AAPEX Interview: Peter Lawson Jones — Peter Lawson Jones — AAPEX

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Peter Lawson Jones

Peter Lawson Jones

AAPEX writer Peter Lawson Jones is a fascinating fellow. In addition to being a playwright, an actor and a board member of Cleveland's Karamu House, when Peter connected with the AAPEX network back in 2007, he was also serving as County Commissioner of Cuyahoga County, Ohio in a career which has included twenty two elected offices.

Peter's play THE FAMILY LINE was the first play to receive an AAPEX reading in Cincinnati in July 2007, thanks to another AAPEX member, Cincinnati playwright Greg Stahllworth, kicking off a series of over 40 new play readings in other cities including Atlanta, Nashville, DC and NYC over the past three years

For the moment, Peter is putting politics aside to focus on his career as an actor, which, as you will see below, is definitely in "go" mode!

Following is Peter's response to my questions.
Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturge

Although both my parents and the public schools I attended provided me great exposure as a child to local cultural institutions, my interest in the arts was quite modest.  Other than a few years of playing the piano and acting, as we all were compelled to do, in the traditional church holiday plays or at school, I was far more interested in sports.

It was actually a constructive envy in college that led me more seriously to theatre.  One of my roommates was an excellent visual artist, poet and performer.  Watching him inspired me to do something creative.  Bereft of drawing ability - I always wished that I could draw a horse - and with no desire to write poetry, I decided to involve myself in theatre, first as an actor and then as a playwright.  (My play, "The Family Line," was first performed at the Loeb Drama Center when I was a senior at Harvard).

My development as an artist was virtually in total arrest for nearly thirty years.  After acting, directing and writing while in college and law school, I did not return to an active engagement in theatre until 2006 when "The Family Line" was staged at the historic Karamu Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.  Terrence Spivey, the "'Mu's" highly and nationally regarded artistic director, took over from there.

Impressed, he later shared with me, by my conversance with contemporary African-American theatre, he invited me to announce the stage directions in a staged reading, featuring Ruby Dee and Bill Cobb, at the Cleveland Play House.  He has subsequently cast and directed me in four plays and never fails to elicit my best performance.  Obviously, the acting bug has reasserted itself with a vengeance.  Over the past 3+ years, I have performed in six plays, including a staged reading Off-Broadway at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, an episode of  the ABC crime drama, "Detroit 1-8-7,"  a film, "25 Hill," schedule for release this year and in a Nike/LeBron James commercial.  In addition, I narrated a documentary on the Stokes brothers, two pioneering black lawyers and elected officials, which has been aired on public television stations in nearly thirty media markets.  I have done other voice-over projects as well.

As a teen, I thought there were three particularly exciting ways to make a living - as an athlete, actor or politician.  Simply put, I utterly lacked the ability to play professional sports and was short on the chutzpah (at least until now) to pursue an acting career.  Thus, the last occupation standing was that of public service.

I have been privileged to have worked at every level - federal, state, county, local - and in every branch - executive, legislative, judicial - of government, twenty-two as an elected official.  In that capacity I was able to parlay my affinity for and belief in the arts as socially essential by securing state appropriations for and later help lead the successful campaign to establish a consistent, predictable and quite substantial ($15 - 20 million/year) revenue stream for Cleveland-area artists and arts and cultural institutions.  As a result of the effort, Cuyahoga County provides more public per capita support for the arts than virtually any other county in the nation.

Moreover, since returning to the stage a few years ago, balancing my artistic, political and family lives has not proven problematic.  If anything, performing energizes me and sharpens the skills I employ in my other activities.  A person who regularly taps into his or her passion is ultimately far more productive, fulfilled and content.
As regards my current goals as an artist, I am focused in the short-term on my upcoming role at Karamu this May as Christian in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Ruined," and on completing my second play, "The Bloodless Jungle" by year's end.  I am also to play the male lead later this year in the world premiere of "Introducing Jeni LeGon," which is to open in Chicago, move on to Vancouver and, possibly, across Canada and ultimately to London, England.  In the long-term as I continue the process of reinvention perilously close to three score years of age, I simply hope to earn the respect of others as "an actor's actor" and "a playwright's playwright" . . . and I won't turn down any awards or prizes named Tony, Emmy, Academy or Pulitzer should they come my way!  

I absolutely believe that Cleveland is the most underrated, except by true aficionados, theatre town in America.  In Playhouse Square we have the largest theatre district west of Broadway.  In the Cleveland Play House and the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, we have two of the most highly regarded professional regional theatres in the nation.  And, with Karamu House (the country's oldest multicultural theatre), the Beck Center for the Arts, the Cleveland Public Theatre, etc., no region can boast a more lively, progressive and enduring community theatre scene.  The bottom line: if you truly love the stage, come visit and perform at the great theatrical venues on the North Coast!  I'll be there upon your arrival to welcome you.

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