Engineering an Acting Life
Justin Bernard is a junior mechanical engineer, but he’s been an actor since he was 12 year old, appearing in plays at Houston’s St. John’s School. He’s also a double major in Visual and Dramatic Arts (VADA). He’s appeared in multiple Rice Players productions, including Orpheus in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, Horatio in Hello, Hamlet (which he co-wrote) and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Most recently, he performed as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar.
“He’s this well-spoken guy, and he’s kind of a rich playboy,” he said about the character. “It’s been a stretch to do that because he’s not very nice to women. I felt awful saying some of his lines. I had to work hard to find a way into his character.”
Bernard, who said that he’s always loved comedy, and thinks he comes across as funny, realized early on that his costume as Antony was an asset. He’s wearing a double-breasted suit jacket and a crisp silk tie. For Bernard, just putting on the outside made him straighten his posture and “feel posh.”
He’s been involved with VADA since he started at Rice.
“My performance that stands out the most, beyond this performance as Marc Antony, would have to be Benedick,” he said. “I had wanted to play that role for several years before getting cast, and the experience proved to be even better than I had expected. At that point, I was learning about the importance of conveying reality, not just showing the character—I worked on inhabiting the character, rather than just ‘doing’ it. This led me to slightly change in everyday life, and made my performance feel incredible. His sharp sense of humor, quick wit, and strength of character are aspects that I chose to focus on specifically, and the rest of his character filled out from there.”
He said the skills he’s learned through acting have been useful in the engineering classroom as well.
“Actors have to communicate with each other, and with the audience,” he explained. “My training helped me connect with people, so if I’m part of a team engineering project, and something isn’t going quite right or someone’s not doing something, I find it easy to talk with them one-on-one to see what’s happening and help find a solution.”
The other thing he said he’s learned is that on stage, it’s important to try different ways of doing things. He said that he thinks engineers sometimes get trapped looking for the right answer.
“It’s important to try different ways of doing an experiment or trying to build something. Acting showed me that you don’t have to be afraid to try things multiple ways to find a solution.”
Bernard is in the process of making a demo reel to send to agents for future acting gigs, and is also looking for an internship. He has been in contact with Google, and he’s interested in their virtual reality platforms. No matter which direction he decides to follow—acting or engineering—Bernard knows his training will help him find the right fit for his future.