Jeanne E. Harrison is a long-time resident of Great Falls and operates a non-profit outdoors teens theatre camp that has relocated to Vienna's Meadowlark Gardens this year. For camp information go to www.travelingplayers.org.
Tell me about yourself.
I started acting classes when I was 4, and by 12 I was convinced that I'd be a famous actress living in N.Y.C. As it turns out, I was a fairly mediocre actor, so I didn't give myself permission to pursue theatre seriously. Then I directed my first show in college. It was evident to students and professors alike that I had real talent. I was so happy and relieved to find my place in the theatrical world. I spent my junior year of college in England, and was married to an intelligent and quirky Yorkshire man for 10 years.
What is your background and education?
I grew up in Bethesda, Md. and attended the Bullis School. From there I went onto Macalester College where I earned a BA in English (minor in Theatre), then an MA at University of Wisconsin-Madison (Theatre), and finally an MFA at Catholic University (Directing). I'm still in education. I've taught for Catholic University, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Loyola University in Baltimore, in addition to John Moores University in Liverpool, England. I teach classes for third through 12th graders at Holton-Arms Center for the Arts, a co-educational after-school program. But most of my teaching these days happens over the summer with the company that I founded — Traveling Players Ensemble.
How long in the community of Great Falls?
I moved to Great Falls when I was 16 years old and have been here on and off for years — permanently moved back in 1998.
What do you love most about Great Falls?
I love the parks. I'm in there a couple times a week on
one of my favorite trails. I have six different trails that I rotate between — hikes that I created by intersecting various trails along the river. I love watching the seasons pass on the hikes. You get different views, different foliage.
What improvements would you like to see in Great Falls?
I'd love a Whole Foods here. I go to Reston for organic veggies.
Tell me about your theatre camp:
I founded Traveling Players Ensemble back in 2003 as a professional nonprofit theatre company with the mission of bringing great theatre into the great outdoors. It's not easy to start a theatre company, and I've been blessed with lots of success and opportunities. Over the summer we train teenagers (ages 11-18) in classical theatre — Shakespeare and Moliere and take them to perform in outdoor environments — generally National Parks. The theatre training we provide is truly superb. We take small groups of 12 students, give them professional directors and designers and a professional tour to showcase their work. It's very rare for the students to have the opportunity to perform for audiences that aren't stacked with their parents. Your skill base has to be very strong to perform for the public, and that's what we prepare them for.
In addition to theatrical training, the students also get training in the outdoors — how to pitch a tent, cook over an open fire and Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. We use a low ropes course to hone communication and cooperation skills. Low ropes courses didn't exist when we were kids, — they're these physical and mental puzzles that look like obstacle courses composed of trees and ropes and wires — they're great fun.
The outdoors training is really unique to Traveling Players and integral to the program. It teaches the students to be adaptable, to form strong and supportive alliances with others, to solve problems and think laterally. The real mission of Traveling Players is to train a new generation of artists who are capable of surviving in this new economy where artists have to have several skill sets in order to continue to work. Very few artists make all their money from doing their art. Artist today need to be able to teach, perform, and network to create opportunities for themselves.
Traveling Players performed at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage last year, and we hope to return this summer. We're also performing off of Skyline Drive (while we backpack off the Appalachian Trail) and at colonial Williamsburg. We're auditioning later this month for a performance slot at the International Children's Festival hosted by Wolf Trap in September. We also go to a circuit of local camps and scouts, so there's a good chance your child knows about us. We'll perform for over 6,000 people this summer.
And ... the great news ... we just moved our summer operations to Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna which I'm thrilled about. I'm hoping to see many, many more Virginia students in our ensembles this summer. Virginia is really an untapped market for classical theatre training.
Any good books lately or seen a good movie?
The last book I read was a play, "Two Gentlemen of Verona" by Shakespeare. This early play is filled with devices of Shakespeare's future classics: cross-dressing women, men climbing ladders to a lady's bedchamber, and banishing young lovers to the forest. I hardly ever see movies, but I'm a judge for the Helen Hayes Awards, so I see about 45 plays a year and submit ballots on acting and production elements — direction, lighting, costumes, etc.
What do you do for fun?
I swim at Spring Hill Recreation Center, hike in Great Falls Parks and do yoga. I used to garden, but a groundhog has decimated my garden for the past two summers. Very sad - particularly given that I'm a vegetarian.
Do you have a favorite quote?
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." Alexander Graham Bell.