Interviewing Norm Jones 33 Years and 51 Plays Later
This year the Department of Theatre Arts turns 30. To celebrate, The Bell interviewed its founder, Norm Jones—a professor known for his warmth, euphonious voice, ability to quote Shakespeare at any given moment, and charming repertoire of accents ranging from Irish to New Hampshirite.
Since he started teaching at Gordon in 1985, Jones has directed 51 plays; launched a summer seminar that gives students the opportunity to see 16 theatrical performances in the U.K. (including Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre); cofounded a historically themed theatre company in Salem, MA, made famous by Professor of English Mark Stevick’s play Cry Innocent; and wrote and performed a one-person show about the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne entitled Inspired.
The Bell: What was theatre like at Gordon before you started the program?
Norm Jones: Theatre had a long tradition at Gordon before I came—out of the auspices of what was called the “Gordon Players.” It was an extracurricular activity. Then, Gordon created a new position for someone to teach theatre in 1985. Jud Carlberg (who was Dean of the Faculty at that time) didn’t know where to put me, so my office was in the English Department for a while. I was in there with lots of characters. Anne Ferguson. Paul Borgman. John Skillen. Peter Stine. I had notes from English Department meetings that had nothing to do with the business of the meeting—they were just quotes from faculty. I thought, “These are so good! I just have to use them somewhere in a play.” They have influenced some monologues and scenes I’ve written.
What was the first play you directed at Gordon?
Jones: It was called Mornings at Seven. It was a story about sisters who live next door to each other. It’s a lovely play.
What excites you about theatre?
Jones: It’s an incarnational act—the word made flesh. There’s a tension in theatre, and in any good story, between being eternal and being mortal. Theatre reveals the miraculous in the mundane and gets you to pay attention to a character who you wouldn’t pay attention to or listen to in normal life.
What does a director do?
Jones: For one, they decode the script. A script is different from a short story or a novel. A script doesn’t go directly from the playwright to the audience. It’s interpreted by a director, actors and designers. Each production is unique in that way, but each playwright knows that. They’re creating a script that they’re trusting a director to decode and interpret.
In what other ways is theatre different from other forms of storytelling, like a short story or novel?
Jones: Theatre is live. It’s happening in front of you. It raises the stakes because you have a real human being in front of you and they are going through a crisis. In a play, we’re looking at people making choices. Characters make choices. They don’t know what the consequences are going to be, but they have to make a choice and we get to see the result of that choice. Some of those things happen in novels too, but the fact that it’s happening with all of us together—everybody sitting in this theatre—is different.
What’s your favorite play?
Jones: The Winter’s Tale is probably my favorite Shakespeare play. It’s beautiful. It’s about the redemption of a king who thinks his wife is having an affair with his friend, and it’s not true. But the king believes it and causes the death of his son—and what he thinks to be the death of his wife. Believing she has died, he is taken to see a statue of her. There he is told that the statue can be brought to life if he can awake his faith. The line from Winter’s Tale is: “It is required you awake your faith.” Then all of a sudden, the statue moves. His wife is alive. You can hear gasps from the audience every time. I love that.
This spring, the Theatre Department will perform The Mystery of Edwin Drood (now running until February 2) and The Unknown Unknown. Students will get the chance to showcase their own directorial debuts and senior projects as part of the Spring Shorts and Senior Showcase. View the entire theatre schedule.