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Jessica Cadden Osborne and Jake Wentlent of Wildflower Productions -- Why NEPA? image
September 26, 2023
Jessica Cadden Osborne and Jake Wentlent of Wildflower Productions -- Why NEPA?
Jonathan Davies

“Coming home felt like a huge relief… like we could breathe. It felt like salve.” -- Jessica Cadden Osborne

Jessica Cadden Osborne and Jake Wentlent found each other on a small stage in Endicott, NY. It was 2018. They were cast as tumultuous leads, Brick and Maggie, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It all came to pass a little by chance, a little by fate and maybe a little by design. They’re a pair of devoted artists at heart — suffering equally and proudly the trials and triumphs of such Dionysian pursuits.

Jess, a native of Scranton’s West Side, went from tiny pointe shoes at the Ballet Theatre of Scranton to Bishop O’Hara to Philly’s University of the Arts to one of the world’s biggest stages – Radio City Music Hall. That’s right, a Rockette. For some, that might seem the pinnacle achievement in a lifetime of grueling practice. The ever-impertinent and plucky NEPA native, however, viewed it as limiting. It was art expressed bodily. Not a bad thing, but she wanted to sing. She wanted to write and act and direct. She wanted, more than anything, to use her voice.

Jake grew up about 75 miles north of Scranton in Greene, New York. The small industrial town, not unlike many places he’d come to know in NEPA, inspired in him a dusty blue denim and dirty work boot aesthetic, which somehow paired with his inclination toward the arts. He can fix your car, wire your house, whip you in wrestling, build a stage. And, later — from that same stage, deliver a Shakespearean sonnet by memory. Like that West Side girl he’d eventually fall for, Jake was driven, in all things, by a need to speak artistically — to tell stories.

Together, the pair (eventually with their little boy in tow) bounded from Upstate NY to the city to Maine to the city again and then back home to NEPA, Dunmore to be precise. We caught up with them at Northern Lights Espresso Bar & Café. They waxed enthusiastically about the buzzing arts scene in Scranton, their company, Wildflower Productions and Gruesome Playground Injuries — their upcoming play at Scranton Fringe Fest.

And, somewhere along the way we asked, Why NEPA?


How long have you lived in NEPA?

Jess: Ok. So, I was in New York City for 15 years. And then I came back to Scranton, by way of Maine. But really, I was in Scranton until I was 18. I left to go to college in Philly. And then the 15 years in New York before going to Maine for a minute (pausing for mental math) and then I came back home. And I’m 39. So, I guess whatever. I can’t really do that math right now (laughs).

Jake: And I guess that means that I’ve lived here for about a year and a half. That would be the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere except for when I was in school. Otherwise, I’ve been constantly moving.

What do you love about your town?

Jess: I love that you feel like you’ve got space. Definitely more space than in the city. And there’s a lot of variation, you know? You can go up to Clarks Summit, which is where we take our kiddo for play group, and suddenly it’s rural. But really, you’re just ten minutes away from State Street Grill. So, it’s like you can turn the corner and be amidst community while also having the air and space to breathe. And that’s unique to this area because I haven’t felt that anywhere else. You can have space while still feeling connected.

Jake: Obviously, across the board, I love this area because of the way it supports my family, which is a complex answer for a lot of reasons. But I like that I can take a step back and see that my family is taken care of here. That was something that I couldn’t really say when we were in New York. There are a lot of things outside of your control in the city. On another level, I’m specifically attracted to areas that have this feeling like something’s about to happen – like something is going to boil over. It was like that sometimes in Binghamton for a while with these unique little weird venues and interesting people behind the scenes. I get that sort of feeling here. I want to be one of those people starting a maker’s space or a community theatre or even a small film studio. That’s the kind of thing that excites me.

What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?

Jess: Oh God. Ok… Should we just say what our favorite is right now? The place we order from once a week, every week (laughs)? Our family loves Grande Pizza in Dunmore. We love their wing bites and their hamburgers—

Jake: Chicken fingers.

Jess: (laughing) Our son, who’s just a tiny thing, can eat a whole adult serving of their chicken fingers. That’s just what we do at least once a week. But if I was going to namedrop, even though we’re a little more conscious about our diets now and I’m not going to run out for a huge open-faced roast beef at the Glider Diner anymore, but I used to work there. I love the ambiance. I wrote a feature film and I put The Glider in it. It’s just so essential to Scranton, to me. And we love Eden, of course.

Jake: I’m just going to say it’s a toss-up between Eden and Grande Pizza. Because we always go back.

Jess: That’s fair. I agree. And if we want a cookie, we head over to my parent’s shop, Osborne Specialties (laughs).

What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?

Jess: Easy. Stand-up paddleboarding on the lake at Lackawanna State Park. It’s hands-down one of my favorite places. I already have it in my calendar for next Thursday. We have a little time for a quick paddle at the park.

Jake: We also do a lot of walking with our son – just in the neighborhood in Dunmore. Personally, I really enjoy looking at the old buildings and houses.

Jess: He’s way too modest to tell you, but he’s really good at renovating old houses. So, he’s always on walks looking at the old houses, especially the beat-up ones, and he’s like well, you could do this and take this off and do this…

Jake: I get a little obsessed with architecture (laughs).

What’s next for you?

Jess: Most immediately is our play at Scranton Fringe. We are performing Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph on October 5, 6 & 7. We’re super stoked about it. We were trying to do this one in New York before we left, but we couldn’t get the rights because it was being played somewhere else in the city. But when we saw what Connor O’Brien was doing with Fringe and how popular it had become, we submitted and thankfully, we got in. We’re just so excited to be back at it, you know? And it’s been good and challenging. And we’ve been rehearsing in our kitchen, which is large, but not that large (laughs). Jake and I also make films together. We have a production company called Wildflower. And we just completed editing on a short film called Coming Home, which is now ready for submissions into festivals – one of which is the NEPA Film Festival. Oh, and one more, I’ve also written a full-length, four act feature film about a troubled American soldier and a fiery Irish woman who end up becoming deeply connected through their trauma and their desire for each other and ultimately through the reincarnation of their inner children of the past. It’s quite complex. I’ve been working on this one for years. We’d love to film it here and bring jobs in for so many people we know here who are plugging away in the arts.

Jake: (laughs) So, obviously I’ll be along for the ride with all of that. And I’m always looking at houses to renovate locally. And, hopefully, like Jess said, we’re currently rehearsing in our kitchen, but we have this long-term goal of having a performance studio. We’ve always seen it in a barn, but who knows where it gets incarnated first? You know, it would be a place where you could workshop things, put together performances, film things. It would be a very multi-use creative space that has the height, width and facilities to support that kind of work. All down the road, of course.

Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?

Jess: We look at people like John Basalyga, who is giving back to the community in such a big way and we want that to be us sometime soon. I hope, with our feature film and other projects, that we will be doing well enough to really give back in a way that helps to keep moving the area forward. I can see Scranton changing and being spruced up in a way that encourages people to come back downtown instead of going to Wal-Mart. I remember going to The Globe when I was a kid. My mom would always bring me on Saturdays to shop and they had a restaurant in there. I’d always get a burger. We’d come downtown, you know? You’d put a whole little outfit on to just kind of walk around. You’d get all dressed up for it. Scranton is a super walkable town like that. And it should be walked more. It is possible. We can fill all the storefronts. We can get people back downtown. My parents also inspire me in that regard, because they’re still doing it. They’re still running a small mom-n-pop shop successfully, and I think we’d all like to see more of that. I like to approach it positively and let people know that it is possible. It would maybe be even more possible if we got a New York to Scranton train up and running. People would be planning whole weekends in Scranton and NEPA.

Jake: Totally! Well said! I agree with all of that. It takes the people on the ground. It’s a kind of grass roots effort. I mean look at you guys doing the work that you do – giving sort of a mouthpiece to small businesses and people in the area. That’s exactly the kind of thing you need here. It also requires people who are willing to take chances. There will always be big investor types with the resources and money to make change, but it takes the people on the ground, the ones with skin in the game to take chances as well. It takes courage to step out there and really add something of value to your community. And it’s tricky, because change is intertwined with much larger issues beyond our control, but people can get back to creating and making things and providing experiences.

Jess: Yes! More experiences.


Jake: I’ll reiterate that you can comfortably have your family here. It isn’t a thing I can say for many of the places we’ve lived. And that’s mainly because of the cost of living, but also because of everything that NEPA offers – the fresh air, the outdoor activities, the events that are starting to happen all around us and the cool restaurants. Those are all big ones for us.

Jess: I’d say it’s two things for me. There is the support of the community. And an integration with the community that, I think, is difficult to feel in other atmospheres that we’ve tried. Either it’s too far away distance-wise, or it’s too overpopulated and expensive like New York. When we moved back to New York after living in Maine, I was all excited to see my friends again and get back to all of our “normal stuff,” and then I didn’t see anybody for like a year. Things just felt different, and we didn’t feel supported. We were there in the middle of it all and we just didn’t feel connected to anything. Not like we do now. Second, is the ability to really give back to the community. I’m teaching Yoga at the Scranton Y and there’s this reciprocity going on. It feels so good to connect in that way with people. There’s this cyclical kind of thing that’s supposed to happen where I give something to you and you give something back. It’s the epitome of the human condition, right? That’s gotten lost in places like New York. Everything felt like it shifted away from that. Nobody even looks at each other anymore. Also, it feels fertile here – like there’s this movement bubbling up beneath the surface. It feels like we can really do something here. And we want to be a part of that future in NEPA.