Actor feels free to take risks at Mixed Blood
Director-actor-playwright Thomas W. Jones II, hailing from Atlanta as founding artistic director of Jomandi Productions, owns an enviable Twin Cities presence, consistently working at Mixed Blood Theatre, currently directing and performing in Passing Strange.
His track record is remarkable. Starting with directing. Jones walked off with a Helen Hayes Award for Samm Art Williams’ Home and his original script Bessie’s Blues. No mere hat-trick. Nothing else to sneeze at, he directed and
collaborated with Jevetta Steele on the book for Mixed Blood’s national hit musical Two Queens, One Castle. Also at said shop, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity and Point of Revue.
Acting highlights include a Guthrie Theater run opposite Regina Marie Williams in Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman, directed by Marion McClinton, and Topdog/Underdog at Mixed Blood. Among author credits, along with Bessie’s Blues, he contributed to Point of Revue, a Mixed Blood hit in which he was in rarefied company. The collection of 10-minute plays boasted a roster for which artistic director Jack Reuler enlisted, among other pens, Don Cheadle, Carlyle Brown and
Lynn Nottage. Suffice to say Jones was in good company.
Reuler says of Jones’ chops, “Tom is an actor’s director. As an actor himself, he knows how to excite a cast and inspire casts to become tightly-knit ensembles. He knows how to get to the themes and character depth while providing… creativity and inventiveness, in pursuit of smart choices.”
Why does this artist keep coming back to Mixed Blood? Jones, speaking by telephone during a dinner break from rehearsal, pragmatically answers, “To work. [It] gives me a place to work.” Then, he adds, “Aside that Jack and I are good friends, what’s done here, I don’t have to worry about taking risks. Philosophically or aesthetically, one way or another, he’s not going to stand there and look over my shoulder.” Continuing, Jones — never one to mince words — breaks it down in cold terms. “As an African American artist, you are always called upon to explain, apologize for or justify yourself [and] your way of looking at the world. You always have to deal with that. When you find a place where you don’t have to do that, naturally you come back.”
What drew Jones to Passing Strange? “It drew attention to, in the past century expatriates. You look at Josephine Baker in the early part of the 20th Century. ‘I don’t have to be the mammy, coon, etcetera.’ She became [a superstar when she left America]. James Baldwin. Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Jimi Hendrix were all able to have a context outside of America. This play [addresses] who I am as an artist, as a human being. Before I discover that place called home. Looking at what that identity concept is outside the American border. [In this play we have a character] who comes back and tries to replicate what he finds out about himself outside of America. That’s what the expatriate journey is about.” He sums up saying, “Everything is about self-revelation, self-identity. And what that means.”
Closing out, Jones relates it personally. “I also need to know what this experience is so I can survive it myself, on a daily basis. It’s a full time job.” So, he sums up, “When Jack Reuler came up with the idea to do [this play], I was all over it.”
Passing Strange by Stew Stew and Heidi Rodewald, and directed by Thomas W. Jones II, opens at Mixed Blood Theatre April 25 (preview April 24) and runs through May 11. All Performances are in the Mixed Blood Theatre’s Alan Page Auditorium, 1501 S. 4th St., Minneapolis.
Tickets: $0 — First come, first served; $20 — guaranteed admission. Contact the box office at 612-338-6131 or go www.mixedblood.com for more information
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