Julia Schlaepfer has been singing, dancing, and acting since she was a young girl. She started ballet at an early age, but it wasn’t until fourth grade when she performed in The Nutcracker that she realized she wanted to be a performer. Julia was involved with theater and ballet in high school, and when it came time to go to college, she moved across the country to New York City to study at the Atlantic Acting School through Tisch at New York University.
Julia is thoughtful, passionate about her craft, and so much fun to talk to about anything related to acting, singing, and theater. Working tirelessly to pursue her dreams, when Julia is not in class, she is in a workshop or rehearsal. Whether she is on-stage or on-screen, Julia is moving, emotional, and deeply immersed in her roles. Take a moment to get to know this rising star. When looking back at her 15-year-old self, Julia says it best when she notes, “Breathe. Remember that everything doesn’t just happen all at once, it’s a process.” We couldn’t agree more.
Name: Julia Schlaepfer
Education: Student at Atlantic Acting School, Tisch School of the Arts (New York University)
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Julia Schlaepfer: To me that means wholeheartedly going after all of your dreams and not being afraid to fail. One of my old acting teachers used to tell us to dare to suck. That’s so applicable because it’s all about falling on your face and getting back up and trying again. Take advantage of all the opportunities you have now.
CJ: What are you studying at Tisch? Why did you choose to go to school in New York City?
JS: I’m studying acting at the Atlantic Acting School through Tisch at NYU. I auditioned for 11 schools because the programs are so small and competitive. I always knew I wanted to end up in New York just because it’s such a hub for art and the industry I want to go into. I really liked how you are also involved with academics at Tisch because it’s important to educate yourself on what’s going on in the world around you. I loved my audition, too. They wanted to know who I was as a person. I love the program – it’s three days a week acting and two days a week academics, which I feel is a good balance.
I have two academic classes and an elective that I take on my academic days, and then the other three days I’m at studio all day which is off-campus with the Atlantic Acting School. You get placed into different schools based on specific techniques and what your audition looked like. I’m at the Atlantic Acting School, where we study practical aesthetics, David Mamet’s technique.
CJ: You’re from Seattle. What advice do you have for people moving across the country for college?
JS: Don’t lose contact with your family. I’m very close with my family. When you’re across the country, it’s nice to know that you have people supporting you back home.
Put yourself out there because everyone is going through the same thing as you. Most of them are in a new place and don’t know anyone. Let yourself have fun and meet new people. Spread yourself out and try everything because you never know what you’re going to find.
Enjoy yourself and have fun. You’re in a new place that you applied to. You chose the school. The academics and the work can get hard sometimes, but let yourself take breaks and have fun.
CJ: What sparked your love of performing?
JS: I was placed into ballet when I was young because I was born with my feet very turned in. I would trip over my feet as a baby, so the doctors told my parents to put me in ballet. I started ballet really young and I wasn’t interested in other sports. My parents were so supportive and would watch all of my performances. It was something that was always there and I never doubted it.
The moment I knew I wanted to be a performer was in the fourth grade when I did The Nutcracker. I was addicted and couldn’t stop.
CJ: You were involved in the Pacific Northwest Ballet and you did Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. What were those experiences like?
JS: It was incredible. From a young age we were thrown onto the stage with professional ballerinas. We got to interact with the older dancers and they were so welcoming. These artists that I grew up wanting to be were right in front of me interacting with me. It was so inspiring at such a young age. It fueled my love for what I do even more.
One of my favorite things about ballet is that it’s not only art but also athleticism. You have to be an athlete. I loved doing that hard physical work.
CJ: In addition to ballet, you were also in theater productions. How do you mentally and physically prepare for those roles?
JS: It’s changed since I’ve gotten to the Atlantic Acting School. Before, I would do a few vocal warmups and jumping jacks, get my body warmed up. If you don’t have a little bit of fear and a lot of nerves, there’s something wrong. My movement teacher at Atlantic taught us that it’s been scientifically researched that the moment before an actor steps onstage, the same thing happens in their body that happens in their body during a car crash. You have to act and perform at the same time, and that fear will never go away. You’ll always have that moment beforehand. Breathing is really important and reminding yourself that you prepared and did the work.
Now at Atlantic, we have an entire routine that we work on with speech articulators and vocal warmups. We also do a movement warmup to help us get inside our body. Thinking about what makes us feel alive is helpful and inspiring before we go onstage. I also like to listen to music.
CJ: How do you stay motivated during each performance?
JS: It’s all about reminding yourself why you chose to be an actor in the first place. I chose to commit myself to this kind of life for a reason, and reminding myself how much I love what to do is helpful.
CJ: What is it like working, living, and studying with your peers who have become close friends but who are also in that same professional space?
JS: We all support each other so much. On the first day of class, our performance technique teacher told us to eat our humble pie. You’re only as good as your classmates and ensemble members. The people who I work with are great about that. They are there for you when you’ve had a bad day or a rough scene. They’re also supportive when you get good feedback or get a role.
CJ: You’ve done theater, ballet, singing – you’ve also done film work. How do your film experiences differ from your theater roles?
JS: Theater is so immediate. You have two hours to tell a story and it makes you feel alive. I love film because the acting is a lot more subtle and it feels more real a lot of the time. Obviously it’s not as theatrical. With film I feel like I’m telling a more intimate story, which I love. Sometimes it’s hard because in the middle of an intense scene you might be stopped and have to do another take. You always have to be on your toes but that’s what makes working on films is exciting.
CJ: How much time do you actually spend auditioning?
JS: It was hard last year because I was still getting the hang of things at school. This year now that I have a better feel for my schedule, it’s a little bit easier to audition. This fall I auditioned for, and will be in, a television pilot called Easel R. There also an online database through New York University where student directors can contact me. Then you have to decide whether you’ll have enough time to do that project and balance school at the same time. School and training is very important to me, so there’s not too much time for that. If I can, I’ll take advantage of as many opportunities as I can while trying to stay sane.
CJ: What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned from being a working actress?
JS: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to stay true to yourself. Moving to New York City to pursue an acting career at 18-years-old is terrifying. It’s a rough business, and it can be easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place. It’s really important to bring it back and stay grounded. There will always be people telling you what you should and shouldn’t look like, and those opinions are all going to conflict. As long as you have a clear vision of your goal and who you want to be as a person and how you want to conduct yourself, that’s what’s really important to being grounded and staying yourself.
CJ: How has taking classes changed the way you act or view acting?
JS: It’s changed it a lot. David Mamet created this technique called practical aesthetics and it’s a four-step script analysis process. You go through all these steps and at the end you have a clear action of what your character is playing in a scene. Before I’d just read a script and start acting, but now it’s a clear and simplified version of your character encompassed in whatever scene you’re playing. It helps bring characters to life and really humanizes them. It’s been fun to explore a method of what you do when you’re onstage.
CJ: How has what you’ve learned in your acting classes helped you in your everyday life?
JS: It’s helped a lot in terms of just being a really curious and empathetic human being. My teachers say that the number one rule of being a good actor is being a nice person. Every day when we’re analyzing scenes and trying to bring someone’s story to life, you feel so much for this character. You’re always taking this person’s side because at the end of the day you have to portray them in an honest way. It makes you curious about other people and open to listening to others.
I’ve also learned to be more present with the people around me and connect with people on a real level.
CJ: What advice do you have for other youth or peers who are interested in acting?
JS: Be a nice person. That’s so important because people won’t want to work with you if you’re not a good, genuine, and caring person. When you walk into an audition room, people are going to remember you if you’re kind and open to trying to new things.
Also, work hard. Hard work pays off. It’s so applicable to acting because it’s really tough, and there will always be 100 other people auditioning for one role. If you sit down and prepare and learn the material, no one can ever take away the amount of work that you do. If you work your butt off, that’s going to show.
CJ: Every day must look different, but what does a typical Monday look like for you?
JS: I wake up and have to be at the studio by 8am. Classes start at 8:30am. I will have an assortment of script analysis class, Shakespeare class, movement and voice class, speech work, or film class. We get done with studio at 6pm. I then have rehearsal for a few more hours after that. When I get home I do academic work for the next day.
CJ: What specific things do you do to improve in your craft?
JS: I stay in practice. I’ve gotten so many amazing tools from Atlantic and my training about how to be your best emotional, physical, and mental self. I do my warmups every day. Keep applying yourself and practicing.
CJ: What do you like to do in your free time?
JS: I like to go to plays as much as possible. We get a lot of free or discounted tickets through Atlantic, so we take advantage of that. I also like to get away from the theater sometimes. I like to go to Washington Square Park with friends, watch movies, go for walks along the river, and spend time with friends. I like to feed my soul with as many different things as possible.
CJ: What play has had the greatest impact on you, and why?
JS: I would say the play Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph. It was the first play I fell in love with. It’s incredible. It’s the story of two children who first meet in elementary school, and the play skips around throughout their life. Their story is tragically beautiful and important because of how exposed and vulnerable the characters are. So many people hide those ugly parts of their lives but Joseph just throws it all out on the table. It feels so real to me.
Also any play by Anton Chekhov. There are no words to describe the amount of heart he has poured into each and every one of his characters. His plays have truly changed my life.
CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old-self?
JS: Breathe. Remember that everything doesn’t just happen all at once, it’s a process. You’ll get to where you want to be eventually. Also, remember that happiness comes first. Working hard is important, but at the end of the day you have to be happy.
Image: Andrew Schlaepfer, Josh Marten