JESSE MERZ, Artistic Director (Artistic Director, Meisner Acting Instructor)
Jesse is currently the head of the BFA in Acting Program and Assistant Professor of Acting at Wayne State University / Hilberry Repertory Theatre in Detroit, Michigan. He has also taught acting at University of California, Davis and Western Oregon University and has taught workshops or presented papers at American College Theatre Festival, Oregon and Washington Thespian Conferences, International School of St. Martin and the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan, among others.
He has directed over 60 theatre and video productions, including directing Tony-Winner Daisy Eagan in Suburban Dreams in NYC. He has produced over 200 theatre and film productions and has written half a dozen plays.
As an actor, Jesse has performed off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, in regional theatre, summer stock, feature films, student films, on the radio and in 120 cities in 34 states nationwide. He is a member of the Actors Equity Association (AEA), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Dramatists Guild (DG), the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) and the Voice and Speech Teachers Association (VASTA). He was recently elected to the Central Regional Board of Actors' Equity Association and was appointed to the national committee on Guest Artist and U/RTA contracts. He was the Producing Artistic Director of Longview Stageworks, a small professional Equity theatre company, from 2000 - 2003. He was the Drama Director and Theatre Teacher at David Douglas High School from 2003 - 2006. He has been the Artistic Director of the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre and the Columbia Gorge Repertory Theatre since 1996.
He holds a BFA in Acting from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts where he spent two years at the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School (where he studied with Oscar nominees David Mamet and William H. Macy) and two years at the Meisner Extension. He received his Master of Arts in Teaching (Drama Endorsement) from George Fox University in April, 2005. He received his Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Arts - Acting from University of California, Davis in 2008.
Additionally, he has worked or studied with: Emmy-winner and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives"), Tony-nominee Constantine Maroulis ("Rock of Ages", "American Idol"), Charlie O'Connell ("The Bachelor", Dude Where's My Car), Alec Baldwin, Tony Randall, Lauri Peters (Tony Nominee The Sound of Music), River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Gus Van Sant, Sarah Pia Anderson, Josh Hartnett, Mindy Cooper, Rinde Eckert (Pulitzer nominee) and many more.
Jesse is happily married to Laurel and is the proud papa of daughters Alana Fay (6), Josephine Alice (4), and Charlotte Janice (1)! email@example.com
JAN JAMES, Executive Director of CGST
She owns and runs the business with Jesse Merz, her son, who is the Artistic Director. Jan graduated from the University of Oregon (go Ducks!) with a Bachelors of Science degree in Sociology. After graduation she lived in the Hood River Valley for 24 years. During that time, Jan lived on an apple and pear orchard with her husband, and raised 2 children, Jesse and Jody Merz. Jan loved spending time with her children, and was involved in their many pursuits......she enjoyed watching them work on and finish their degrees in Acting and Psychology/Nursing respectively.
After Jan sold her last house in the Hood River Valley, she began to look for another place in the country. When she found the property outside White Salmon, Washington, the Blue Moon Ranch was born. Somehow, the idea for the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre was hatched with input from the whole family, and it was started by Jesse, Jody, and Jan.
CGST is a family run business. Jan is the Executive Director, Jesse is the Artistic Director, and Laurel Merz and Karisa Chappell (cousin) are Camp Directors. Jody is a cardiac nurse at OHSU, where Jan lived for 4 months (more about that later). Jan enjoys spending time with her family which includes her partner Gene Amundson, son and daughter-in-law Jesse and Laurel Merz and their daughters Alana Fay, Josephine Alice, and Charlotte Merz, and daughter and son-in law Jody Merz and Prescott Allen and their children William Elliott Allen and Clara Merz Allen. Her hobbies include reading, playing with her many dogs and cats, going to Maui, working out, and spending time with her friends.
Jan never really knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. She always supported her family members in their various pursuits, until the idea for CGST came into being. After the family decided to start the summer camp, the heart disease she had been diagnosed with became more serious, and she was placed on the Heart Transplant waiting list. During the first summer of camp, Jan was waiting at the hospital (OHSU) for 3 1/2 months, for a life saving heart transplant. Jesse and Jody ran a small version of CGST with 10 amazing campers, and a wonderful staff.
When the entire camp was at the Hood River County Fair, the pager notified Jesse and Jody that a heart was available. They left the campers in the capable hands of the rest of the staff, and rushed to Jan's side in Portland, just in time to give her some words of encouragement before she went into surgery. Jesse was helping his mom with some breathing exercises meant to relax her--she was never quite sure if those exercises were for Jesse, Jody, or herself!
Anyway, when Jan woke up in the recovery room with a strong, healthy heart, she was making plans for CGST. She was fortunate enough to get out of the hospital in time to see our first show - - Godspell. Because of the generosity of an anonymous donor family, Jan is alive and well, and able to fully enjoy our wonderful, amazing, summer theatre camp with her family! Every moment she remembers the heart donor and his unbelievable, generous, inspiring family!
Jan has a home office, and does administrative work year round. The camp has been a tremendous inspiration to her, and she loves talking to people from around the world about a great experience for kids -- CGST. The camp has changed the lives of everybody that has come in contact with it, and she is happy to tell people about how it has changed her life.
Jan has finally found with she wants to be when she grows up. She can be reached at BlueMoon91@aol.com, or 800-405-3450.
LAUREL MERZ, Camp Director, Head of First Aid, Lifeguard
Laurel grew up in Hood River, Oregon and lives in Royal Oak, Michigan with her husband Jesse and daughters Alana Fay (6), Josephine Alice (4), and Charlotte Janice (1). Professional acting credits include Sylvia in Sylvia, Ensemble in The Laramie Project, Rose in Bye Bye Birdie, Julie in Jake's Women and Robert Anne in Nunsense (Jake's Women and Nunsense were also performed in Vancouver at the Columbia Arts Center) with Longview Stageworks. She also played Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret and Sheila in Hair in community productions at Clark College directed by Ron Daum and Tony Bump, respectively. Additionally, Laurel has also worked as a director, stage manager, designer and in commercials on TV and on the radio. She toured the world in the musical Roads produced by Up with People, where she performed in 16 US states, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago, as well as Canada, Sweden, Denmark, and Japan. Other favorite credits include Vicky/Brook in Noises Off, Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof, and Mrs. Webb in Our Town. She received her Associates of Arts with a Biology emphasis from Lower Columbia College. firstname.lastname@example.org
KARISA CHAPPELL, Camp Director
Karisa was born in Westchester, New York and grew up in Portland, Oregon. She graduated from the Catlin Gabel School in Portland in 2003, and Barnard Women's College of Columbia University in New York, New York in 2007. An English major and an avid reader and writer, Karisa began her MFA in Writing at NYC's The New School in Fall 2010. Entranced with theatre and all that is CGST for more than a decade now, Karisa has spent 11 years at CGST, 7 of those as a staff member. Karisa made her stage acting debut with CGST in Godspell at age 12, and has since acted in and technically assisted on dozens of amateur shows. email@example.com