Prof. Janie Jones gets ready to hit the stage
When asked to describe what theatre is in one word, Santa Monica College director and theatre arts instructor Janie Jones chose “life” with an energetic laugh. During Jones’ thirty-four years working at SMC, she has directed 42 Main Stage productions, 27 workshops, and served five times as a mentor for advanced directing and musical theatre students.
Along with her contributions to SMC’s Theatre Department, Jones' career has been a gallery of multiple honors combined with community involvement, church work and traveling.
Jones earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature with emphasis on Theatre at the University of South Carolina and since 1961, has been an active actress, singer and dancer.
“I love the art form and I really love to teach,” Jones said.
For her, the most rewarding thing about her job is, “watching the students progressions and having them come to terms with the understanding of what theatre is all about.”
"I want to give them the chance to come to terms with some of the meaning that they find in the plays and the different styles of production," she added. “I think that, the thing about theatre, is that it gives you the chance to find your place in the world."
The most important ingredient in acting, Jones emphasized, is passion. For her there is no place for ego in this arena because you have to be subservient to the overall production and the message of the play.
“All actors and artists have the desire to give, to express the world and teach. Theatre is a way of doing that,” Jones said.
With a new semester now well underway, aspirations for this season's theater productions are high.
“I am thrilled with the direction we’ve come. We have a fabulous group of students this semester," Jones said. "I’m thrilled that we have people who are excited about the field and who are nice, collaborating and having a good time. We’ve had marvellous students all along and I think we’re making progress every year."
During this spring semester, SMC audiences can look forward to productions of “Yellow,” by Del Shores, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd."
Both will be performed at the campus's Main Stage where past visions of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Miller and of course, Shakespeare, have been presented.
Jones herself is directing the award winning, and for decades record holder for longest running play, “You Can’t Take It With You”, which will be performed at the Studio Stage.
Jones described the play as “a wonderful comedy.” The story is set during the Great Depression in the 1930s. She selected the play because of how it resonates with the current, uncertain economic times. Another key factor in her selection is that the play is so beautifully written.
Her aspiration that particular play is to provide the audience with a comic experience that will also project a sense of hope.
The play that will always be closest to Jones' heart is the one she’s directing for the semester. When she herself was a performer she particularly enjoyed acting in “Annie Get Your Gun” for two and a half years. An article covering the show proudly greets visitors on the wall outside her office.
Jones reminisced that she always wanted to work in the theater even during her childhood. A passion for the stage was born when her mother began taking her to see plays when she was four years old.
Even though it was clear to her what future she wanted to pursue, Jones first started college as a History/Math Major at Whittier College. She was following what society considered to be a practical education for getting a proper job.
One evening a great epiphany would come that give Jones the necessary turn around in her academic studies.
“My folks had come to see me in a play in my senior year of college and we were driving home," Jones remembered.
It was her father who confirmed her ambitions.
“If this is what you want to do, it’s what you should do,” he told her that night.
The next day after the play and talking with her dad, Jones changed course and became a Drama/Speech Major.
But Jones readily emphasizes that what you learn in a good History class naturally goes with a career in theater.
“Oh, you have to know history to do acting, you have to be a liberal arts person if you're going to do theatre,” she said. “You will be doing things from all periods, on many levels - ideas, visuals, acting styles - it’s important to know periods and what the philosophy was at the time."
Jone's advice to those who are passionate about working in the theater world but feel doubts about whether it is a wise career move was, “They should decide if that’s what they want to do. There will be a way."