EOU graduate Jeff Press, left, recently left La Grande for California and soon will be headed back to London for his second year of grad school. (Courtesy Photo)
Jeff Press studying in London as part of theater arts program
Jeff Press is flying back to London soon to start a second year of study in a world-renowned theater arts program. As he goes, he’s leaving something of himself behind on a La Grande stage.
In early August, Press and a few other Eastern Oregon University theater people put on a play called “Organic” at the Stage Door Theater. Experimental from first to last, it dealt with a big theme — the meaning of success. The play raised a modest sum for the ongoing Liberty Theatre restoration project, and gave Press a memory to last his globe-trotting lifetime.
“Working on ‘Organic’ was an amazing thing for me,” the 2011 Eastern graduate said. “I’ve always been fascinated with the improvisation process and I learned a lot.”
Press was born in Palmdale, Calif., and graduated from Quartz Hill High School in 2005. He discovered EOU during a time when his parents were considering a move to La Grande.
As it turned out, the parents decided against taking up residence in La Grande, but the son got a look at the local university. He immediately liked what he saw.
“I was really excited about the school and decided to apply. I liked the small class sizes and the chance to closely interact with the professors,” Press said.
He started at Eastern in 2007 as a psychology major. He was pleased to find out, though, that the school had a strong, vibrant theater arts program. As he became involved in that, it took up more and more of his time.
“I kept taking the theater classes and performing and I found out it was what I really wanted to do,” Press said. “I tried my hand at stage managing, set design and other aspects of the theater, but I found my passion lies with directing and performing.”
Press graduated with a degree in theater directing in 2011. He stayed in La Grande for a while, helping out with local stage projects, while saving money for graduate school. One he applied to was the East 15 Acting School at Essex University in London.
“I was looking at graduate programs in this country and all over the world. East 15 sounded like a really good school to me, and London was very appealing because it’s so theater-based,” he said.
He was accepted, and started the East 15 course in 2012. In his first year, he was an assistant director in a production of Romeo and Juliet, and also did work on a play that was performed as a part of the University of Essex’s annual Holocaust Memorial.
Press returned to the United States at the end of the school year. Looking for something to do over the summer, he contacted Chantell Cosner, executive director of the Liberty Theatre Foundation and the woman in charge of booking events at the Stage Door Theater.
Press pitched a local production put on by current and former EOU theater players. Cosner liked the idea.
The result was “Organic,” an experimental play that explored the many-faceted idea of “success.”
Press said he and cast members started without a script, developing ideas, scenes, dialogue and monologues as they went along.
“I was looking for a cast that could think on the spot and improvise,” Press said. “The play revolved around success and the different things it means to different people. I had the actors write some monologues based on people they knew or heard about. ”
Press said he was more than happy with the collective effort.
“I think we got the audience thinking about what success is or might be, the different ways to define it,” he said.
Press recently left La Grande for California and soon will be headed back to London for his second year of grad school. He will finish his work at East 15 next year.
“London is an amazing city, because there are all sorts of cultures mixed together. My fellow students come from all over the world,” he said.
Ahead are studies of contemporary British theater, and a month-long sojourn in Bali. Press said he is especially eager to get a close-up look at Balinese theater and dance.
“It’s unique because it’s religion-based. It’s part of their culture, more than just an art form,” he said.