• Amy Toledano

In conversation with Playwright Somebody Jones

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the kind of work you create?

I’m a cat-lover and owner, serial napper, and an LA native. So, you can only imagine how I’m struggling with London winters! I originally came here for grad school, but love and a thriving theatre scene has trapped me.

When it comes to my work, I love magical realism and horror. I’ve always been drawn to darker material and as an activist, I feel like these two genres are a great way to explore social issues. It’s also a really fun challenge to make magic and monsters onstage. However, my newest show, TALKING BACK is nothing like this. But more on that later . . . Somebody Jones is a great playwright name - where did the name come from?

Funny enough, I have no idea where “Somebody” came from. It just popped into my head one morning and stuck. “Jones” was a lot more deliberate. I have two legal surnames, one from my mom and the other from my dad, so I wanted just one for my new identity. But I didn’t want it to be French like my mom’s or a slave name like my dad’s. I say “slave name” because most Black Americans still carry the name of the “slave master” of their ancestors. So, I picked Jones. And here’s the funny part: One day, I was seeing a movie with my mentor, this short, Black woman who’s ten years older than me, and I’m explaining my new pseudonym to her. When I’m done, she asks me, “Who do you know with the name Jones?” Well, Black people of course. “And how do you think they got that name?” Oh . . . Here I was trying to run from my past, and I ended up running straight into it. Have you always been a writer? What sort of writing do you lean towards? Do you have a particular style?

I knew I wanted to be a writer around twelve years old. That’s when I read The Shining by Stephen King. I know, really light stuff for a twelve-year-old. But that summer, I couldn’t put it down. And that’s also the summer that I got a quintessential writing tool — a cat. Her name’s Chewy by the way. But, I didn’t know I wanted to be a playwright specifically until the end of high school.

At the end of high school when we had juries. For all the non-theatre geeks out there, juries are a kind of “make or break” early career moment. Your main teachers, or if you’re at university level, your professors, get together and sit behind a table and tell you whether or not you have what it takes to become a professional artist. So, when my favourite teachers told me that I need to let go if I intend on actually pursuing an acting career, I thought, “Naw.” And that was that. After some adult reflection later on, I realized that I am much more comfortable being behind the pen. I can only bear it all on stage because I’m not actually on stage.

In terms of what plays that I lean towards, I would say anything with a good story, which seems broad, but I have a pretty wide net of interests. If I had to pick my top three plays right now however, I’d say Slave Play by Jeremy O’Harris, Wolfie by Ross Willis, and One Woman Alien by Andrew Allen. Can you tell us about your upcoming tour of TALKING BACK: A Night of Black Verbatim Theatre? Both BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN and PRESENT BLACK FATHERS both cover subject matters that are fairly unexplored in the UK theatre scene, where did the inspiration for these pieces come from?

BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN started because I found myself dating a white man, something that I NEVER thought would happen. As a loud and proud Black activist, I had never even been on a proper date with a white person before, so I found myself really out of my element. Mostly though, I felt alone. BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN fulfilled two goals: it allowed me to find my community and it got me a pretty decent mark on an assignment for grad school.

After some positive feedback from one of my classmates, I submitted it alongside one of her pieces, and it was workshopped at the Drayton Arms Theatre under the name, MOUTHFUL. Because of the great feedback it received, I wanted to take it further, but since it was thirty minutes long, I decided to add a companion piece to it instead of making it longer. Cue PRESENT BLACK FATHERS. BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN at its core is a piece about celebration — of learning, of differences, of love . . . So, its companion piece had to be similar. PRESENT BLACK FATHERS celebrates Black fatherhood while tackling the “absent Black father” myth. It’s also a giant THANK YOU to my own present Black father, without whom none of this would be possible.

What is the creative team like for the show? What was the process of casting and collaborating like?

Khadifa Wong, who directed BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN previously will be the director for TALKING BACK: A Night of Black Verbatim Theatre. And I’m so excited to have her back! She has a strong voice and a background in dance, and I LOVED what she did with the piece before, so I’m excited to see what kind of magic we’ll make again.

In terms of casting, we’re not quite there yet! But I’m excited. The cast is going to be HUGE. Ten performers total to be exact. So, if anyone is interested, contact me!

How does the industry for fringe theatre compare to the scene in LA?

Ha! It doesn’t. While I love LA, it is not the place for fringe theatre. What I love about the UK is that the arts are actually funded. It makes a huge difference. The opportunities that I’ve been afforded here do not exist back home. And the culture is different. LA is more film-driven; not many people see plays. And self-producing is an extremely difficult and expensive endeavour.

Who are your biggest influences when it comes to theatre?

I love people who take risks. I’m always hesitant to say that I have a favourite playwright / actor / director / etc. because it always changes. But I’m constantly captivated by people who do more with less. Black box theatre is my favourite kind of theatre. If you can make me believe that I’m on an alien planet with a couple black boxes and some eerie music, I’m sold!

Do you have any new projects coming up that we should keep our eyes peeled for?

Just TALKING BACK: A Night of Black Verbatim Theatre! But that’s not the last you’ll see of me. Something’s always in the works . . .

Where can we get tickets to TALKING BACK: A Night of Black Verbatim Theatre?

At the Hope Theatre (7th – 8th June): https://bit.ly/2Tgp8Ek

At the Bread & Roses Theatre: (9th – 13th June): https://bit.ly/37WhKDu

Amy x

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