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.

Bronwyn Allen

Camp Director

    Bronwyn Allen is excited to finally return to the Columbia Gorge School of Theatre by stepping into the role of Camp Director. Having studied technical theatre and performance at Butte College, and having worked as an independent technical theatre professional on many shows in and outside of  California; Bronwyn is looking forward to overseeing, advising, and contributing to this CGST season.

Bronwn has recently been a featured actor in a Chico State University produced film and has had the amazing opportunity to be a carpenter and scenic artist for San Jose Stage Company in their 2018 - 2019 season. Some of her personal favorite performance credits include Penelope Pennywise in Urinetown with The Butte College Drama Department, and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth with C.O.R.E. Drama.

She has excelled in Stage Management and has been trained in principles of acting, theatre design. rehearsal & performance, carpentry, and electrical technician work. Bronwyn has experience teaching movement and tumbling classes, being a three time international champion in competitive acrobatics, tumbling, and stunting. She is currently located in Chico California with plans to move to San Diego California this August to further pursue her career in technical theatre.

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 instrumentalist from Hood River, OR. He also holds an MA in composition from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, UK under the tutelage of Rory Boyle and Gordon McPherson, and a BM in composition from Ithaca College, where he studied composition with Dana Wilson, Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, and Evis Sammoutis; film scoring with Peter Rothbart; voice with Carl Johengen; and piano with Diane Birr.

His compositions have enjoyed premiers in numerous states throughout the US; in the Valencia International Performance Academy & Festival; the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Ithaca College 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.

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.


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!


Ryan Shallenberger

Camp Counselor

    Ryan Shallenberger is a native to northern California, where he attends Butte College full time in pursuit of a future MFA. He is a playwright, an actor, and a pianist, and has tried his hand at piano accompaniment, stage managing, and even professional acting on a train. Ryan is very active in local theatre, having been a part of no less than nine productions in the past year alone, whether (mostly) on, or off the stage, one of which he wrote himself. He has big plans for more to come in the near future.

This will be Ryan’s first year at CGST and he is very excited to get to work with everyone, staff and students alike, and to spend the summer doing what he loves and sharing his passions with others.


Kenna Harris

Camp Counselor

    Kenna Harris is currently pursuing an AAT in Theater Arts at Butte College in Oroville, California. After achieving this goal she plans to continue forward in her education to attain a BFA. At Butte College she has been both Secretary and Vice President of the Drama Club. With these positions her singular goal was to make the drama club achieve as much as possible per semester. Kenna has been in a myriad of shows in the community, her favorite out them being School of Rock.

Kenna is enamored by the massive difference theater can make on the world and her biggest dream in life is igniting this passion in children.

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.