Staff Biographies

Jesse Merz

Artistic Director

    Jesse Merz is currently a Theatre Instructor at Butte College in Chico, California. He previously served as the Dean of Students and Leadership Teacher at Jefferson Middle College for Advanced Studies in Portland, Oregon. He has been the Artistic Director of the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre and the Columbia Gorge Repertory Theatre (NYC & OR) since 1996, which is now in residence at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. From 2013 - 2014, he was the Career Preparation II Instructor at Springdale Job Corps Center in Troutdale, Oregon. From 2012 - 2013, he was the Temporary Artistic Director and Theatre Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. From 2008 - 2012, he was the Head of the BFA in Acting program and Assistant Professor of Theatre at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where he was Interim Assistant Chair in 2011. He also taught in the MFA in Acting program and directed for the Bonstelle Theatre Company and the Hilberry Repertory Theatre. He served as a Teaching Assistant (sole instructor) and Assistant Artistic Director of the THIRDeYE Theatre Festival at University of California, Davis between 2006 and 2008. He was the Drama Director and Theatre Teacher at David Douglas High School In Portland, Oregon from 2003 - 2006. From 2000 - 2003, he was the Producing Artistic Director of Longview Stageworks, a small Equity theatre in Longview, Washington.

    He has performed off-Broadway, in regional theatre, summer stock, feature films, on the radio and in 120 cities in 34 states on national tours. He has directed more than 70 plays, musicals, and motion picture projects in NYC, regional and educational theatres, and has produced more than 200 shows.  He has been a member of Actors' Equity since 1997 (where he was elected to the Central Regional Board and appointed to several national committees from 2009 - 2012), SAG-AFTRA since 1993, The Dramatists Guild of America, VASTA and is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. 

    He has taught acting at UC Davis, David Douglas, Mt. Hood Community College, Western Oregon University, CGST, and Wayne State University. During the summer of 2012, he taught acting and directed a show at the Broadway Theatre Project in Tampa, Florida. He has taught workshops or presented papers at the American College Theatre Festival, Association of Theatre in Higher Education, Mid-American Theatre Conference, the Oregon, Michigan and Washington's Thespian Conferences, SacActors, International School of St. Martin, and the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan. He is currently at work on a book entitled The Meisner Interviews. He has worked with or studied with such Pulitzer, Oscar, Tony, Bessie, Emmy & Golden Globe winners or nominees as Lauri Peters, David Mamet, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Daisy Eagan, Constantine Maroulis, Joanne Woodward, Alec Baldwin, Tony Kushner, Guillermo Gómez Peña, River Phoenix, Gus Van Sant, Joe Mantegna, Sally Mayes, and others. 

    Jesse's BFA in Acting is from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, his MAT with a drama endorsement is from George Fox University and his MFA in Dramatic Arts - Acting is from the University of California, Davis. Jesse is happily married to Laurel and is the proud papa of daughters Alana, Josephine and Charlotte. Visit for his full resume and biography.


Jan James

Executive Director

    Jan owns and runs the business with Jesse Merz, her son, who is the Artistic Director. She 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. 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.

    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! 

    When Jan woke up in the recovery room with a strong, healthy heart, she was already making plans for CGST. She was fortunate enough to get out of the hospital in time to see CGST's 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 day 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 this great experience for kids. 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.


Eve Johnstone

Managing Director

    Eve Johnstone currently resides in Portland as a theatre artist and teacher. She graduated with honors from NYU Tisch with a BFA in Drama from the Experimental Theatre Wing where she studied physical acting training, how to create and produce original work, and ensemble devising. Eve has experienced all sides of the theatrical world as an actor, director, playwright, producer, stage manager, and teacher. Her journey with CGST started in 2010 when she joined as a two-weeker, and has been hooked ever since.

    Eve attended CGST as a student for three years; taught as a Counselor and Body and Voice Instructor for two years; and then taught volunteer workshops each year she couldn’t attend CGST full time. Now, she’s ecstatic to be the new Managing Director of CGST. In Portland: Eve is the co-founder of Rutabaga Story Co, a theatre company whose mission is to produce new work that is fun, accessible, and undeniably theatrical. Rutabaga’s shows often feature puppetry, clowning, or mask-work. Eve also works at Northwest Children’s Theatre as an Outreach Teaching Artist, and will be creating a touring show for the company based off her play, An Interlude in Birdsong.

    She is a member of Third Rail Repertory’s Mentorship Program and has workshopped new work with Coho Productions. In New York: Eve studied under many wonderful professors at NYU Tisch in addition to performing, writing, directing, and producing work through the Experimental Theatre Wing. Eve has taught with The In-Between People for NYU’s Future Theatre Artists program, and Assistant Directed under Syrian theatre artist Naila Al-Atrash for the Tisch Mainstage production of The Conference of the Birds. Abroad: Eve taught at the St. Pancreas Community Center through Pascal Theatre Company in London while studying abroad, and produced her peer’s original piece Shenandoah: A One-Woman Show for its international debut at the Prague Fringe Festival in the Czech Republic.


Heather King

Camp Director

    Heather King is an actor, singer, director, stage combatant, and all around performing enthusiast! In 2010, HK was part of the first full class to graduate with a BFA in Theatre Arts at Central Washington University.

    She is also an ally of the Deaf community and is finding ways to merge her two greatest passions. In her free time, she will take to the mountains, rivers, or anything water related armed with a book, sunscreen, and hopefully a kayak.

    Heather is thrilled to return to CGST as this year's Camp Director! Bring on the Peace and Love!


Charlie Graham

Wellness Coordinator

    Charlie Graham now studies Psychology and Comparative Religion at CSU Chico, after receiving her associates degree in Psychology from Butte Community College.

    She is devoted to fostering whole body wellness in all peoples through means of counseling, nutrition, and alternative medicine. She believes that loving-kindness is at the core of every living thing, if only we listen closely. Charlie is delighted to join CGST again in 2018 in this new role as Wellness Coordinator.

    She aims to help students manifest their own potential as compassionate and whole beings, get the most out their CGST experience, and get the most out of life!



Digital Director

    After 12 years of CGST, Hogan is based out of New York City, working at the William Morris Endeavor global talent agency. He recently graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a B.A. in Communication Studies with minors in Journalism and Political Science. Originally from Portland, Oregon, he attended middle and high school at the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy, specializing in Theatre and Moving Image Arts.

    Hogan currently serves as the CGST Digital Director, overseeing and designing all web content and social media activity for the organization. He previously worked as Head Camp Counselor and then Camp Director. Additionally, Hogan is the incumbent Chairman of the CGST Alumni Association, a third-party support network he helped co-found in 2015.

    While a student, Hogan most recently interned in the Talent Department at Saturday Night Live on NBC for the entirety of the Emmy-Award-winning Season 42. Previously, he has worked as a Talent & Script Intern on Season 1 of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS, a Production Intern on Emmy-Award-winning Season 5 of The Chew on ABC, the head of video production for the 1st-4th annual Global Fine Art Awards, and as a Press & Policy Intern at the office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley in Washington, D.C.. 

    In the past, he has been seen professionally in theatre and film at Oregon Children's Theater, Staged! PDX, Northwest Children's Theater and the International Youth Silent Film Festival. Portland area credits include "Warner Huntington III" (Legally Blonde), "Duck" (Duck for President), "Brett" (13), "Man In Chair" (The Drowsy Chaperone), "Pip" (Great Expectations), "Bobby Strong" (Urinetown), "Jesus" (Godspell), "Chip" (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), "Laurie Laurence" (Little Women), and "Jay Gatsby" (The Great Gatsby). Directing credits include God of Carnage and Signs & Symbols, the latter of which he adapted to the stage from the same work by Vladimir Nabokov.

    Hogan places high importance on arts in the world and in education. He appreciates the history he's had at CGST and looks forward to continuing to grow the next generation of artists at the greatest camp in the world.


Kayla Rodriguez

Dance Director

    Kayla Rodriguez graduated cum laude from Roger Williams University with a B.A. in Dance Performance and Psychology in 2012. She was coach, captain, and choreographer of the Hawkettes Dance Team as a junior and a senior at Roger Williams University. As a dance major Kayla explored many different aspects of dance but found a niche in choreography. She choreographed a solo for both her Junior and Senior year and a group piece during her senior year.

    Presently Kayla is a professional dancer for Sonia Plumb Dance Company based in Hartford, CT. She is an Artist Instructor at Ana Grace Academy of the Arts where she teaches Pre-Ballet, Ballet, Creative Movement, Hip-Hop, World Dance and prepares and directs a show three times a year.

     Kayla is also a dance teacher at Dance 10 Performing Arts Center where she teachers pre-ballet, ballet, modern, pointe, youth hip-hop, and technique classes. Along with her teaching positions, Kayla is also a choreographer for events, performances, and competitions (Dance 10 Performing Arts Center). She also continues to choreograph on her own and has shown her choreography at festivals including Third Life Series (Cambridge, MA) & Identically Different Festival (Brooklyn, NY).

    Kayla has really enjoyed combining her interest in Psychology with dance. She created and teaches a Creative Movement Class once a month for children with Down syndrome through the Connecticut Down Syndrome Congress which has now been running for over two years. Kayla teaches a dance class for teenagers with special needs for the Town of Wethersfield Recreational Program once a week.

     She is certified in Joanne Lara’s, internationally recognized, Autism Movement Program, endorsed by Temple Grandin. Kayla, in collaboration with Sonia Plumb, was a recipient of the SPARK Grant to help fund movement classes for children with Autism that runs once a week. “Dance Classes for Children with Autism” is now running in 6 week sessions with classes being held once a week.


Duncan krummel

Music Director

    Duncan Krummel is a composer, singer, and pianist from Hood River, OR. He is a recent BM Composition graduate of Ithaca College (IC), where he studied composition with Dana Wilson, Jorge Villavicencio Grossman, and Evis Sammoutis; film scoring with Peter Rothbart; voice with Carl Johengen; and piano with Diane Birr. Currently, Duncan is pursuing his continued studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, UK.

    His compositions have enjoyed performances in numerous states throughout the US and parts of England; in the Valencia International Performance Academy & Festival; the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; IC Television; and by numerous world-renown performers, including flautist Erik Drescher and Grammy-nominated violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved. In addition to his concert works, Duncan has written extensively for various media, having scored more than a dozen films, documentaries, and TV shows (including ICTV’s award-winning Campus Retreat); several plays and musicals; and a host of other smaller projects. Duncan is a three-time 1st-place winner of the Richard K. Joseph Composition prize (IC, ’15-17), 1st-place winner of the Jack Downey Composers award (IC, ’17), and winner of Ithaca College’s ACDA Student Choral Composition Competition (’17).

    As a performing musician, Duncan has toured Ireland and England as part of the HRVHS Chamber Singers, performed on-stage at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in NYC with the IC Choir, and has performed a wide range of repertoire on piano and saxophone. Though now disbanded, Duncan was a cofounder and leading member of the Irish folk band, Just Folkin’ Around. For more information, and links to projects and music, visit


John William beck

Body and Voice Instructor

    John William Beck is a bi-coastal resident of both New York and Oregon who has been a part of the CGST family since 2012! He has recently helped found a New York theatre company, PrismHouse Theatre Company, and is currently receiving his BFA in Acting from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

     Recent acting credits include the inaugural production of PrismHouse Theatre Company Mr. Burns ("Homer"), Vinegar Tom ("Jack," AAS), and Tartuffe ("Orgon," AAS). During his time in New York, John has been given the opportunity to study alongside Tony Award winners like Tonya Pinkins, as well as esteemed former casting directors such as Phil Carlson.

     John looks forward to another great year of peace and love at CGST and can't wait to continue share what he's learned with those who taught him everything he knew!


Zach Hacker

Camp Counselor

    Zachary Hacker is currently living in Chicago, IL studying at The Second City Conservatory. He studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. There he was the president of the Improv Club and an active member of his theater Department where he wrote and directed several shows. He was the director of the San Francisco Dungeon a tourist attraction on Fisherman’s Wharf. He has performed all over San Francisco doing Improv and Comedy. And hopes to continue that in Chicago. 

    Zach has a great passion for theater and Improv. Some of his favorite shows have been: Rocky Horror Show, Measure for Measure, Hair and Bus Stop. Zach went to CGST every year as a kid and has a large spot in his heart for this place. He is very thankful for what CGST has given him and can’t wait to give back


Kate Jones-Waddell

Camp Counselor

    Kate is a Senior at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she studies Theatre and Education. Once she graduates, she plans to enroll in the University's renowned Master of Arts in Teaching graduate school program. After that, she plans to teach theatre at the high school level. 

    At Trinity, Kate is quite active in the theatre department. She has experience performing, directing, writing, designing, marketing, and stage managing. She particularly loves costume design and construction. Her favorite productions to work on were Anne of Green Gables, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Between Worlds (A Devised Piece), and The Three Penny Opera. She is also the president of TUPS, the student run theatre company on campus where she helps produce student directed and designed shows.

    This will be her first year at CGST, and she is excited to be involved with the camp and to meet all of the students and faculty. 


Nicole Smith

Board Member

    Nicole is a California-native currently living in Portland, Oregon. She joined the CGST family in 2011 as a Lady Counselor and has since called this place her "heart-home." Growing up, Nicole found herself in the theatre, both on and off stage, at every turn. CGST has been her dream come true as it offers her the opportunity to share her passion for the performing and fine arts with young people from across the world!  

    Nicole is a graduate of Boston University’s Department of History of Art and Architecture (2010) and the Palmdale High School Visual and Performing Arts Academy, Class of 2007 (Vice President). She has had the opportunity to work professionally in theatrical design, management and production throughout the country and world including work in Boston, MA, Los Angeles, CA London, UK and even Sarasota, FL. Some credits include stage managing the New England premier of Julien Shwab’s rogerandtom with Simple Machine Theater (Boston, MA), Cedar Street Theater’s A Little Night Music (Lancaster, CA), and directing an original one-act, Clybourne Apartments, with the Columbia Gorge School of Theater in (Portland, OR). 

    By day, Nicole is a middle school Inclusion Specialist working in Portland Public Schools and by night she is an avid rock climber, fine arts fanatic and professional puppy cuddlier. She is honored to be a part of the CGST Team and continuously looks forward to the amazing, life-changing and powerful art students create every year!


Rachel harry

Board Member

    Rachel believes teaching should be student-driven and wants students to explore and to reach and to fail, because all of those things — especially failure - will lead to new avenues of learning.

    She began her career as an English and Theatre teacher at a small high school in Hood River, Oregon. Building on a single introductory-level drama class, she now leads a four-year program in which students can receive both high school and college credit.

    For her visionary leadership, Rachel Harry was honored with the 2017 Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre Education. Rachel is currently faculty at Hood River Valley High School and Columbia Gorge Community College. She also directs several productions a year, and performs as both an actress and a dancer. Sixteen years ago Rachel founded the Commedia dell’Arte troupe, “Phoenix Theatre” which performs in a wide variety of venues—from farmer’s markets to “The Bite of the Gorge” to the Oregon School Board Association annual convention.