Alumni Spotlight: Jana Bernard ’13 – A Life in Improv

Alumni Spotlight: Jana Bernard ’13 – A Life in Improv

As part of our Alumni Spotlight Series, Gill St. Bernard's sat down with Jana Bernard, Class of 2013. Jana recently returned to GSB to lead a lively, interactive assembly with Middle School students to share her career experience as a TV, film, and theater actor while also teaching students how improv skills can help them succeed in the classroom, on the stage, and throughout their life. 

What has your career path been like, and how did you end up where you are today?

My career path has been a joy, a ton of hard work, and my dream come true.

I studied musical theater at American University. My first job out of college was Saturday Night Live, and I’m now in my 7th year now working at SNL. In college, I started doing stand-up comedy. I realized that making people laugh and performing was my passion. I’ve now performed stand-up in the United States and Europe, including The Comedy Cellar, New York Comedy Club, and Broadway Comedy Club. Since graduation, I’ve performed in several regional musical theater productions, including Legally Blonde (Elle Woods), Kinky Boots (Lauren), and A Chorus Line (Val).

When theater shut down during the pandemic, I pivoted to TV and Film. I was cast in Girls5Eva on Peacock, in Poker Face as “Young Irene”, the younger version of Judith Light’s character, and in the Paramount Feature Film Under the Boardwalk.

In addition to my work at Saturday Night Live, I recently got hired at The Second City in NYC.

You recently returned to campus! Tell us about the experience — what were some of the highlights?

Going to be back on campus was amazing! I led an improv workshop for the Middle School. I started a company called Improv Your Communications™, which leads corporate improv and team-building workshops that strengthen communications, collaboration, and creativity. It was amazing to work with the students and see them so engaged.

In what ways did GSB prepare you for a career in acting?

I was fortunate enough to be a part of GSB’s phenomenal theater program, led by Paul Canada, and an incredible music program led by Amy and David Southerland. They treated us like young professionals.

My senior year, I was cast in “Little Women”, and won the Paper Mill Rising Star Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. As a result, I represented NJ in The Jimmy Awards where I performed on Broadway. Performing on the Broadway stage in high school made me realize that a career in the performing arts was what I wanted more than anything.

At Gill, I was working on challenging material: learning Sondheim songs as Petra in Night Music, working on accent work in The Importance of Being Earnest, and playing larger than life characters like Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I was being artistically challenged and supported. Additionally, Gill inspired me to become an analytical reader. In my literature classes with Ms. Wengel, Ms. Poticny, and Mr. Lutz we were dissecting subtext, analyzing plays, and contextualizing characters. So I was ready when it came time for me to do character analysis and auditions for professional theater.

What advice would you give to current GSB students?

Don’t ever “settle” for your life; create your life. If you want to be a professional actor, athlete, astrophysicist– whatever your dream is– go for it.

Figure out what inspires you, and then surround yourself with other people who are passionate about the same thing.

Do you have a favorite GSB memory?

One day, I was impersonating my teachers. I remember my teacher Mrs. Dori brought me in to have a talk. I thought for sure she was going to put me in detention for imitating teachers' mannerisms and voices. Instead, she sat me down and said “You have a gift. One day I could see you on Saturday Night Live.” It’s teachers like Marilyn Dori who make you think your dreams can become a reality. This summer I had my audition for the cast of Saturday Night Live.

Mrs. Dori is unfortunately no longer with us, but it’s incredible teachers like her whose support stay with you for the rest of your life.

Are there any recent or upcoming projects that you are excited about?

I can’t wait to tell you what’s next…as soon as I’m legally allowed to! :)

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