By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Jessi Durham has fallen from heights, down stairs and engaged in armed and unarmed combat, and later this summer she’ll be set on fire – if she’s lucky.
No, the 2007 Pulaski County High School graduate isn’t a klutz with a lot of bad luck, she’s an actress and model who’s trying to improve her resume by attending advanced stunt school in Seattle, Wash. in late July and August.
But she needs to raise the $7,000 it’s going to cost her first.
“I’ll do whatever I can to perform,” said the Fairlawn native, who is the daughter of Melissa and David Durham and sister of Ryan Durham, a recreational therapy sophomore at Radford University. “I’m a sucker for performance.”
Durham got her start in acting on the stage in plays while attending Riverlawn Elementary, Dublin Middle and Pulaski County High schools. She then moved on to Virginia Tech, earning a bachelor of arts in theatre arts and cinema and a bachelor of science in psychology in 2011.
“I went (to Tech) thinking I was going to mostly do theatre,” but upon taking a Performance Lab and Stage Combat class taught by Cara Rawlings she discovered she has a propensity for stunt acting, too.
“She mentioned I picked up on it quickly and executed well,” Durham said of Rawlings. Nonetheless, she only gave stunts a passing thought until she attended a three-day Winter Wonderland Boushey Way Stunt Intensive “premiere stunt workshop” in Illinois this past January.
At the end of the workshop, three students are awarded scholarships. Durham took home the top scholarship – $2,000 – awarded to the “most promising” student. The scholarship will pay for an Aerial Intensive she’ll attend while attending advanced stunt school in Seattle.
At the Boushey workshop, Durham was introduced to some of the basics of performing stunts, including foot falls, stair falls, rolls, beginning high falls, armed combat using knives and clubs, unarmed combat involving punches and kicks and mini-tramp. She explained that mini-tramp uses a small trampoline to catapult the stunt person through the air. It is used in situations such as showing a character involved in an explosion.
According to Durham, January was “just a taste of what we’ll do in stunt school” at the United Stuntsmens Association’s International Stunt School. During that three-week session, she’ll be trained in precision driving, fire burns, wire work, weaponry, martial arts, harness work, rappelling and more advanced training in combat, falls and mini-tramp.
Before returning home, she’ll take part in a weeklong Aerial Intensive that focuses on advance wire flying, ratchet, rappelling, air ram and high fall techniques.
So what does Durham hope to gain from the month of training she’ll undergo in Seattle?
“Hopefully I’ll get jobs right away,” she said, adding that she also hopes to get an invitation into the Stuntsmens Association – the union for stunt performers.
But that’s not to say Durham hasn’t already had acting and modeling jobs. She just completed filming of an episode of Investigation Discovery’s “Deadly Affairs” show, which re-enacts murder cases that involved affairs. In the show, entitled “Exoms,” she played the high school friend of the main character. She doesn’t know the airing date of the episode yet, but expects it will be fairly soon.
She has been auditioning for various parts in Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., including an audition for another murder re-enactment show called “Southern Fried Homicide.” She auditioned for the main character in that show and should hear whether she got the part any day now.
This weekend, she’ll be modeling in a hair expo.
Once she returns to Fairlawn from Seattle, Durham said she will begin “saving up some money” and settling everything here so she can move to Austin, Texas or Los Angeles to start working in film or theatre. She said she joked with her brother that he can take care of her if her acting career doesn’t go as planned.
In an effort to raise the money she needs to pay her tuition, airfare and living expenses while in Seattle, Durham is seeking corporate sponsorships, individual donations and she has scheduled a fundraiser at “Crumb & Get It” on East Main Street in Radford April 25. She will receive 10 percent of all sales at the business between the hours of 6-9 that evening.
Her former employer, Alessandro Pugliese, gave her a donation personally, as well as one on behalf of his business, Sal’s Jr. in Radford. Durham joked that maybe the reason she has always enjoyed waitressing is because “everyday is like a performance at work.”
Henry’s Mixed Martial Arts in Fairlawn, where she received martial arts training, has also contributed to the cause.
Anyone who is interested in making a donation or helping Durham with a fundraiser can make contact with her through her website www.jessid129.wix.com\jessidurham until May 3. The site also offers additional information on Durham.