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Remembering Utah actor Jenessa Bowen, who lit up the stage with her talent

Published April 19, 2017 9:07 am

Obituary • Actors and theatergoers invited to celebrate the talents — and joy — of Jenessa Bowen.
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Jenessa L'e Bowen first took the stage at age 4 in the cast of Hale Centre Theatre's "A Christmas Carol."

The 26-year-old Utah actor, who died unexpectedly at her home from unknown causes on March 11, will be remembered Sunday, April 23, at a memorial at the West Valley theater, featuring a song from her castmates in Hale's fall run of "Sister Act," in which Bowen played an absent-minded nun.

Acting was her therapy, Bowen told young interviewer PJ Caywood in an "A Cup of OJ with PJ" interview segment before the 2014 production of Salt Lake Acting Company's "A Year With Frog and Toad." "I could never give it up. I love acting."

Turning to face the camera, Bowen offered advice to younger actors: "Keep doing it. Don't let anybody stop you from doing it."

Bowen never stopped, through her years studying acting at Weber State University and through performances at Hale, SLAC, Ogden's Ziegfeld Theater and CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, where her mother, Jennie Richardson, manages the costumes department.

"She was a force, someone who always gave her all, which I admired so much," says Latoya Cameron, who played Tybalt to Bowen's Mercutio in SLAC's 2015 production of "R + J: Star Cross'd Death Match" in the Metro bar. "I loved her off the stage, too. She always just knew how to make you feel seen when you felt super alone."

Even when the pair were called back to compete for the same part, Bowen was notable for her supportiveness. "Either of us can do this job," she said, wishing Cameron luck in her auditions.

"She was somebody who I could watch in rehearsal 24 hours a day," says Cynthia Fleming, SLAC's executive artistic director.

Friends and former teachers remember Bowen for her incandescent sense of humor and originality, on display as she rode her trademark scooter around the Weber State University campus. "She brought joy into the process everywhere she went," says Jim Christian, who taught and directed Bowen in WSU's musical theater program. "She was kind of like a surprise package that every time you opened it, you didn't know what you were going to find."

As a performer, Bowen may have been intuitively talented like her mother, but she was always working to improve her vocal and acting skills. Offstage, she was "nothing but a bundle" of love, says Hale Centre Theatre vice president Sally Dietlein, who has been close to the family and watched Jenessa grew up.

Cameron Garner met Bowen when they were kids in "Carol," and they grew up performing in several shows as siblings before they landed in theater classes together at Weber. Garner, who teaches drama at Taylorsville High School, recalls Bowen's aplomb in a WSU performance of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." She got so caught up in a scene she picked up the wrong cookie and then bit into a shellacked prop. "This tastes weird," she ad-libbed, and went on to eat the rest of the cookie, while her castmates struggled not to break the scene with laughter.

She was a fearless actor and could sing like a dream, but her comedy skills set her apart. She was willing to try anything onstage. "She was very, very, very funny," Garner says, recalling the moment in "Sister Act" where her spacey character inexplicably breaks out speaking Spanish.

"I think a lot of us get into the business of storytelling because in some ways it allows us to escape ourselves, but that was never an issue for Jenessa," Garner says. "She was never afraid to confront her immense capabilities and her immense weaknesses. She used both of those things to reach audiences."

Beyond her talents, her friends underscore her generosity. "Another thing that set her apart as an actress was her complete willingness to make a family out of anybody she met," Garner says.

ellenf@sltrib.com —

In memory of Jenessa L'e Bowen

A celebration of the actor's life will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 23, at Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City.

Memorial costs • A fundraising account has been established at gofundme.com/s9k6k4






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