JENNIKA INGRAM | Reporter
Jack Essner, a 17-year-old singer, actor and filmmaker, was voted one of two winners of the 2020 Pacific Palisades Teen Contest—which took place virtually for the first time in the contest’s history this summer.
“It feels amazing,” Essner said to the Palisadian-Post when he received the news that he was selected.
“I was a little nervous because I had seen all the other contestants and I knew that everyone else was very, very talented,” said Essner, who had submitted a film project for the talent portion of his application.
“We had weather problems the first time we did it,” Essner revealed about filming. “The sun did not come out during the sunset. We returned a couple of weeks later and did it over the course of two days.”
After filming was finished, Essner edited the project at home on iMovie. He shared that he started writing the idea when Palisades Charter High School transitioned into online learning.
“In my free time for fun, sometimes I’ll start writing scripts or ideas,” the high school senior said. “I kind of had the idea and just started writing it. I quickly went back to editing and re-arranging stuff.”
He added that it was a way to stay creative outside of school, as a lot of things were changing due to distance learning.
Essner reached out to Sol Tsunoda, who had just graduated from Pali and filmed many projects for the school’s drama department. He agreed to become the cinematographer for the video, with social distancing in mind.
“He was excited to do it and it was really fun,” Essner said. “I didn’t think I was going to win. It was just fun to do, and I’m really happy that it turned out well.”
Essner has never taken any film classes at Pali High but credited two drama teachers for their input: Cheri Smith and Nancy Fracchiolla.
In addition to script writing and editing, Essner also recently co-founded Act One, a theater club created to expose more students to the arts.
“I co-founded it with another Pali student, who actually submitted to the competition as well, Lola Stockard,” Essner said. “We wanted to help introduce people at Pali to the theater department and how it works. We wanted to give our advice to freshmen that were new to Pali and kind of just expose other people to theater that come to Pali, because I know since it’s such a huge school, it’s kind of hard not to get lost in all the different things they have to offer.”
Essner shared that he is looking forward to seeing how this school year plays out and is hoping that students will be back on campus by the second semester so that he can finish his senior year in-person.
“I have worked hard to be on the academic honor roll for the past three years,” Essner said about taking honors classes in biology, Spanish and environmental science, as well as AP Language.
Essner has performed in multiple productions at Pali High, including “Footloose,” “Chicago,” “The Barker” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in which he played Christopher—a role he called a highlight of his performance career.
“When I played a character on the autism spectrum, I was exposed to valuable knowledge, therapists, aids and I learned so much about a community that is constantly ostracized,” Essner said.
He was accepted into Pail High’s advanced drama class and an audition-based performance choir.
“This year I directed a varsity division scene for Pali High at the Drama Teacher’s Association of Southern California that won fifth place out of approximately 60 schools,” Essner shared.
In addition to school performances, he’s taking weekly classes at The Ruskin School of Acting where he’s been able to explore his passion for acting, filmmaking and writing.
“I look forward to taking on challenging roles in college and working as much as I can,” Essner said.
Essner said he hopes to become a successful actor himself once he graduates college. His focus will be on film and television. He has already dipped into the professional world, with a guest role on the television series, “Shameless.”
“That experience was one of the most amazing things I have done in my life,” Essner said. “I really look forward to hopefully booking something or just being on a set soon, as that atmosphere is something I love.”
He said that even though he has done a lot of musical theater, he really loves film and television acting. Primarily, he’s interested in pursuing drama and more serious roles, including dark comedy.
After he graduates Pali High, he plans to pursue a BFA in acting and is looking at schools on the East Coast, including New York.
Growing up, Essner attended Crossroads School for four years, Westwood Charter Elementary for one and then attended Paul Revere Charter Middle School before heading to Pali High.
His love for acting was triggered at 5 years old by a small role in the movie “Bridesmaids” that came about when his Crossroads classmate’s father, former Palisadian Judd Apatow, invited him to play a part. The scene was cut after another actor in the scene left the project.
“It was so awesome to have this experience at such a young age,” Essner shared. It led to Essner being signed by a boutique talent agency, which led to auditions throughout high school and performances at a local theater.
Essner lives in Westwood with his mother, Sarah, and his twin sister, Mollie, who played soccer her whole life and now wants to go into the medical field. He also has an older sister, Maddie, 21, who is away at a small liberal arts school in Florida, Eckerd College, focusing on economics.
His mother took on the task of taking Essner to the many auditions he has gone to around Los Angeles, and he appreciates that she has always been there for him: “I love my mom.”
Growing up he’s been a longtime tennis player and member of The Riviera Country Club since he was 5 years old. He told the Post that he feels the fundamental skills he developed through tennis have helped him in other aspects of his life.
Essner is also an avid volunteer: He’s helped at benefits and done a variety of charity work, including various community service events.
“I have been fortunate enough to travel to Idyllwild, California, for two summers and attend Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times to perform and interact with children and families who have been affected by cancer,” Essner wrote, among other volunteer efforts.
Through his school’s concert choir, he has visited elderly homes, homes for the abused and neglected families, and a veterans’ center.
He has participated in benefits such as the Gift of Light hosted by Fancy Feet Dance Studio and Theatre for Change. His other hobbies include cooking, architecture and criminal psychology.
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