Here’s this week’s installment of the director-to-director interview series. And in the coming weeks, the British are coming, the British are coming! I’ve rallied some fine UK directors to share their stories. Stay tuned.
Meet Jason King Jones
Hometown: Nixa, Missouri
Current Town: Boston, Massachusetts
Theatre/Co: Boston University (currently completing my MFA) Prior to BU: Freelance Director and Artistic Associate at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
1. What attracted you to directing?
As I teenager I was drawn to theatre as a means of self-expression, and my participation was appropriately limited to performing in various plays and musicals with my school. As my appreciation for the art and craft of theatre matured, so did my understanding of how theatre can change all who touch it and are touched by it. I then saw theatre as a vehicle for individual and communal transformation, and I knew that if I wanted that to really happen, I needed to start directing.
2. Did you receive academic and/or practical training in directing?
My undergraduate degree was a BFA in theatre performance from Missouri State (then called “Southwest Missouri State U”). Upon completing this degree, I was invited to intern with the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, where I have cultivated a 12-year professional relationship. Since 2009, I have been attending Boston University to complete an MFA in Directing and a Certificate in Arts Administration by spring of 2012.
And how has (not) having this formal education/training shaped your directing career?
This most recent formal training has been radicalizing and incredibly rewarding. Having entered the program with a depth of directorial experience, I have been able to experiment with forms, stories, and ideas that I doubt I would have been able to do and get paid for it. By returning to an academic setting after a decade of freelance work, I have found an environment where I can experiment, fail, and experiment again in order to deepen the stories I tell.
3. Which director (or other theatre artist) (dead or alive) has had the greatest impact on you as a director?
Peter Brook. No question.
4. In your personal library, what is the most indispensable text on the craft of directing? Or, alternately, have books/practical guides proven unhelpful?
THE EMPTY SPACE and A SENSE OF DIRECTION.
Early on these books really mattered: TOWARDS A POOR THEATRE. A SENSE OF DIRECTION. THE OTHER WAY. THE END OF ACTING. FUNDAMENTALS OF PLAY DIRECTING. THE VIEWPOINTS BOOK.
Now, I return to Brook and Ball, but the other books collect dust.
5. Defend/Describe the importance of ‘the director’ in contemporary theatre. (Has the director’s place/status changed in the time you have been directing?)
In my view, the contemporary theatre needs a director more than ever. The director must be viscerally, creatively, and cognitively connected to the core text in such a way as to guide the preliminary work towards a fruitful and invigorating collaboration. Whether the core text is pre-existing or developed from within the ensemble, it is up to the director to listen, respond, challenge, shape and explore with the ensemble towards a more complex and invigorating expression of that text. The director doesn’t have to command from the top of the creative pyramid, but one must remember that it was historically the actors themselves who created our role; it is up to us to give them the necessary feedback, leadership and guidance to help them do their best possible work.
6. How would you characterize/describe your own directing style?
I surround myself with really great artists.
I ask questions.
I advocate for the primacy of action.
I respect the power of language.
I recognize that humans are a cluster of contradictions.
7. To block or not to block, that is the question. Do you block before rehearsals begin, in the midst of rehearsals, or not at all, and why?
Blocking is an antiquated notion and a word that creates constriction within the actor. I seek to create freedom for the actors in a form that is specific and based on the lens through which we have decided to view that play. Yes, I have specific ideas for the physical phrasing of the production, and yes, I often ask actors to do specific things; but as I consider myself in a room among equals I say yes to the best idea in the room, no matter where it originated. The goal for me as a director is ultimately to decide upon a physical phrasing for every moment of the production so that the actors can feel free enough to play within that form.
8. What quirks, habits, rituals, etc. (if any) inform your directing process?
Quirks or habits? Hmm… I read a lot. I make sketches–not of the “staging” but of how I see the world or the action–abstract or literal. I listen to a lot of music that may or may not be related to the production at hand.
9. What style/type of work do you find most compelling to direct? If you have an area of specialization, what are the unique challenges/needs of directing this kind of work?
I am drawn to stories that tap deeply into our common mythology (an exploration that I think is essential for our nation at this point in history). For this reason I focused for many years on classical works beginning with the Greeks. Currently, I am expanding this exploration to include those new plays which do this as well.
These pieces are often linguistically, mentally, physically and creatively challenging. The work demands a fundamental appreciation for the physical storytelling and creative composition as well as a deepening awareness of the human journey. The work embraces the notion that nothing is more compelling than the actors in space; I begin here.
10. How does (your) gender impact your work as a director?
A friend of mine once used the phrase “Theatre for Dudes” to relate to work that is muscular and primal, yet inherently theatrical. What this label lacks, for me, is an openness and emotional availability that a testosterone-driven theatrical feast would lack.
Ultimately, I am much more driven by my role as a husband and a father than I am in my gender role.
11. What is your fondest directing experience/memory?
This last year I worked with a recent Boston University Alum (Evan Sanderson) on the development of a new play entitled FALLUJAH. Through various performances and multiple rehearsals and drafts, we developed a piece that won him the National Student Playwriting Award and garnered us an invitation to perform the piece at the Kennedy Center. The entire collaborative journey with the playwright, designers and actors was the epitome of a generous ensemble, and the work we created was inspiring for me as I continue on my creative path.
12. What is the most challenging work you have directed to date? Why?
The most challenging production I have directed was my third treatment of MIDSUMMER. I took the job not because I was compelled to tell the story but because I wanted the work.
It was a mistake, and I paid for it.
13. What advice would you give to a young or aspiring director?
Seek out great mentors, but don’t try to be any other director. Your best direction comes from the marriage of your own mind, heart, and viscera. The technique to unlock that can be found in multiple styles and approaches.
14. What is your current directing project?
I’m currently directing OF MICE AND MEN for the National Players US tour. Check out www.nationalplayers.org for more info.
Following that, I’ll return to Boston University to direct my thesis production for December: a 90-minute original adaptation of PEER GYNT.
Nicole is Artistic Director of Thinking Cap Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, FL. She blogs at http://dramadaily.wordpress.com
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