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This article by Lucy Ann Dunlap was prepared for the April 13,
2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
At Crossroads: Diversity in ‘All My Sons’
Ten years ago, as company manager of Madison Square Garden
Productions, Marshall Jones III watched the open casting call for "The
Wizard of Oz," he heard the audition of a young Asian girl vying for
the role of Dorothy. "Her voice and acting were absolutely brilliant,
but I knew she wasn’t going to get the role. I said to myself, ‘That’s
quite unfortunate.’ Fast forward 10 years: I’m creating a company
where a person’s ethnicity is an asset, not a liability."
Sometimes dreams percolate for a while before they are realized. In
fact, maybe that’s a "given" for dreams. If ideas burst into actuality
too quickly, they don’t have time to be a dream. The origins of Jones’
dream – the new Emerge Theater Company – began percolating when he was
an undergraduate at Rutger’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, where he
graduated in 1985. The new company – now a reality – premieres on the
Crossroads Theater stage with a production of Arthur Miller’s classic
play, "All My Sons," opening Thursday, April 14. Jones says the
company’s mission is to "give an opportunity for multi-cultural and
multi-ethnic artists to have their creative visions emerge."
Joseph Patenaude, head of the theater department at Drew University,
was a graduate student at Mason Gross when Jones was finishing his
undergraduate degree and remembers several projects that Jones
conceived and directed, including a huge piece with a large
multi-racial cast about life, death, birth, and renewal. "Jones was a
hard worker, and he rallied everyone to help with his projects," says
Patenaude. During his time at Mason Gross, Jones decided that
producing would be his main focus in the theater world.
Since graduating from Mason Gross, he has built a solid reputation in
the theater business community, as well as earning a masters degree in
theater management from New York University in 1988. At every turn, he
made important connections that have played a part in bringing Emerge
to realization. While still in graduate school, he became the program
administrator for the Harlem School of the Arts. After completing his
degree, his affiliations read like stepping stones: Managing director
of the creative arts team at New York University, director of events
and marketing at Newark Symphony Hall, general manager of the Apollo
Theater Foundation. The latter was at a time when this historic
theater needed a major turnaround in management in order to survive.
Jones set about streamlining operations, controlling costs, and
improving efficiency toward the successful achievement of this goal.
Playwright Arthur Miller set "All My Sons" in "August in our era,"
though the play was first produced in 1947. Jones says he feels that
in Miller’s text the time of the play is purposely unspecific –
implying that the message applies to any time, any August, any war.
The drama centers on the family of Joe Keller, a manufacturer of parts
for airplanes. Miller’s social concerns were always foremost in his
The theme of "All My Sons" may be summed up by words spoken by Joe’s
son in the play: "Once and for all, you must know that there’s a
universe of people outside, and you’re responsible for it." The plot
is propelled by a story that Miller took straight from a newspaper
article about a manufacturer who knowingly shipped defective parts
during World War II. The resulting mechanical failures led to the
deaths of many soldiers.
In a phone interview, I asked Jones about the political resonances of
this story in this day of Halliburton, missing armor for Humvees, and
examples of "greed above all" merchandizing. He says that his focus is
on making theater but if there are political allusions, the audience
can "connect the dots." He feels that this production would garner
Miller’s approval. "I’m not a politician or a social activist, I’m a
theatrical producer. We’re going to tell Arthur Miller’s story that
questions individual morality."
Illustrating the diversity Jones has set his sights on, "All My Sons"
features an Iranian-American as Joe Keller. His wife is played by an
African-American. Their son’s girlfriend is played by a Caucasian
actress who is also a graduate of Mason Gross where Jones is currently
on the faculty. Jones is pleased to afford this acting experience to a
newcomer and also will utilize current students as production
assistants. He has been an assistant professor at Rutgers since 2002,
teaching theater management and theater appreciation. Every other year
since 1988, he has taught an arts management class at Drew University,
Madison, as an adjunct professor. As if his plate is not already full,
he is also the president of the Non-Traditional Casting Project, a
not-for-profit organization that advocates for diversity and inclusion
in the arts.
‘I’ve always felt that the most important race is the human race,"
says Jones. "We get preoccupied with differences, whereas our
commonalities have more impact. If you look at the genetic maps that
have just been completed, we’re 99.9 percent the same. I’m interested
in the 99.9 percent, not the 10th of one percent."
His passion for theater began when he was a freshman in high school in
Hillside, New Jersey. He saw the Broadway production of "A Chorus
Line." "I was blown away. I thought, ‘Wow. I want to do that.’ I
didn’t distinguish that they were dancers because certainly I can’t
dance. But that life, a life in the theater, is something that I knew
that I wanted.
"My parents were great. They said, ‘You can do anything you want if
you set your mind to it.’" Marshall, the middle child, is the only
family member in the arts. His sister is a minister; his brother, once
a professional athlete, is now in sales in Atlanta.
Jones’ father died last year and will be missed as this personal dream
becomes a reality. "But he’ll be with me in spirit," Jones says. Once
he knew of his son’s passion for theater, he made sure that they went
to New York once a month to see shows. "We saw ‘Elephant Man,’ ‘Ain’t
Misbehavin,’ ‘Whose Life is It Anyway,’ ‘Home’ at the Negro Ensemble
Company, both off-Broadway and again after its Broadway transfer."
Home in this Samm-Art Williams play stands primarily for a person’s
When one sees more than two Roman numerals after a name, it’s
noteworthy. Marshall Jones III says he is actually the fifth since
numbers I and II were slaves and their names were not recognized by
the government. But the "actual" second Marshall Jones pioneered in
leadership by serving in the South Carolina State House of
Representatives during reconstruction after the Civil War. Marshall’s
grandfather was a laborer who drove a coal truck during the
Depression. "They had no food, but their house was warm," says Jones.
Jones is well aware of the value of local support. "Our road has been
paved by the downtown New Brunswick community," he says. "Audiences
for arts have been nurtured already. Our task is to say, ‘Hey, look at
us.’ But the groundwork is done. They already know that theater is a
great option. They know where the parking is. They know which are
their favorite restaurants in the area."
During the production run Jones notes that there are special rates for
school groups. "We are reaching out to the arts community and to the
student population. This is an important play for them to see." In
response to a mailing to New Jersey schools, Marshall got a call from
his own high school drama teacher. Hillside Middle School is also
mounting a production of "All My Sons." He hopes that that cast and
others from the school can come to the Emerge performance for students
slated at Crossroads for Wednesday, April 20, at 11 a.m.
Jones’ network of theater associates includes a connection with John
McEwen, executive director of the New Jersey Theater Alliance, a
non-profit support group for New Jersey Professional Theaters. Mc-Ewen
and Jones met while studying arts management at New York University.
Emerge Theater Company, operating under an Actors Equity contract for
Small Professional Theaters, plans to become a member of the Alliance.
McEwen applauds Jones for his care in structuring his new
organization, noting that he is focusing first on a commitment to
excellence work rather than on finding a permanent theater home.
"This is a supportive theater community," says McEwen. "We look
forward to working with Jones and his new company."
"All My Sons", Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,
Thursday, April 14 through Sunday, April 24. Opening night is Friday,
April 15. Arthur Miller classic drama presented by Emerge Theater
Company. $45. 732-249-7469.
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