Jens Rasmussen is an actor, adventurer, and activist living in Brooklyn. Jens famously wore his W&P button-down for 33 days straight while hiking hundreds of miles through the Serengheti for Nat Geo's TV show, Mygrations.
Photography by Mat Rick @matrickphoto
You’re an actor, an adventurer, and an activist. Which of those came to define you first, or were they all developed in parallel?
I started adventuring first.In addition to growing up in the woods of Wisconsin, my parents sent me to Denmark by myself when I was 11. By the time I was 19 I had traveled to every country in continental Europe, doing big chunks solo.Acting was next. I started doing theatre in High School then fell in love with Shakespeare and now I spend most of my time working on new plays.Activism came last. While I’ve always been passionate about issues, it took until my late 20’s to start getting involved politically. My first big involvement was with worker’s rights, then came the Iraq war and more recently environmental issues and social justice.And though they emerged at different times in my life, they are absolutely connected. I tell my students what makes you a better actor, makes you a better person, and vice versa. Taking risks, speaking out, having empathy are just some of what I’ve learned in these different experiences in my life, but they all feed and strengthen each other.
You’re big into coaching, training and mentoring. What makes you so passionate about helping others? Are you a product of a great coach yourself?
Absolutely. I owe so much to my great teachers. My first mentor, Judy Kuble, was my high school choir teacher. A 4’7” cancer survivor with an indomitable spirit, who built me up and never stopped pushing me. Then there was a long series of mentors and teachers here and abroad. All who gave me so much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in recent months.Last autumn I lost one of my most important mentors, Ron Anderson, to pancreatic cancer. Most of what I know about teaching I learned from Ron. It’s an amazing moment when you can help a student make a discovery that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Spending time outdoors isn’t just a hobby for you. Give us a glimpse at what it’s like to really live off of the land.
I’ve been lucky to have been given opportunities to go deep with nature at various times in my life. Growing up, we raised or hunted virtually all the meat for our table, in addition to huge gardens that provided vegetables. We gathered nuts from trees in our woodlots, cut and split wood for our wood stoves. All that provided an excellent foundation and connection with nature.Since then I’ve been lucky to get top-notch guide and survival training up in Maine, as well as walk across the Serengeti with virtually nothing, but the clothes on my back.The lesson, for me, from all of these experiences is: A simple life is a happy life. I’ve never been more content and settled in my mind than when all I had to do was walk, find water, start a fire, and sleep (and not get killed by a croc, hippo, lion, etc.).
You’re rarely in one place for longer than a few months. Any tips for fellow nomads looking to stay healthy, sane, and creative?
To Stay Healthy: Don’t drink beverages with copious amounts of sugar. Soda, sweet tea, frappes, etc. These are all liquid death. Stick to what adventures and artists have always imbibed; Water, tea, coffee (and hot chocolate for an occasional treat - try it with a pad of butter after snowshoeing through the woods; you’ll have earned it.)To Stay Sane: Live your own life and do not ever let what anyone else thinks control your path. This can be very hard but it is essential. See below.To Stay Creative: Leave time to do “nothing.” Sit somewhere and watch the river go by. Take a walk in the rain without an umbrella. Take a nap. You can’t know your path unless you listen carefully to yourself, and that requires “you time.” Take it. It’s also the time when some of your most subtle and creative powers can bubble to the surface. Allow them.Bonus: Move toward that which scares you. You will never learn your true power, or possibly even your true passions without pushing your boundaries. There are many ways to make decisions in this life. When faced with a tough decision, I have never regretted choosing the one that scared me most.
We don’t come across many experts on hitch-hiking across Europe. Given that, any places in particular you serendipitously stumbled upon that the rest of us should visit?
There’s so many! I’ll give you three.I’m a big fan of hunkering down and getting to know a place a bit. One of the best weeks I’ve spent abroad was in a tiny village in the Côtes-d'Armor region of Northern France called Mûr-de-Bretagne. The village had one Church, one bar, and one Hostel. I learned how to make crepes and sabre champagne, ate beef tongue for the first time, and drank copious amounts of cidre. But it was the wonderful French people that made all those memories.Another favorite spot was the Helsinki archipelago. Between the Finnish culture and the landscape – undulating black bedrock rising and falling into pristine water like the backs of whales – it’s still one of my favorite places ever. P.S.: Never pass up a chance to take a traditional sauna.Lastly, I’ll pick Umbria in Italy. You think Roman history is impressive? They ain’t got nothin’ on the Etruscans. It’s kind of mind blowing. Walled cities with tiny winding streets, It’s like stepping back in time 2000 years. I trust I don’t need to mention the food and wine...
As an activist, what causes are near and dear to your heart?
That answer changes depending on what the world looks like. When I was arrested at the UN it was the Iraq War. When I was arrested at the White House it was the Keystone XL Pipeline.More recently I’ve been working with my local community. With Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, I helped save a desperately needed park space in our neighborhood that developers wanted to put luxury apartments on. Then there’s North Brooklyn Boat Club, which I helped found. We teach people how to get out on the NYC waters safely in canoes and kayaks, and then to be stewards of those waters. Thanks to EPA water standards and our vigilance we’re seeing more and more wildlife return (dolphins, seals, whales!). It’s really exciting and gratifying to see concrete ways we’re making our community better.
Where do you go when you need to recharge? Is it a specific place in a specific town, or is it a specific ecosystem?
Being in moving water. Either a river or the ocean do the most for me. I would argue that’s true for most humans. It’s quite literally a primal experience, connecting us back to our earliest sensations, floating in the womb. Of course, now I like a little more excitement – rapids or waves. But even just sitting and watching the water is rejuvenating.
What’s ahead for you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I’m totally excited about the projects I’ve got lined up. Right now I’m in NYC doing a brand new show called American Dreams. It takes place in the very near future when all immigration to the US has been suspended and the only way to gain citizenship is through participating in a nationally televised game show run by the government, in which the audience gets to vote on who gets in. After that I’ll be designing violence for a production of Superior Donuts (now a TV series) which has one of the longest, most brutal fight sequence ever written for the stage. Then I’ll be doing Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play which starts a little further into the future and ends several hundred years from now. It’s one of the most bizarre, challenging and fascinating plays written in the 21st century.
What’s your impression of your Wool&Prince shirts?
I think I may have put the W&P shirt through the most gruelling field test yet.I walked across the Serengeti with a National Geographic program called Mygrations. We went very light and very low tech. Just the clothes on our back and no modern gear such as tents, sleeping bags, matches or flashlights. So, 1 shirt, no changes, walking over 220 miles, over 33 days, no showers, sleeping on the dirt every night, no laundry service.The shirt held up exactly as I had hoped. As other’s shirts shredded from the thorns and coarse grasses, my W&P shirt held up (wool is strong). When cotton shirts took hours to dry after rains, my shirt dried quickly (wool is quick drying). As the other guys were reeking horribly, the odor in my shirt was just starting to kick in (wool is odor resistant). And most importantly to me on this particular trek, it was comfortable over the wide range of temperatures. Then to top it off, I got the reputation as being the best dressed guy on our expedition.I don’t think I’ll ever buy a cotton dress shirt again.I’m also really impressed with the quality of the new knits. I’ve had other brands of merino knits before, which I’ve liked, but they’ve been too fragile to buy a second time. W&P has done a great job of creating a blend with just a tiny bit of synthetic to boost the strength while still having a good looking shirt that keeps all the properties of merino we love. Thanks W&P! I look forward to many journeys together!
Jens is 6 ft, 160 lbs, and wears a size M tee and a size M slim button-down.
You can learn more about Jens at http://www.jensrasmussen.info
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