Actress Sarah Jones on the 'Bridge and Tunnel'
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS AND NOTES. Broadway is the new home for award winning poet and actress Sarah Jones, and her one-woman play, Bridge and Tunnel. The play centers around a small spoken-word gathering, and the fourteen unusual characters that Jones brings to life. Jones talked to NPR's Ed Gordon about the play, and some of her personal influences.
Ms. SARAH JONES (Actress, Poet): Everybody who's ever influenced me from a Richard Prior to a Whoopie Goldberg to, you know, any of the voices that have resonated with me as a performer since I was a kid. You know, you couldn't really say that their work didn't have some element of political commentary in it. So, as far as I'm concerned, the greatest art, the stuff that moves me the most, is the stuff that also inevitably makes you think about the times we live in.
ED GORDON, host:
Let me ask you, you have been touted for so long about being able to go in and out of so many characters. How much is the fact that you're biracial, the fact that you lived in a number of places, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, all of those areas are vastly different from one another, yet the same in some respects, how much has this helped you create all of these characters?
Ms. JONES: Well, I definitely think the fact that I come from a multicultural background, my mother living life in a white skin and having white skin privilege from the time I was little, I was aware of that. I was aware of what it meant to have relatives from various backgrounds from early on, so I think that definitely you know sort of trained my ear whether I was aware of it or not.
(Soundbite from play, Bridge and Tunnel):
Ms. JONES (playing character): Yeah, sure listen, there's no other place like it, you know. But, you know, of course as senior I think things could be better. But at least here I can express myself about it. This is an excerpt of my poem entitled: No really please don't get up.
GORDON: Bridge and Tunnel has really met with so much praise. Were you at all surprised at how it was embraced?
Ms. JONES: Doing Bridge and Tunnel has now been the fulfillment of a three pronged dream for me. To get to perform on Broadway is any, you know, actor's dreams I'm sure. Well, I can speak for myself, I felt like if I could get to this place I would have accomplished everything I wanted to. But then there's also knowing that every night I get to get on stage and portray people who aren't the typical heroes or focal points of theatre or really any other media in our culture in general.
We know that we if we want to have images of black folks, usually we have to go to either a black outlet or we have to-- you know, they're not considered mainstream still. This is pretty much as I can fulfill my multiple goals at one time on stage.
(Soundbite of play, Bridge and Tunnel:
Ms. JONES (playing character): There are basically fewer careers possibilities for people of Jamaican ancestry in this country. One is to become secretary of state. Another is to take care of children. But you see, either way it's the same thing, because you have to run behind the over-privileged baby who can barely form sentences.
GORDON: Sarah, this is such a daunting task. I mean, you play 14 characters. When you were putting this together, was there any trepidation in knowing that unlike an assemble, you're it; either you rise or fail with this?
Ms. JONES: Well, I tell you one thing, I get my butt to work everyday. I mean, there's no question about, you know, my dedication, my commitment. There's no time to questioned. There is no room for any sort of doubt. So in a way it's the best kind of forced discipline to know that if you don't rise to the occasion, there will be no show. I remember being influenced by great artists when I was a kid--not to call myself a great artist--but people who I thought were great enough that they really made a difference. And so I would never want to be disappointed by them, and I want to make sure I never disappoint audience.
GORDON: Give us a sense of some the characters, and more importantly why you choose these characters?
Ms. JONES: Well, I think one person who would be very upset if he didn't get meet Ed Gordon on air is Mohammed Ali. So I'm going let him jump in.
Ms. JONES (As Mohammad Ali): My name is Mohammed Ali. I am Pakistani background. You know coming from Pakistan, we are really attuned to the need for news and entertainment, that is giving credit to the intelligence of the listeners. So I just want to compliment you there. Okay.
GORDON: Let me ask you this, Sarah who is the hardest character for you?
Ms. JONES: You know, I don't think there is anyone that's hard emotionally, but vocally I can have a really rough time with some of the male characters, getting into the really low registers. You know, there's an MC in the show named Rasheed.
(Soundbite of play Bridge and Tunnel)
Ms. JONES: (As Rasheed) I know some of y'all ain't really into Hip Hop, you know what I saying. But the first way y'all could know I'm an MC is cause I hold the microphone in the official MC posture. Y'all can see that right there. Alright. Yeah. And then the second way is cause, you know what I'm saying, I'm going say, you know what I'm saying--you know what I'm saying a few more times before I finish this sentence right here, you know what I'm saying.
GORDON: You see this, I imagine, because I read you wanted to be a lawyer growing up as a way of perhaps putting spotlight on social ills.
Ms. JONES: I think it's just evitable that if you are talking about your truth as an artist, as a journalist, you know, you're going to touch on issues that are political in some way or are about social justice. So I think there is something so compelling about the truth that whether you're a lawyer or judge or an actor, when you get at that truth it connects with people on a particular level that I think makes your art more viable.
GORDON: All right, Sarah Jones, thank you so very much. Congratulations on everything.
Ms. JONES: I thank you.
CHIDEYA: You can see Sarah Jones' one woman show Bridge and Tunnel on Broadway through July 9. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.