2001 GRAD FINDING HIS GROOVE
After receiving training in drama at Wilson, Craig Jessen '01 headed to Southern Oregon University where he graduated in 2005 with a BFA in Theatre Arts. He married that year and moved to New York, where he was involved with theater productions. "Most notably a production of N. Richard Nash's Echoes which I performed with my wife," adds Craig. In 2007 Craig moved back to Portland with the goal of getting into graduate school for Playwriting. In 2008 he was accepted into the UCLA program and was offered a two-year fellowship.
Never far from home, the summer of 2008 in Portland he directed his play Pylon, working with fellow actor and Wilson graduate Adrian de Forest '02. In an article published in the Portland Tribune (Local Playwright Scores with New Comedy, Pylon) we learn that Craig's new play centers around three young men who look back six years and wrestle with how the most important thing they had – their friendship – was turned upside-down because of one perfectly ordinary, extraordinary girl. As they piece together what really happened during their last six months of high school, the only thing they agree on is how it started: one night, they stole a traffic cone. A review in The Portland Mercury says that Craig is starting to find his groove as a playwright/director in Pylon and put together an incredibly engaging production. "Jessen's got a great ear for language, and he's a writer you'll see again."
In high school, Craig wrote and directed Unstable Octet and Chasm. He directed three Wilson spring one acts: Impromptu by Tad Mosel, The Devil and Billy Markham by Shel Silverstein and The Ugly Duckling by A.A. Milne. Craig was also the assistant directed for Wilson's production of Grease and acted in Bus Stop, Brigadoon, Arcadia, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and You Can't Take it With You.
When asked about the events and teachers that most shaped his life at Wilson, Craig said that working with Julie Accuardi probably had the greatest impact on the trajectory he chose for his life. "I got to work with her both as an actor and also as an assistant director. One of the biggest lessons I learned from her was by example -- that a director must always project a sense of calm to the cast, regardless of what you are feeling privately. That's one of the things that made her so successful working with young actors -- it's a difficult thing to get a group of 20 hyper young kids to focus on the task at hand, but she did it effortlessly. She had a very calming presence, and commanded both our attention and respect. Additionally, Julie gave us a lot of freedom, which is very rare in high school. But she understood we were young adults, and treated us that way. The thing I'm most grateful to her for was giving me the opportunity to put up plays of my own on the Wilson stage. The summers before my Junior and Senior year, I directed plays that I wrote, and put them up the first week of school. That single act of trust opened the door to the greatest learning opportunity I had while I was at Wilson."
Craig was also quick to point out that it was very beneficial working with Wilson graduates Rob Long '99 and Geno Salimena '99 "learning carpentry and stage craft skills. What I learned when I went to college was that I had enjoyed a fairly well rounded exposure to all the elements of theatre."
As far as advice for the young students at Wilson today, Craig believes that "even if you're only interested in acting, volunteer to work on costumes or props or lights or sound or the set, and if you can, all of them. Even when you're cast in plays. No -- especially when you're cast in plays. If you're serious about a career in the theatre, this is the best opportunity you'll have to start becoming well rounded as a theatrician."
Craig was joined on campus at Wilson by his older brother, Eric '99 and younger brother Kyle '04. Congratulations, Craig! Oh, and congratulations to Craig's dedicated father, Peter Jessen, for raising such talented young sons!
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