husband is also an actor and because of fact that we both have some instability, there’s stability in our relationship.
Have you and your husband worked on anything together professionally?
KB: We have professionally worked together on some commercials and short films. He’s a performer with the Second City, and he has been on a number of international touring companies and traveled around the world performing for them. He performs between six to eight shows a week. Professionally, right now, that’s his focus, and I’m doing the commercial work and [graduate] school.
What’s one of your favorite things when filming?
KB: Well, one of my favorite things is getting to know the people in the different departments. Everyone in this business, especially the commercial world, is in the same boat. We’re all freelancers. We come together for this one project for one or two days of being together and then we part ways. I always like getting to know people as I’ve booked more jobs and been around, I start to see people I know again on set.
Not every single one of my jobs is comedic, but I love doing comedic commercial or any on-camera stuff or short films or independent pilots, and just making up jokes on the fly — using my improv skills to make things funny or add a line here or there. I currently have a commercial running here in Illinois, and I improvised the last line on it and it made it into the cut.
What is an interesting fact about you that people normally would not know?
KB: Something I really like to do for fun is play European board games. They’re like strategy games, like Settlers of Catan, but that is the entry-point. I have one buddy that has a hundred board games. Sometimes, we will go over to one guy’s house and play board games for 10 hours.
This interview has been edited and condensed.