Jessa Brie Berkner
My career as a professional actress led me into less traditional forms of training, including an internship with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and to Italy at the International School of Comic Acting/Teatro del Viccolo. Then I returned to acting in the Bay Area, but I hadn't finished my undergraduate degree. I wanted to teach theater in public schools. Finding myself the single mother of a one-year-old, it became urgent for me to complete my degree in order to find work.
I came upon CIIS when investigating colleges online. Breathless about what I read, I felt as if I'd just imagined this school into being. The seven Institute ideals, standing for the principles of spirituality and social consciousness, were important values that I'd found missing from any other educational experience. I began the Bachelor Arts Completion program, loving the experiential learning in which the city of San Francisco became my classroom.
After completing my BA, I went to another university to obtain my teaching credential. I began my high school teaching career as the Theatre Arts Department director/founder/teacher at Oakland Technical High School, creating from the ground up a performing arts program. I'm proud to say that it now ranks as one of the top fifty in the country. From there I founded the Oakland Theatre Arts Initiative to train teachers to develop and teach performing arts at their school sites.
With the love of learning established through my undergraduate work, I chose CIIS again for my MFA in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts. Through the program's process of deep inquiry I found that the end goal for me was something far different from merely getting a degree. The Institute excels in pointing people in the direction of their own heart and calling. It empowered me to step into my own vision as a director, but not necessarily within the confines of existing theatrical structures. My vision expanded into creating a professional theater company that reestablishes the performer and design team as integral to the development of any theatrical process. Idora Park Theatre Company was born, producing as its first work my full-length play, The Last Night of the Barbary Coast.
I'm continuing to develop my theater company. I'm out of the cocoon, but my wings are still wet, ready for what's next.