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Act I: The life of John Tessmer

John Tessmer was born in Evanston, Ill., and moved to San Diego with his family in 1974. He attended La Jolla Country Day School, graduating in 1985. Tessmer earned his bachelor’s from Yale and his master’s in acting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1995.

In addition to being an actor for more than 20 years, Tessmer has also worked at Warwick’s, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, Episcopal Community Services and presently as a grant writer at Jewish Family Service of San Diego.

With experience acting in more than 100 plays, musicals and staged readings, Tessmer has taught acting for The Old Globe and the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he also spent six seasons with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

He is currently in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” playing a half-dozen roles in the ensemble-based adaptation of Dickens’ classic story.
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What brought you to La Jolla?

Well, I grew up in University City, attended St. James By-the-Sea, and went to La Jolla Country Day from second through 12th grade. My grandparents lived in La Jolla and I’ve always loved it. I stopped leading the life of a vagabond actor in 2001 and moved back to San Diego. When I had a chance to move to La Jolla in 2004, I of course had to do it.

What makes La Jolla special to you?

The coastline is simply breathtaking. There are so many wonderful spots. I always take my out-of-town guests up to Mt. Soledad to experience the views looking north, south and east. I enjoy the village feel of La Jolla. I love being able to hear the church bells toll when I’m on the tennis court. I love all the restaurants and galleries, the Athenaeum and the places of learning.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?

La Jolla’s pretty much a paradise relative to the majority of human “civilization,” but it could sure use a 100 to 250-seat professional theater. In fact, while there’s a lot of great theater in the county, there’s a dearth of good (and affordable) spaces, especially for intimate or medium-size theatre. Of course it would be nice to cut down on the traffic coming into La Jolla in the morning and out of it in the afternoon. But would we really want to add access, widen roads (further), build a tunnel or bridge? Growth is not always good and sometimes the best way to avoid bad growth is not to facilitate it.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by beauty, truth and integrity. By burgeoning, deep or oft-tested love. All of these things can take so many forms. Divinely-channeled art, music, poetry, dance, literature. A perfectly-crafted song, movement, play or film. An Olympic performance. A game-winning play or shot. A selfless act of love, perhaps of sacrifice, always of generosity. A child’s innocent question. Injustice being overcome. Rightly, we often look to the artistic world for models of transcendent actions, but they are also all around us in our daily lives.
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If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Mahatma Gandhi; Paul Robeson; Thich Nhat Hanh; the musician, singer-songwriter and human rights activist Peter Gabriel; primatologist, environmentalist and humanitarian Jane Goodall; William Shakespeare (we might finally have confirmed if Shakespeare really was the writer of those more than three dozen plays!); one of the loves of/in my life, so I could share the experience with her; and I’d just have to invite actor-comic Eddie Izzard to stir the pot a bit with some distinctive historical perspectives and insightful humor.

What are you currently reading?

I always have a few going at once. Among them now: “Knock at Midnight,” a book of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches; “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama” by Pico Iyer; I am re-reading President-elect Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” and I just finished Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild.”

What is your most prized possession?

I cherish so many beautiful CDs, books, photo albums and scrapbooks of trips, national parks, shows and the amazing people in my life. I do love the 1954 Jackie Robinson baseball card I bought as a kid.

What do you do for fun?

I go swimming in the ocean and play tennis weekly. Padres games can be fun - especially in one of their better years. I love to go to live concerts - at the Belly Up in Solana Beach particularly - and catching up with a friend over a meal at a good Thai or Indian restaurant.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Well, I’d like to think I’ve yet to achieve that, which means that my greatest accomplishment so far is putting myself in the position to one day achieve something hopefully not likely to be forgotten. I’m proud of my academic and acting accomplishments to date, including having performed in more than half of the Shakespearean canon, but there’ll be more to come. I am pleased with the person I’m becoming, and honored and privileged to have and to have had love in my life, wonderfully unique and supportive friends, and an amazing nuclear and extended family.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Be the best person you can be. Keep asking questions, learning and striving to evolve. Try to act out of love, in peace and with consciousness. And always cultivate the simple but too-often-forgotten skill of utilizing your imagination and human compassion to put yourself in another person’s or animal’s place and truly seek to understand him or her - his or her thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, state of mind, heart and being. Namaste.