J.B. Bauersfeld caught the acting bug during a high school musical. Now, the former Hornet's career continues to garner buzz among his friends and in Hollywood.
Bauersfeld, a native of Topeka and an Emporia State University alumnus, was enjoying success in his sports broadcasting career at WIBW-TV.
But something was missing for Bauersfeld.
“When I was trying to figure out what I could do if I were to get out of sports broadcasting, acting kept creeping into my head,” he said. "I'd quickly shoo it away as a pipe dream, but I remembered some friends and acquaintances from Kansas who have enjoyed some great success in the arts. Eventually, that acting bug was buzzing so loudly, I had to listen.”
Running down a dream
Bauersfeld moved to Burbank, California, in 2014. During his first trip to Hollywood, he auditioned for Groundlings Improv School, which he described as "very competitive."
“I was able to get in on my first try, so I was pretty pumped,” he said. “I started taking classes right away. The next week I went over to Central Casting, an agency that casts background actors or extras, and put my name and picture into their system.”
The first call Bauersfeld received was for a job on the crime drama series Aquarius starring David Duchovny.
“The gig was during Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, but I was so afraid that they'd never call again if I said no, so I took it,” he said. “I ended up doing work with them for a year and a half or so until I landed a gig with KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). That's how I got such a sweet spot on The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Bauersfeld said he booked the gig with KFC through his sports agent, The Movement Agency. The agency sends him out on sports-related auditions from time-to-time.
“Luckily, things worked out for the KFC, Kentucky Buckets campaign,” he said. “When I saw Rob Riggle's name on the call sheet at the fitting, I knew we'd have something to talk about with us both being fans of KC-area teams. We chatted on set a few times and he gave me some great advice. He told me I was doing the things I need to be doing at this stage of my career, so that was a great pep talk.”
Bauersfeld said he needed that pep talk because things soon hit a dry spell.
“Here I was thinking, ‘Oh man, this is going to turn into some great things, let's keep the ball rolling and snag a commercial agent and a theatrical agent,’” he said. “But I was kind of hit in the face with the lack of a response. I submitted to over 50 agents to try and get out some more, and I heard back from one. It wasn't the right fit, so I didn't even take the meeting.”
Eventually, an actor and photographer friend of Bauersfeld referred him to his commercial agent at Activity. It seemed to be a good fit and they began working together.
“The first audition they sent me out on was for Southwest Airlines,” he said. "I got a callback, so I remember being pretty excited because that's going to excite my new agent right? But they liked me there too, so it seemed to be perfect timing, since the KFC campaign stopped running at the end of football season.”
Bauersfeld said being the first name on the call sheet for the first time was a cool experience.
“I worked with Roy Jenkins, a guy who teaches at Groundlings and who had just appeared as a guest star on Modern Family the week before we shot,” he said. “He had a ton of experience doing commercial shoots, so he was super helpful to me. I still take improv classes at Groundlings and I also just went through a program at iOWest. I'm pretty active in the improv world, doing indie shows with three different teams right now.”
Bauersfeld is a native of Topeka who graduated from Highland Park High School in 1999. He attended Emporia State University and graduated with a BFA in Communication in 2003. He was also a member of the ESU Hornet basketball team.
Bauersfeld has two brothers, Brooke and Reid; mother, Gay, and father, Jim.
“Sports have been a passion of mine since I can remember,” he said. “My dad tells stories about how he worked on our hand-eye coordination with nerf balls before we were even old enough to walk.”
Growing up, Bauersfeld said he played any sport he could before he settled on soccer, football, basketball and track and field at Highland Park.
“It was about eighth grade though, when I realized that nobody was going to be paying me to play sports past college, so I started thinking about alternate career paths,” he said. “At that point it was between broadcasting sports or coaching. Broadcasting eventually won out after I took my first public speaking class at ESU and fell in love with the idea of talking for a living.”
Bauersfeld said he didn’t take theatre classes at ESU, but had participated in school plays at every level prior to college.
“I did small plays in elementary school programs, holiday plays and musicals in middle school,” he said. “I did just one musical, Little Shop of Horrors, at Highland Park. I played Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. I remember playing him somewhere between what Steve Martin had done in the film and what I envisioned Elvis would have done if music hadn't worked out.”
A teacher's influence
Bauersfeld said he wasn’t planning on participating in the production because he was playing both soccer and football at the time and the performances conflicted with his practices.
“I remember on the sheet where it said, ‘possible conflicts.’ I wrote: ‘Can't do play, I play sports,'" he said. "Undeterred, our director, Ron Farrell, called me at home to ask if I thought I may be able to skip a couple practices to make the show. After getting permission from my coach, I said yes, and the rest was history."
"I don't know if I had ever had so much fun doing any one activity in high school as I did doing Little Shop. And I was in a lot of activities; add band and forensics to the sports.”
It was during that production that Farrell made a lasting impact on Bauersfeld’s life.
“I remember Mr. Farrell saying to me, something along the lines of, ‘Every theatre in America needs someone like you. There's a great shortage of big, strong guys who can act, dance and carry a tune.’
“That was obviously tucked away in my brain somewhere, because it turned out to be the motivation I would need to get the ball rolling on an acting career some 15 years later.”
Farrell, who taught language arts for 32 years at Highland Park, said he remembered Bauersfeld as a great young man, one who was disciplined and dedicated to whatever he undertook.
“I had a reputation — not only in the classroom of being a strict disciplinarian but also as a director,” Farrell said. “In my career, I’ve directed over 100 productions between my years teaching middle and high school. Every student that was ever involved knew I was a demanding taskmaster.
“J.B. was so devoted to the athletic program and all the things he did in sports. For him to leave his sports practices — without, I’m sure, getting anything to eat and coming right over to rehearsal for the theatre program — that took a lot of dedication.”
When Bauersfeld felt something was missing in his life, he remembered what Farrell had told him a decade and a half earlier. It was then the light went on and he knew he wanted to be an actor.
“This was long before I actually left WIBW,” Bauersfeld said. “I made the decision after consulting with friends inside the acting business in NYC and LA, and friends who knew me best from my broadcast years. I also sat down and had a heart-to-heart with Mr. Farrell and asked him some important questions.”
Farrell said he will always remember the day Bauersfeld came knocking on his door.
“It was great to see him that day,” he said. “We sat down and he told me he was at a place in his life where he was wanting to make a major career change. I told him he needed to have a fire within himself. I told him now was the time to do this because he didn’t want to be the person who looked back one day saying, ‘What if?’"
Farrell said he felt honored Bauersfeld would seek him out for career advice years after Little Shop of Horrors.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “People today criticize teachers and say they are not dedicated enough. They say there is no money in teaching. Those things aside, in my opinion, money can never take the place of seeing one of your students be successful and achieve their goals and dreams. When you know that your life was allowed in some small manner to touch and influence the life of someone else, what more can you ask for in this life?”
Farrell said he was immensely proud of the journey Bauersfeld has made from high school plays, to sports broadcasting and now — acting.
“J.B. is a very talented young man,” he said. “He is a natural on stage. He was one of the easiest students I ever had to direct. He took direction superbly. He was always eager to learn.”
Bauersfeld said his career after college as a sports broadcaster prepared him for what eventually lied ahead.
“I grew up at WIBW,” he said. “I started out as a news photographer working the weekend shift and I'd beg to shoot sports whenever I got the chance. If I had down time during shifts I would pull up the newscasts from the night before and practice reading the scripts off the teleprompter.
“I almost didn't last the first year when I had a pair of accidents in the parking lot — including running the mast on our live van into the garage door. Luckily, I just got suspended for a couple of days.”
After a year and a half, Bauersfeld was promoted to weekend sports anchor. When the sports director left, Bauersfeld was offered the position, which he performed for six years.
“The 10 years at WIBW were some of the favorite in my life,” he said. “I met many of my best friends there and made awesome relationships with local athletes and coaches. I also got to travel to some spectacular events like bowl games, Final Fours and an All-Star Game.
“I truly enjoyed delivering the news de jour to the people in my hometown," Bauersfeld said. "Eventually though, I realized that a bigger city was calling me.”
Before leaving for California, Bauersfeld performed in Mary Poppins and Catch Me If You Can, both at the Topeka Civic Theatre.
“The group of people that I was fortunate enough to work with through TCT is still active in my life,” he said. “They're some of my favorite people to interact with on Facebook and over text message. That was kind of my way of dipping my toe into the water. It was love at second sight for acting. I realized that this was what I wanted to do. So I put my house on the market, packed up my car to the brim and left the week after we closed Catch Me.”
A place in Hollywood
With the success he’s enjoyed thus far, Bauersfeld said life is going well.
“About 95 percent of actors don't work as much as they'd like to, so I have to remind myself to stay busy some days,” he said. “I have a lot of hobbies. If you're bored in LA, it's your own fault.”
Giving up his successful broadcasting career and taking the leap to Hollywood was something Bauersfeld felt he had to do.
“I remember listening to a podcast that said something to the effect of, ‘Taking the chance and chasing a dream isn't the scary thing. The real scary thing is staying behind doing that thing you don't have a passion for.’ I heard that and knew that was how I felt.”
Bauersfeld said he needed a change of scenery and was excited to learn more about the acting industry.
“I felt I had enough skills and could find a job and would be able to pay the bills one way or another,” he said. “That being said, the first nine months were tough. I didn't know many people and I certainly missed friends. But once I found my different groups of people, it really helped.”
Bauersfeld said it has been interesting to see the reaction of his parents, who go to California to spend time during winters.
“The first time they came to watch me do a musical, it was a disaster,” he said. “The director ended up in jail. All of that — to this year — it’s been good. My mom has been very supportive of my career change. My dad wondered how I would pay my rent but came around when I told him I needed his support.”
So, who is J.B. Bauersfeld? He’s an actor, writer, improviser, comedian and sports broadcaster; not necessarily in that order.
“It has been a fun journey," he said. "Learning about a new city, making new friends and finding new opportunities really gets the blood flowing.”
For more on J.B. Bauersfeld's career, a list of his acting accomplishments and links to his commercials, visit www.jbbauersfeld.com.