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Cottage Grove native Kelsey Jorissen on the set of “The Dreamers,” a Web series set in Wicker Park in Chicago. A Park High School graduate, she wrote, directed and stars in the series, which was nominated for two Indie Series Awards. (Submitted photo)

Living the dream: Cottage Grove native Jorissen creates nominated Web series

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Every generation of college graduates faces its own challenges. They must transition to the workforce, learn to budget for rent, groceries and utilities and generally figure out where they fit in.

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Without this eternally-recurring story, there would be no “Friends,” “Girls,” or other television shows about the trials and errors of 20-somethings struggling for identity and independence.

Cottage Grove native and Park High School graduate Kelsey Jorissen used her own post-college experience as the inspiration for “The Dreamers,” a 12-episode Web series that she wrote, produced and directed.

The first nine episodes of “The Dreamers” can be viewed at www.vimeo.com/dreamers.

Set in Chicago, the series follows six young people as they navigate the rocky terrain between college and adulthood. They include a writer, a singer, a graphic designer and two actors. Jorissen plays a photographer named Kara.

‘Rough year’ led to writing

The world isn’t exactly beating a path to Kara’s door. In the pilot episode, she shows her photos to a pair of snooty staffers at an art gallery. They couldn’t care less.

Like her character, Jorissen encountered her share of rejection. She remained in Chicago after graduating from DePaul University with a degree in theater. Youthful ambition collided with cold-shoulder reality. And it often hurt.

“I had a really rough year and a half after college,” Jorissen said. “The way that I dealt with that is that I sat down and started writing.”

She found other source material at her job. She worked as a customer service representative at a gym, where she said many of her co-workers were frustrated actors, dancers and writers.

“It is definitely an autobiographical Web series,” Jorissen said. “I hated my part-time job and my best friend had moved away from the city. I felt really lost and alone.”

Her work on “The Dreamers” is paying off, however.

Last week, Jorissen flew to Los Angeles to attend the Indie Series Awards, which recognize the best in independently produced and scripted entertainment created for the Web. “The Dreamers” was nominated in the Best Writing and Best Ensemble Series categories.

She came back empty-handed, but she still got to walk the red carpet at the El Portal Theatre in Hollywood.

“The Dreamers” joins a growing list of Web-only series that have begun to challenge the dominance of cable television. For instance, the Emmy-award winning series “House of Cards” features screen stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

“That’s a fantastic outlet for writers, to not have to report to networks or studios,” Jorissen said.

Park classmate and best friend Kimberly Zamora designed the graphics for the series.

“I’m just really impressed with the quality of the production,” said Zamora, who works as a graphic designer at WCCO-TV in the Twin Cities. “When Kelsey was telling me about it, I was thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a side project, just for fun.’ But the first episode I saw, I was just blown away in how well it was done in terms of production value, writing and directing. I realized it wasn’t this small hobby.”

Jorissen raised $10,000 for “The Dreamers” through the online fundraising platform Seed&Spark.

“I don’t know many 25-year-olds that can raise $10,000 for a Web series and direct all those episodes,” Zamora said.

Other Park graduates involved in “The Dreamers” include Benjamin Brunnette, who had a role in episode seven. Kelsey’s brother, Clinton Jorissen, is a guitarist and pianist who wrote the music for episode four. He also wrote the score for “Sanctuary,” a feature film that his sister wrote and directed in 2011.

Retired Park teacher Steve Estenson coached Jorissen when she was a member of the Park speech team. He also co-directed her in at least two one-act plays that Park performed in the state one-act play competition.

“I’ve been doing this almost 40 years and she stands out as one of the top people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,” Estenson said.  “She was very quick to absorb and adopt theory and then turn it into performance. She was a great role model for her class. She was always one who volunteered to be first and to set the mark high for others.”

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