Alumni Spotlight: Laura Halperin, '97, Theatre, Executive Producer of Bridezillas

Alumni Spotlight: Laura Halperin, '97, Theatre, Executive Producer of Bridezillas

Meet Laura Halperin, a 1997 theatre graduate who—with $700 in her pocket—moved to Los Angeles after graduation to pursue her love of acting. Her diverse experiences have led to her current role as executive producer of the show Bridezillas on WEtv. In addition to producing, Halperin does voice-over work for the show. You can see (and hear) her work during the 10th and final season of Bridezillas, which premiered May 31st. 

Halperin took time out of her busy production schedule to talk with us about her most memorable Auburn experience (spoiler alert: it involves walking around campus dressed as a nun), and to offer advice on how to succeed in the competitive media market. She also gives a “shout-out” to a certain Auburn theatre professor (and a certain English professor) she credits with giving her the career tools and personal encouragement she needed to head out west.

Interview by Vicky Santos, Director of External Affairs

Laura Halperin

 

Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Laura Halperin: I spent my childhood moving quite a bit—we lived in New York, Massachusetts, and Florida, respectively, before I went off to Auburn in 1993. I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 after graduating with my BFA in theatre, and have been here ever since. These days I am a freelance reality television producer, currently executive producer of Bridezillas on WEtv. I am responsible for overseeing the creative end of production and post-production of the series. I have also lent my vocal stylings to the series as the narrator for the past two seasons.

What was your career path after graduating?

LH: I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 with my theatre degree, $700, directions to my brother’s house, and dreams of following my acting ambitions. While I did manage to land a few low and no-paying gigs, and even some extra work (I was a "Child of the Corn" once…who knew there was a corn field in the middle of the valley?), I spent my first three years in Los Angeles waiting tables to support myself. One day, my brother, an established reality television producer, asked me if I would like to try my hand at being a writer’s assistant on a show he was supervising. Even though I had absolutely no idea what that would entail, and had never even considered being a television producer, I took a chance, and wound up writing on my very first TV gig. TurnsLaura Halperin out I had a latent talent for writing cheesy VO (voice over). Who knew? It wasn’t quite a straight path from there, I spent many years going from show to show in different roles varying from researcher to field producer to writer. This is a freelance world—you are hired sometimes for a few short weeks, sometimes for several months, but there is no such thing as “job security” for most of us. The market wasn’t quite as saturated when I began as it is today, so it sometimes felt very much like being a starving actress, hunting for my next gig. (Except that in this case I actually found work…eventually.) I succeeded. I failed. I became very familiar with the ins and outs of the unemployment line. But I kept at it, and eventually, with the help of some amazing mentors, worked my way up the ranks.

How did you choose to attend Auburn? And how did you choose theatre as your major?

LH: It was actually a bit of a happy accident. In my senior year of high school I had a bit of a crisis—I wanted to go to school in Boston, and my family, who by now lived in Florida, wanted me to stay close. A good friend of mine had long dreamed of going to Auburn, and solely on her recommendation I took a chance. It was close enough to please my family, and far enough to feel like I was striking out on my own. When I first arrived, it was a bit like landing in Oz. I was dazzled and completely out of my element. I loved it. Best completely un-thought-out decision I ever made. (Kids, don’t try this at home.) As for my major…despite my parents’ fondest wishes for me to do something “practical”…I knew I would be a theatre major from the word go. I had always been a theatre kid, and couldn’t conceive of doing anything else. (insert wry, knowing laugh here)

What is your favorite Auburn memory as a student?

LH: Eek! As someone who can’t even pinpoint a favorite movie or musician (I like to keep my options open) it’s reeeeeeally hard to nail this one down. I will say my favorite show during my time at Auburn was a production of Nunsense where I played – wait for it – a nun. As a promotional campaign the cast donned our habits and walked around campus handing out what appeared to be religious pamphlets but were actually promotional fliers for the play. It’s amazing to witness the fear and confusion a pack of nuns can strike in the heart of the average freshman. At one point we were squashed like sardines in an elevator with one poor guy who looked equal parts terrified and bewildered—and despite politely accepting our flier, he practically sprinted out of that elevator the moment the doors opened. That’s a silly memory, but one that stays with me. Landing my first role? That was pretty great, too. Directing my first one-act was a highlight (and maybe a clue about my later leanings). But maybe my favorite memory is more of a collective memory of the time, the people, the campus, and the incredible four years I spent there becoming a grown up. (or, you know, nearly…)

Has your liberal arts background helped you in your career? If so, how?

LH: Absolutely. I can directly thank Dan LaRocque (theatre professor and associate dean for academic affairs) for his voice classes, without which I certainly would not be the current voice of Bridezillas, and for the encouragement to go to Los Angeles when I was waffling about what to do next. Acting actually translates more than you might imagine - the ability to relate, or at least seek to understand, to poke beneath the surface of people and situations is what I do all day, every day.  It’s a lot like psychology. But it wasn’t just the theatre training I took with me -  I also recall my freshman English teacher (whose name escapes me in my advanced age…). He really encouraged my writing in a way I hadn’t been encouraged in a long time. I was pretty set on staying in the theatre, but he made a tiny inroad I never forgot, and I wish I could thank him for today. Telling stories based upon my experiences (and now, the experiences of others) has been incredibly gratifying.

{When I mentioned to Dan LaRocque that we would be profiling Laura for the newsletter, he had this to say of her: Laura was an outstanding student (one only has to look at the range of her successes since leaving Auburn to see that she made the most of her CLA degree) but she was an equally talented and committed actress, appearing as Hero in a production of Much Ado About Nothing that I directed, and as Elvira in a production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit that I was acting in here at Auburn. She played the ghost of my character's dead first wife in that production-- a ghost none too happy with her husband's second marriage - and her performance was so outrageously funny I imagine it would have put more than a few Bridezillas to shame.”}

Now back to our regularly scheduled interview…

What advice can you give to current students who are looking to pursue a career similar to yours?

LH: I think the best advice I can give anyone, for whatever their path, is that sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways. You may think you know what you want to do—and if you’re anything like me, you are POSITIVE—but sometimes life leads you down unexpected paths. I was not looking to start a career in television (at least not behind the scenes) but as I struggled to make a career for myself in front of the camera, opportunities continued to unfold in television production. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t even entirely intentional (at first) but if you find there is something you are naturally good at AND people want to pay you to do it - Pay attention. Maybe it’s not what you imagined, but it could be where you need to be.

Laura HalperinMore practically, I would suggest being willing to start anywhere. Learn as much as you can about as many different aspects of both production and post-production. Today, schedules are so tight we rarely get the opportunity to wear more than one hat at a time, but having experience in different arenas will not only make you a better, more well-rounded producer, but open up your career opportunities. Plus, you might discover a hidden passion for an aspect of production or post you hadn’t imagined. It is also crucial to keep an open mind in this industry. You will encounter people and ideas that couldn’t be farther from your own—if you go in closed off to uncomfortable ideas and situations, you will never find the real story. I’ve had to stand in operating rooms and try not to pass out, explain complicated surgeries, interview Neo-Nazis, travel the country with a group of tough biker women, and relate to all sorts of people and situations I would never have imagined. They were all valuable experiences, no matter how awkward at times. And I discovered that humanity is far more complex than my tiny understanding of it—which is a big part of why I love what I do. Look for mentors. You can learn a lot from those around you, and you would be surprised by how many are willing to help you take the next step if you listen…but, you know, don’t be a stalker, either.

Can you share something fun/interesting about yourself most people don’t know?

LH: I love reality TV. I have a dorky passion for British murder series. I once applied for the Peace Corps.  I think about becoming a teacher. I entertain notions of law school…well, maybe not law school. And I type freakishly fast. Seriously, people find it disturbing. I even won the “Speed Typing Award” my senior year of high school. Proud moment.

Haley center