Wirtz Visiting Artist: Daniel Alexander Jones

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May 16, 2019

Playwright, performer, and director Daniel Alexander Jones, known for his critically acclaimed performance pieces including Black Light, Duat, An Integrator’s Manual, and Radiate, visited classrooms and spoke to students May 15 as the School of Communication’s 2019 Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Visiting Artist.

Jones, who’s also recorded five albums as his alter-ego, Jomama Jones, spoke about a wide range of issues from his use of theatrical jazz aesthetic in his work to the importance of collaborating with other artists. During the talk, moderated by E. Patrick Johnson, the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African-American Studies, Jones contemplated artistic collaboration and likened it to the journey of a bee.

“You have to move, you have to go into circumstances that are different, that are out of your comfort zone in order to pollinate your imagination,” he said.

The winner of a Doris Duke Artist Award, an Alpert Award in the Arts, an Arts Matters Grant, among many others, Jones talked a bit about his work directing Johnson in the 2010 stage production of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, his stage adaption of Johnson’s book by the same name, which presents a series of essays based on Johnson’s interviews with gay men living in the south.  

“I’ve never worked with anyone more humble to the work or more kind than EPJ,” Jones told the students.

Johnson called Jones a talented artist whose energy is like no other.

“You know you’re in the presence of royalty because he has this amazing spiritual energy and he brings that to all his spaces—the theatre, the classroom, everywhere,” Johnson said.

Daniel has also become a key voice for the development of theatrical jazz.

“Jazz aesthetic is distinct from jazz music,” he said. “You don’t have to have jazz playing in your show. It’s the core ideas of jazz music that you incorporate into your work, whether that’s teaching, or writing a play or performing.”

Daniel discussed some of those core ideas as being improvisation, polyrhythm, or having multiple things happen at once, and embracing contradictions.

“The bottom line is this approach feels so much more alive,” he said. “And I decided I only wanted to work where I felt alive, and where I got to use my full intelligence and the full measure of who I am.”

Daniel showed clips of his work and read from his not-yet-completed manuscript, Waves, a book that’s part memoir and part performance theory, which focuses on lessons learned from his mentors Robbie McCauley, Laurie Carlos, Rebecca Rice, Blanche Foreman, and Aishah Rahman. He also spoke generally about being an artist in our current times.

“I think the most dominant tone at this time is grief,” he said. “In this moment, we’re grieving the loss of culture, of our future, of our planet. And that means we need rituals of mourning in order to process our grief. We need to figure out how we exorcise the emotions that we can’t contain.”

Michell Miller, a second year Performance Studies graduate student, said the talk energized her to think about her own creativity in new ways.

“I thought it was beautiful and inspiring and it came at the perfect time,” she said. “I wanted even more.”

By Cara Lockwood