Yreka High grad to continue education at prestigious Yale School of Drama

Bill Choy
Yreka's Cooper Bruhns in a production of  "The Winter's Tale" at UC Santa Barbara.

Since Cooper Bruhns first stepped on stage at age 7 in a production of “The Little Princess” at the Siskiyou Performing Arts Center in Yreka, they knew theatre was what they wanted to do with their lives.

Bruhns, who was raised in Yreka and is a 2016 Yreka High School graduate, will follow in the footsteps of acting greats, including actors Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Henry Winkler, Lupita Nyong’o and Paul Gilamanti by attending Yale School of Drama in New Haven, Conn.

After high school, Bruhns attended University of Santa Barbara, earning praise for a variety of roles on stage and in a student film. This included winning an Indy Award from the Santa Barbara Independent Theater for Outstanding Performance for their work in the play Vanity Fair at UCSB.

Last summer, Bruhns performed as part of a summer program at the Prague Shakespeare Company in Czechoslovakia.

Bruhns graduated from UCSB in May with a degree in theatre and dance. Bruhns’ twin brother, Calvin Bruhns, also graduated from UC Santa Barbara at the same time with a degree in Film and Media Studies.

“This means that all my hard work is coming together and paying off,” said Bruhns, who is non-binary and prefers the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their. “I’m just excited for this next chapter in my life and to pursue my passion.”

For Bruhns, the theatre has always been a magical and safe space that gives them the freedom to become someone else and to enter different worlds and characters.

Impressed by how everyone at Yale School of Drama was treated and the students’ genuine passion and interest in theatre and acting, Bruhns was impressed with the “five-star treatment” they experienced during a visit to the campus.

“I knew that, yes, this is it, I belong here,” Bruhns said.

The Yale School of Drama is world renowned for graduating countless theatre and film professionals. Being accepted to the prestigious program is difficult, with an acceptance rate of a little more than 5%.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school will be held online in the fall, Bruhns said. Students will be allowed an extra year of school at no extra cost for the normally three-year program. Bruhns said they’re hopeful there will be in-person classes in the fall of 2021.

Bruhns said the support of their mom and brothers, including their older brother Spencer, has been invaluable. Bruhns’ mom, Lorrie Bruhns, has always believed and supported Cooper in pushing theatre and worked hard as a single mother to guide and provide for her children.

“She has always been there for me and has been so supportive in me pursuing these endeavors,” Bruhns said. “I was never told it was something I couldn’t do. It was so important for me to always have had that support.”

Bruhns has had a number of roles in the theatre department at UC Santa Barbara. Memorable for Cooper was last winter, when they played the lead character in the classic Moliere comedy, “Tartuffe.”

Tartuffe is a devious character and con person who pretends to be a devoutly pious and humble man as he cons a wealthy family.

“It was just so much fun,” Bruhns said. “It’s so exciting to have that freedom to go out and play a character like that.”

Bruhns is excited to see where their acting journey takes them and said they are open to whatever comes their way after graduation from Yale. This could include moving to New York for theatre, performing internationally, or moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in film and TV. Or, perhaps Bruhns said, they could return to the area and perform at the acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore.

Bruhns has history at OSF, taking part in high school seminars as a junior and senior. Bruhns was also an usher for a few years there in the summer.

Bruhns said they landed a supporting role in a UCLA student film called, “This is Not a Fairytale,” which stars a classmate at UC Santa Barbara. The one-hour film is about sexual assault in the film industry.

“That was a really fun and new experience for me,” Bruhns said, adding that it has been an invaluable experience to have an inside look at how a film is made and how it has changed and developed throughout the entire process.

“I can’t wait to see how it all turns out,” Bruhns said.

Bruhns thanked J.J. Lewis-Nichols of SPAC for her help and guidance over the years as she directed Cooper in countless production when they were a kid and teen.

“She has been such an important and strong influence on my life,” Bruhns said.

For Bruhns, acting in productions as a kid and teen at SPAC was a sanctuary, no matter what was going on in their lives, adding they love live theater.

“I love performing on stage and being able to get real-time reactions from the audience. I’ve been performing on stage since I was 7 ... It’s deeply ingrained in me,” Bruhns said. “I do love film as well. It can reach a much wider audience and is a great way to get a message out.”

Bruhns said it was nice to have their fraternal twin, Calvin, at UC Santa Barbara. Calvin plans to move to Los Angles and seek work in the film industry,

“He has an incredibly creative mind,” Bruhns said about Calvin. “I’m excited to see what he’ll do in the film industry.”