Passing her in a Sebastopol coffeehouse, you might think Alyssa Jirrels was just a high school student, stopping for a little caffeine and a head start on homework.
You’d be wrong. The 15-year-old Sebastopol native, daughter of Pam Koppel and Skip Jirrels, just returned from Vancouver, where she was working on the second season of the science fiction television series “Mech-X4” that premiered on the Disney Channel last November.
Alyssa’s interest in acting began at age 5, when she saw her actor mother performing. “I loved being up on stage before and after her plays, and I wanted to be on stage during plays.”
So she auditioned for an ensemble role in a production of “Rumplestiltskin.”
During the next eight years, she appeared in shows with Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep in Petaluma, 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park and what’s now Main Stage West in Sebastopol.
“Broadway was my goal,” Alyssa said, “but then I saw (the film) ‘Girl, Interrupted’ and I became hooked on drama.”
Three years ago, she was talking with her friend Guy Wilson. He’d moved from Sonoma County to Los Angeles and his theatrical career was doing well. “I asked him how he got so successful,” Alyssa said, “and he said he had an amazing manager and agent. He put us in contact with his manager.” The manager was interested, Alyssa said, but it was a problem that she didn’t live in Los Angeles.
So she and her mother moved there and she began auditioning for television pilots.
The decision to leave Sebastopol was hard. “It was just my mom and me. I wouldn’t see my dad a lot. We didn’t really know anyone in L.A. and we didn’t know what we were doing. I wasn’t sure I was completely invested. It was so new, so daunting. But once I got there and started auditioning, that switched. It was monumental to be there, surrounded by people with the same goal. That’s what I’ve felt ever since.”
In those early days, though, “I didn’t have a perspective on the audition process. I thought I’d go down there, book a role, then book another role — easy.”
She didn’t book anything, though she was second choice for one role. “I loved almost getting there. And, not getting there was another push.”
It was tough, she said, “to accept the reality of how the industry works, dealing with rejection, falling on your face, building that resilience, learning to accept if you’re not right for the role.”
More auditions and close calls followed. “Then, last spring, I booked my first two roles. And it’s been crazy ever since.”
Her first role was in “Girl Meets World” on the Disney Channel.
The second was as a guest star on “Mech-X4.” She learned that in the Sebastopol coffeehouse. “I was sitting there,” she pointed across the room, “and my parents came upstairs and said, ‘We’re going to Vancouver.’ I got my passport, we flew up and were there for eight days. An incredible learning experience.”
She was invited back for more episodes in season two. “The role could not be more perfect. My character’s name is Veracity. It means truth and authenticity.
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