Many people used COVID quarantines as a long period of self-reflection, including Bradley Robert Jensen.

The friendly 26-year-old is a multi-hyphenate theater artist based in Rock Island, where he works as resident costume designer at Circa ‘21 Dinner Playhouse. His designs there include the new “Grumpy Old Men,” “We Will Rock You,” “White Christmas,” “Clue: The Musical,” and “Disaster.”

Bradley Robert Jensen became Circa ’21’s resident costume designer in June 2022.

Jensen’s first original play, the deeply personal “Anywhere But Here,” will open at the Mockingbird on Main (320 Main St., Davenport) Friday, March 24, and run for two weekends. Jensen also directs the six-person cast.

Growing up in a conservative Christian home in rural Indiana, he graduated with a degree in theater from Taylor University, a Christian liberal-arts school in Indiana (between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis) in 2019. Jensen moved to Santa Maria, Calif., where he worked at a theater costume shop. When COVID shutdowns happened in March 2020, he moved back with his parents for a year.

At Taylor, he said he didn’t “identify with the larger community there but I did identify with the people who I spent a lot of time with — with similar backgrounds as me, similar ideals as me,” Jensen (who is gay) said recently. “I found my people.”

“Anywhere But Here” opens in a workshop production at the Mockingbird in downtown Davenport on March 24, 2023.

By summer 2021, he moved to Chicago, and had free time before getting back to theater. “After this time of stress that that had been the last year, I started just sort of journaling to process it all,” Jensen said. “That journaling turned into dialogue and that dialogue turned into a structured format and then that became the first draft of this play.”

He freelanced as a costume designer in Chicago, before moving to Circa ’21 in June 2022, to become the resident costume designer, a full-time job.

Wrestling with family challenges

The new Mockingbird play addresses differences and disagreements that Jensen had with his parents about coming out as queer.

“I had lived with them when I was in college, but I hadn’t spent much time with them because I was in college,” he recalled. “So suddenly it was the most time I had spent with them since high school really. I was an adult and a changed person, so I started just writing about those conversations.”

Adam Cerny plays Billy in “Anywhere But Here.”

As Jensen’s relationship with his parents grew and progressed, the play progressed as well.

“It became less about the strife and more about growing together,” he said. “I was never removed from my family; my family never hated me. Though we disagreed on this thing that feels very central to my identity and who I am and who I will be. I wanted to show that there’s space between differences and opinions and that sort of thing and that love can be found in that in-between place.”

Jensen calls the play a “dramedy” (mix of comedy and drama), and while autobiographical, it is a work of fiction.

“There’s moments of levity and humor, because family is stuck in the house together, but there’s also the drama that comes with that and the disagreement that comes with that, all of it comes together for the sake of love and each other,” he said.

Emmalee Hilburn, left, Ashley Hoskins, Adam Cerny, and Gillian Kean in the new Mockingbird play.

Jensen wants people to know that Christian and conservative don’t always go together.

‘I still identify as a Christian. I still practice the Christian faith,” he said. “I attend church regularly and it’s just a different breed of Christianity,” he said, noting he attends the non-denominational, LGBTQ-welcoming House Church in Rock Island (1400 25th Ave.).

“Sometimes, people do end up leaving that faith because they can’t see a place for themselves there,” Jensen said. “But often times with me and with several of my friends, we find a stronger relationship with that faith of our childhood.”

Gillian Kean and Adam Cerny in the new play.

He called his church “very openly queer-affirming and anti-racist, which is very important to me, as a progressive 21st-century person.”

Hating or discriminating against certain people is antithetical to Christianity, which should be all about showing love and forgiveness and welcoming all people, Jensen said.

Choosing love

Though his parents still don’t condone his gay lifestyle, Jensen said they clearly express love for him. “I’m still very close with them. We maintain a close relationship,” he said.  “We still disagree on lots of things, but we found ways to love each other through that. That is shown also in the show. I think both parents have really lovely moments of choosing their son over their differences.”

The six-person cast, based on Jensen’s experiences, includes protagonist Billy (played by Adam Cerny), and his parents (played by Ashley Hoskins and Jim Harris).

Ashley Hoskins and Jim Harris in “Anywhere But Here.”

“Adam is terrific – he is the best I could ask for,” Jensen said of the QC theater veteran, who also shone in the Mockingbird’s “Their Town” (by Alex Richardson) last fall. “He is doing such really lovely work.”

The cast features Mockingbird favorites Cerny (“Your Better Self”), Emmalee Hillburn (“Their Town”), Louie Fisher (“Their Town”) and newcomers to the Mockingbird stage: Hoskins, Harris and Gillian Kean.

Jensen considers this a workshop production, and the script will be revised based on the performances. He appreciates that the Mockingbird is a new theater welcoming contemporary and new works.

“I love doing theater and I always say that I’m a multi-hyphenate artist — I love costuming, I love acting, I love directing, and I love writing,” Jensen said. “That’s why I love The Mockingbird so much, is that it’s so small and scrappy. And it focuses on the sort of theater that I’m really passionate about – new work and fresh life being breathed into older works.”

Jensen, right, with Jeremy Littlejohn and Taylor Lynn in the Mockingbird’s radio-play adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” in December 2022.

His recent performance credits include A Christmas Carol (Mockingbird); Eddie/Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show (The Speakeasy); Bert Healy/Drake in Annie; Mozart in Amadeus (Taylor University); Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Venticelli in Amadeus (Alley Theatre), and Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace (Commons Theatre).

“I am really glad that I get to participate in the other areas of theater, besides being paid to do for my livelihood,” he said.

The new play’s title (“Anywhere But Here”) is taken from a lovely monologue that Amanda says towards the end, Jensen said, preferring not to reveal any spoilers.

“Anywhere But Here” will hit The Mockingbird stage on March 24, 25, 31 and April 1 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and no reservations are required.

The Mockingbird operates with a “Pay What You Can” model in an effort to make theater accessible to all. Guests can give what they can via cash or Venmo at the door. For more information, visit the Mockingbird website HERE.