Jayceen Craven-Walker just won't grow up. The Coalville resident says she can't stop playing and freely admits to being an ardent practitioner of the "Peter Pan" principle. Though chronologically she's approaching middle age, this self-described "bundle of energy" could well be the poster child for the forever-young set.
Playing came easily and early to the Carbon County native. It's apparently genetic. An accomplished actress and dancer, she began performing at age three in dance recitals. Singing was also a natural for the precious little performer.
"My mother played the organ at church and I sang in the choir from a very early age," she says.
Born and raised in Price, Craven-Walker remembers watching her father perform as master of ceremonies for the Miss Carbon County Pageant. Ironically, she would win the title herself many years later. She honed her persuasive sales skills hawking carpet remnants at the family furniture business, Oliveto's, on Main Street in Price.
Craven-Walker ventured into stage acting while attended Carbon High School.
"That's where I really got the bug," she explained. "My first role was in "Man of La Mancha" and I had about 10 words. I came out for my curtain call, got the applause and said to myself, 'Okay, this is really cool.' That's what got me hooked on doing live theater. It's become my passion because it takes so much time and commitment, dedication and training to do live theater, specially musical theater. After all the preparation, it's the instant gratification that's so rewarding, when you're finally onstage doing a monologue or singing a song and there's dead silence in the audience and you'know you've really got them. That's the big payoff," she admits.
After graduating from high school, Craven-Walker enrolled at the College of Eastern Utah where she took an associate's degree in theater.
"I did tons of theater, but I also got a secretarial degree to satisfy my mother that I'd have something to fall back on," she laughs.
She ventured away from home in 1983 to attend Southern Utah University in Cedar City, where she received her bachelor's degree in theater with a minor in dance. Armed with her diploma and a plethora of talent, she embarked upon the obligatory actor's pilgrimage to California. The lure of the footlights took her to Bakersfield, Calif., and a stint in dinner theater.
When the lights faded on the California dream, she returned to Utah, settling in Salt Lake City. In 1986 she landed a job at the old Hansen Planetarium as an actor in the original "ZAP" program, a high-energy science show for kids. Craven-Walker, with her abundant mane of flaming red hair, regularly delighted young audiences as the subject of the electrified hair demonstration.
Craven-Walker found fertile ground for her blossoming acting career at local venues like the Salt Lake Acting Company, Plan B Theater, the Grand Theater, and in Park City at the historic Egyptian Theatre. She has appeared in several productions at the Egyptian, including the popular musical comedy "Nunsense," a show she says allow her to get in touch with her Catholic roots.
She saved the day for the Egyptian two years ago during the holiday-season production of "White Christmas" when she stepped into a major role after a principal actor was called away on a family emergency.
"I had about 24 hours to memorize and rehearse the part before going on stage. That was scary and I loved it," recalls Craven-Walker.
She has also been seen in many films and commercials. She paid her respects to the Bard by performing at the prestigious Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.
She met her first husband, Kirk, while working at the Shakespeare Festival. They were together for 14 years before his death in 2000.
Like most talented Utah actors who want a life beyond theater, she never quit her day job. She was promoted to the position of education specialist at the planetarium, a job that took her around the state teaching astronomy and physics to Utah school children. She also found she had a talent for lobbying as she sought additional funding from the state legislature for the planetarium's successful outreach program.
In 1999 Craven-Walker was courted by the fledgling Living Planet Aquarium and recruited to develop its educational and legislative lobbying programs. After the aquarium was up and running, she returned to the planetarium and a new position in the marketing department. She was there when the planetarium changed names and found a new home in the Gateway Center as the Clark Planetarium.
She met Brad Walker online in 2001. It was a match made on stage and perhaps in heaven.
"He had worked as a stage manager before and sort of understood my acting affliction. He surprised me by proposing on stage at the Salt Lake Acting Company," she gushes.
Tired of life in the valley, the newlyweds bought a home and settled in Coalville.
"I love it here because it feels like I'm back in a small town like where I grew up," says Craven-Walker. She has two stepdaughters, who she prefers to call "bonus" daughters, Sierra, 15, and Savannah, 12.
Her career shifted gears in 2004 when she left the planetarium to accept a position as a lobbyist and consultant with Pathways Associates a Salt Lake-based company that focuses on "guiding nonprofits along the path to sustainable futures." She also started her own consulting business, which bears her name. "I do legislative lobbying and training for nonprofit organizations as well as grant writing, fundraising and development," she explains.
As a seasoned professional in the heady world of nonprofit fundraising and legislative lobbying, she lends her expertise to several worthy organizations. She serves on the boards of the Utah Museums Association and the Utah Cultural Alliance. Fortunately for Park City, she was recently recruited as a board member for the Egyptian Theatre Company.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to serve on the board and hope I can use my skills and contacts to help the theatre," she says. "I'm really looking forward to being a first-nighter and attending all the shows.
Craven-Walker has managed to strike a balance in her professional endeavors. She has delighted Utah theater audiences by night for more than 20 years and plans for do so for many years to come.
That takes talent, commitment and boundless energy - qualities she has in abundance.