Theatre Professor Jorgensen Ties Teaching and Acting Together

The early ’90s produced a string of successful actors from Boston College. Chris O’Donnell graduated in 1992, Amy Poehler got her diploma in ’93, followed by Matt Del Negro in ’94. Kicking it all off, however, is the person with the biggest presence on campus today: associate professor of theatre Luke Jorgensen, BC ’91. 

“Everybody knows Amy Poehler,” Jorgensen said. “And we were friends, Amy and I were friends as undergraduates. And Chris O’Donnell, I was his RA. … So there has been this great community of people to come through here.”

In addition to graduating first, Jorgensen has also been performing in plays the longest. Acting runs in Jorgensen’s family—his parents met as graduate students studying theatre at Catholic University. Jorgensen was later born in Detroit, Mich., but moved to Brockton, Mass., at the age of 3 when his father received a job offer to teach theatre at Stonehill College.

“First play I was in, I was an infant, because [my dad] was a theatre professor so he had me carried on, as like a prop,” Jorgensen said. 

Shortly after they moved, Jorgensen’s dad died. His mom, formerly an actress, was then hired by Brockton Public Schools to teach middle school. Jorgensen was active in theatre as an adolescent, participating in a summer children’s theatre program, and went on to perform in plays at Brockton High School. 

“Brockton High School at that time had like 5,000 kids, so it was a really intimidating high school,” he said. “[Theatre] was a place to hide a little bit, but also be in plays and make that community in that.”

After high school, Jorgensen went on to attend BC, which was only half an hour from home. Even though theatre had always been part of Jorgensen’s life, when it came to his career, Jorgensen’s mind was set firmly on journalism, not acting. After dealing with the death of his father at a young age and growing up in a difficult financial situation as a result, Jorgensen didn’t see acting as a viable career option.

With dreams of being a foreign correspondent, Jorgensen chose to major in communication—and at the time, BC’s communication department also included its theatre program. Despite doubts about pursuing acting professionally, Jorgensen took advantage of the opportunity to take theatre courses throughout his time as an undergraduate. He starred in numerous plays, including The King and I, as well as Pippin, The Glass Menagerie, and Of Mice and Men

“Even when I was here and I was in so many plays, I was always thinking, ‘It’s not going to be what I do,’” Jorgensen said.

After his junior year, Jorgensen interned with Channel 5, which turned into a job offer out of college. So he spent the summer after graduation working at Channel 5 while acting in plays around Boston on the side. One of the network’s producers, Scott Phil Levy, saw one of his performances and pulled him aside for a talk.

“[Levy] said, ‘You’re really good at theatre,’ and I said, ‘Oh, thanks, thanks, but, you know, I’m gonna be a journalist.’”

Jorgensen’s mind was made up, until Levy pressed on with one simple question.

“So [Levy] said, ‘Let me ask you this. Name six senators,’ and I could name two. And [Levy] said, ‘Here’s the thing. You don’t like the news, you like the show of the news. You just love putting on that show.’”

Jorgensen took Levy’s words to heart and decided to continue his education—this time, exclusively studying theatre—by applying to Northwestern University for his master’s degree. He’d simultaneously been cast in a movie, School Ties, starring Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and O’Donnell, among others. Jorgensen played the supporting role of Rick, a member of the football team on which Fraser was the quarterback.

“It was an unbelievable couple of months,” he said. “It was filmed in various locations, but the part that I was in was filmed in Middlesex, here in Massachusetts. And, you know, you show up, and there are trailers, and food waiting for you behind every corner.”

Perhaps the biggest names on the ticket—Damon and Affleck—were actually familiar faces to Jorgensen. When Jorgensen was a student Brockton High, he participated in the Massachusetts Drama Festival, a prominent high school theatre competition. During his senior year, Brockton High made it to the state finals, but was defeated by Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

“Two juniors had written their own play—these two guys, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck,” he said. “I met them there, and then School Ties was only like four years later. So when I saw them on set, they were like, ‘Brockton High School!’”

When he was cast in School Ties, Jorgensen deferred his acceptance to Northwestern for a year. He only shot the movie, however, for two months—so, Jorgensen went back home to Brockton and worked for the non-profit program Project Climb until the fall. Project Climb works with high school-aged adolescents who have committed violent crimes and aren’t in the regular school system.

“I went from BC to like, ‘Look at me I’m a star,’ to working with these kids who had murdered people,” Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen’s experience with these teenagers was unsettling, but also deeply gratifying. Even though he had loved his star-studded experience on the set of School Ties, he had a profound sense that something was missing—and he found that something at Project Climb.

“I had a kid one time in all honesty ask me if I would pay $25 for a nickel-plated .22 revolver. … But there was something about helping these kids that I thought was really important,” he said. 

So, when Jorgensen headed to Evanston, Ill., to start at Northwestern, he prioritized working with kids during his time there. He enrolled in a class called Creative Dramatics, which taught theatre education outside of the realm of acting—such as theatre in counseling or even in math class to make the material more exciting.

He also took a course involving a children’s theatre tour. As part of the class, he played St. George the Knight in the play The Reluctant Dragon. The graduate students performed the show in underprivileged areas where many of the kids hadn’t had the opportunity to see a play before—their awestruck reactions touched Jorgensen deeply. 

After completing his graduate program at Northwestern, Jorgensen had to determine his next step—he loved both teaching and acting professionally. He ultimately decided to apply to Tufts University’s Ph.D. program knowing that he had a better chance at happiness teaching theatre than entering the rat race of landing roles.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh man,’ you know, I don’t know if I want to teach or if I want to keep acting,” he said. “But for me, I’ve always been very impatient in the sense of, I couldn’t stand the idea that I had to wait for someone to pick me to make art.”

Jorgensen was accepted into the program, much to his surprise. Shortly after he began, his old BC theatre professor J.P. Marcoux reached out. Marcoux’s health was failing and he needed Jorgensen to cover a class for him: Acting I. So, at the age of 24, Jorgensen returned to his alma mater as a faculty member while completing his Ph.D. The University soon hired him as a full-time lecturer—Jorgensen has been teaching at BC for almost 25 years.

Liv Sheridan, MCAS ’22, has known Jorgensen since meeting him in Robsham’s green room freshman year. Jorgensen encouraged her to audition for plays early on and is now her Acting I professor. Sheridan praised his ability to combine open and honest communication with humor to make everyone feel comfortable and engaged.

“He’s just fun and makes jokes that you wouldn’t expect a professor to make that like, obviously, are just hilarious coming from a goofball like him,” she said. “When you go to his class, it feels like you’re just hanging out and having fun, and it doesn’t feel like you’re getting a grade, which is nice.”

Up until this year, he was also the artistic director of Tufts University’s Children’s Theatre for 25 years. Last month, Jorgensen received the Orlin Corey Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education for the contributions he has made to theatre for adolescents. 

In 2014, Jorgensen helped establish the educational theatre minor within BC’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development for students interested in teaching drama in school settings. The minor is particularly valuable to Jorgensen, given his love for both teaching and acting.

“What I do has always bordered on education and theatre,” he said. “So the theatre minor within the School of Education lets them get provisional certification, and get all this experience, so that’s been pretty cool.”

Jorgensen is currently the assistant chair of the theatre department, and is set to become the department chair this May. But his professional success at the University would mean nothing without his personal ties to it as well. Jorgensen’s wife, Reiko, is also BC ’91, though the two didn’t meet until shortly before Jorgensen attended Northwestern. Additionally, two of their sons are now Eagles—Kai and Eamon, MCAS ’21 and ’23, respectively. Kai Jorgensen is the president of BC’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and Eamon Jorgensen is in the BC marching band and plays the electric bass.

It may have taken some soul-searching to get there, but Jorgensen has spent the past 25 years doing what he loves, at a place that has as much of a personal significance as it does a professional one. 

“The thing that I love about my job is, there are a lot of my friends who are professional actors, who, they’ll go a year without doing it, whereas here, I’m introducing [theater] to generations of people and doing it all the time,” he said. “I have the best job in the world.”

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

September 8, 2019