Lobby of the Yellow Tree Theatre
UMD graduate Jessica Lind Peterson chased her dream of acting and writing from Duluth, Minn., to New York City. Jessica and her husband, Jason Peterson, who is also a UMD graduate, were successful in finding work as actors in the city that never sleeps, but they still longed for a more secure, nurturing environment as artists.
“While we were living in New York pursuing acting careers, we would dream about someday having our own artistic home where we could produce, write, and act as well as raise a family,” Peterson said. “While we were both getting work as actors, we were tired of waiting tables and working temp jobs to make ends meet, and we essentially longed to turn our passion for theater into a day job so we could do what we love for a living, without the chaos and uncertainty of a big city acting career.”
Peterson says New York was a lovely place to live for a time, but she missed all the green, the fresh air, and the lakes; it couldn’t be her permanent home.
“New York City is a wonderful, vibrant, and inspiring city, and it was amazing to be a part of it. But I grew up in Duluth, and I am a pretty big outdoors enthusiast, so all the concrete got to me after a while,” she said. “I moved to New York City for my career, but as I soon discovered, I needed beauty and nature in order to thrive as an artist. I used to work at Harry Winston, and I sometimes felt ridiculously out of place walking down Fifth Avenue with my Duluth Pack.”
After having their first child in New York, she and her husband realized how difficult it would be without their families to help support them. They headed back to Minnesota to make their home.
And it was, Osseo, Minn., became the place where they created the artistic home they had dreamt of; Peterson and her husband transformed a strip mall into a warm, inviting space that became the Yellow Tree Theatre.
The theatre strives to bring “stories to life that ignite passion, inspire laughter. and awaken possibility while exploring and celebrating the great complexities of the human spirit.”
As founder of the Yellow Tree, Peterson is always busy and never bored. She oversees all press and development for the theatre, social media, copywriting, and educational programming. She also writes press releases, email newsletters, grants, and meets with donors and board members. When she can find the time, she reads new plays or works on her own writing. When there’s a show going on, she oversees the box office, house managing, and mingles with the patrons.
Owners and UMD Alumni Jessica and Jason Peterson
“I love my job because each day is so different. I get to be around artists all the time and produce theater that I believe in. I get to utilize both of my passions: writing and performing,” Peterson said. “As a playwright, it's a dream to have an artistic home for my work. As an actor, I get to choose my own roles and give my creative input into our season. It's wonderful to have found a way to make a living doing what I love.”
Though Peterson loves what she does, that doesn’t mean there hasn't been the occasional bump in the road. In their first year, Yellow Tree lost the rights to their holiday show because of a mix-up with the production company.
“We had three weeks to come up with a new play and were running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to figure out what to do. I ended up writing a play in about three weeks, Miracle on Christmas Lake, and it was the best thing that could have happened to us. It became a huge hit and really put Yellow Tree on the map,” Peterson said. “Last year I wrote a sequel, and we're going on year five of the series. Whenever a challenge comes up, we now remind ourselves of that first year, and how we overcame that challenge and are thriving now because of it.”
Her time at UMD as an English and Theater/Acting major helped prepare for her career by providing an environment she felt supported in.
“I had an amazing professor in the theater department, Tom Isbell, who encouraged me to apply for a UROP grant to write my first play, String, which was the beginning of my career as a playwright. He had a tremendous influence on me as an actor, playwright and person,” she said. “I had some wonderful experiences being on stage at UMD, and I also learned so much in my English classes and grew as a writer and lover of literature. UMD was a very nurturing environment, and I was lucky to have teachers who cared about me and encouraged me to fulfill my potential.”
Thanks to her hard work then and now, she lives out her dream with her husband, their two sons, and the Yellow Tree Theatre.
“I love that one day is never the same as the next, and I love the community of people who have come around Yellow Tree. We have a fierce group of patrons who are very dedicated and enthusiastic about our work, which is so gratifying. And I still find it surreal when I watch a play on opening night,” Peterson said. “When I see the amazingly talented artists on our stage and see the audience overcome with emotion or laughing hysterically— being a part of making that happen is a dream come true.”
Visit the Yellow Tree Theater website for more information.
Written by Maeggie Licht, December 2012