Jordan Tyler Kessler is a class of 2020 USC alumnus from the School of Dramatic Arts. She stars in the world premiere production of “The Last, Best Small Town” by John Guerra.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Annenberg Media: What sparked your interest in theater?
Jordan Tyler Kessler: The very first time I was ever in a play, I must have been like seven years old I got cast as the Wicked Stepmother and I got to wear this gorgeous velvet green dress with black lace. [I felt like the popular girl in school. I got to embrace all of the things that, in my daily life, people tell me not to do, which is to be mean and vain. [It’s the] explorative part of humanity we all share but don’t necessarily get to express and I feel like that’s why I still like theater because it’s a really great way to examine the human condition for everyone [in a way] we don’t get to in our daily lives.
AM: How did you get involved with Theatricum Bontanicum?
JTK: Theatricum Bontanicum was first on my radar because I had friends [from the School of Dramatic Arts] like Jack Tavcar and Harrison Poe, [who] were theatrical interns a few years ago. I learned more about the space, which was founded during McCarthy-era-Hollywood as a sanctuary space for blacklisted actors. I just thought it [is] such a beautiful space with such a rich history
AM: Theatricum Bontanicum is also producing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the same time, which you are also an Assistant Director for. What was the rehearsal process like when working on both shows at once?
JTK: So I started “Midsummer” [sic] rehearsals as an assistant director, and it turned out that one of the fairies was unable to make[an] opening, so they asked me to fill in for her that one time. I actually ended up taking on the role of a fairy full-time.
For “The Last, Best Small Town,” I think we only had eight rehearsals and then Because this is [the] premiere of the piece, John, the playwright, has been at every rehearsal and performance. It was so cool to have him there because it really felt like we were included in the creation process.
AM: “The Last, Best Small Town” is about living between two worlds — do you feel like you relate to that experience?
JTK: I’m so grateful that I got cast in this show because it means so much to me. [The character] Elliot’s family is the Latinx family. There’s such a strong emphasis on education and moving up in the world and that’s something that my mom, my grandparents on my Latinx side really wanted for me. My grandma, ever since I was little, told me, “I’m just staying alive to see you graduate from college and see you get married.” She never went to school. And then the white family growing up in suburbia, I think is very true to those experiences. And it was cool to be a part of that.
AM: What has it been like to originate and develop your role?
JTK: It was really exciting. I really felt like [John] allowed me to help build my role in many ways. There is this one monologue at the end that is really emotional and there was a certain line at the beginning he had cut where I basically ask Elliot if I could hold his hand. And I was like, oh man, I need that support, is that ok [to add it back in?]. It was stuff like that where we’re really creating [a character] and he [was] allowing me to have much more of a voice in a character that I’ve never had before.
AM: What was it like graduating in the class of 2020 with a degree in theater?
JTK: So, funnily enough, I wasn’t going to pursue theater. After graduation, I had gotten into the London School of Economics to study gender, media and culture. And I was planning on going into academia [or some sort of...related field?]. When the pandemic hit, family stuff was going on at the time, [so] it was not my time to go abroad. I felt like I was stuck in a time where there was nothing to do and the only thing I really wanted to do was perform.
So, in a certain way, the pandemic illuminated for me [what I want to do]. Obviously, it was a terrible time and there was a lot of suffering, but I don’t know if I would be doing theater if not for the pandemic.
“The Last, Best Small Town” runs now through Nov. 7 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Bontanicum. For more information, click here.