Nick Jones is a playwright, director, puppet designer, and licensed real estate agent. His work has been performed at chashama and the Bowery Poetry Club, as well as the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s TBA Festival, the Dublin Fringe Festival (first runner up, “Most Entertaining”), Ars Nova, the Brick Theater, The Kitchen, and P.S. 122. He is a founding member and artistic director of Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, which is (alternately or simultaneously) a puppet troupe, band, and theater production company. He has been an artist-in-residence at Galapagos, the Bowery Poetry Club, and at the Hoontown Puppet Festival in Bangkok, and is a member of the Ars Nova Play Group. As a puppet designer, he has created work for the Allstars Youth Project, The Castillo Theater, for the 2004 Dream Parade in Taiwan. He was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and graduated in 2001 from Bard College. Little Building returns to Galapagos Art Space February 9-11, 16-18.
Sarah Maxfield/Culturebot: How does Little Building compare with the puppet/rock spectacles we’ve come to know and love from Jollyship the Whiz-Bang?
Nick Jones: This was approached much more traditionally in terms of producing a play, where I was working with a composer and a whole team of designers, and casting actors I’d never met before, whereas with Jollyship there are 8 people who more or less do everything. Like Jollyship it is musical, absurd, and funny, but the music isn’t really “rock” so much as it is “Broadway” and it’s not a puppet piece, strictly speaking. Also, I don’t perform in it.
SM: Did your job as a real estate agent inspire you to make this show, or did making the show inspire you to become a real estate agent?
NJ: I wrote the original draft of the play almost 8 years ago, while in college. I had been reading a lot of the short stories of Nikolai Gogol – like “The Nose” – and was really excited by the idea that you can make anything a character just by giving it speaking lines. So the original play was not about real estate in the sense of any commentary or even satire, but was just fueled by a desire to make a building the hero that goes on an incredible journey. It was only after my experience as a real estate agent that I revisited the play and turned it into a musical, and expanded on ideas like gentrification, and the real estate developer as a misunderstood genius, and others things that seem especially pertinent to today. But I think it’s been to the benefit of the play that I reached the end of a story in that early draft, and that the outcome was not dictated by my wanting to say something about real estate, but rather the necessary outcome of that building’s experience as determined by the logic of the world I created for it to exist in. Ultimately, it’s less a satire than a tragic love story about a man and a building.
SM: Do you develop the puppet/design elements at the same time as creating your music and script, or does one aspect tend to lead the others?
NJ: I only began meeting with designers and casting and all of that in October a month before we opened for our first run at Galapagos. I met with Benjamin Ickes the composer every Tuesday and things came together remarkably fast.
SM: What’s exciting to you about performance right now, and how does that figure into your work?
NJ: I just saw Cynthia Hopkins at St Ann’s. I feel like that piece (Must Don’t Whip Um) realizes one of the main ideas behind Jollyship the Whiz-Bang in that its a narrative performance performed mostly by a band, but with songs that are abstract enough to stand alone outside the context of the show. Maybe they had some of those songs before they had the concept for the show. I know many of our shows have been put together that way.
But anyways, I liked it because it represented what I want to do in my own way, which is get to rock out while putting on a very complex interesting theatrical show. Being in a band is a lot of fun, and making music is fun, but it always seems unfair to me to just play your music without something else going on. I mean listening to music on a CD is one thing, but I get so bored at concerts most of the time. Especially at clubs where you have to just stand there. In the theater, you have sets and trapdoors and plotlines and you can sit in a chair, but usually the music is not something you want to take home with you. So those are the 2 worlds to bridge: theaters with lame music and comfortable seats, and clubs with cool bands and an aching back. Also, I am excited about getting funding for these ideas someday. There was a lot of money in that Hopkins show. My plan now is take all the humor out of my work, because I think serious funders understand that excessive humor shows a lack of seriousness. The same goes for the music industry. So Im excited about betraying my own natural voice, basically, in exchange for the chance to do a show with amazing lighting and excessive Zoo TV style live video feed. . . Actually, Im very excited about writing plays right now, and Im attempting to write one that isnt a musical. I am also excited about the idea of having a cable access TV show, ever since Jollyship went on one (Checkerboard Kids) last week. We have all this material that is just begging to be turned into a cable access miniseries. And about a zillion puppets. I am also excited about never making another puppet in my life.
SM: I hear you recently won an award from the Henson Foundation. Who’s your favorite muppet?
Oh right . . . except now I am obligated to make about a hundred bee puppets. Yes, we received a small grant, which is a great validation more than anything. The grant is for a show called The Colonists that Raja Azar and I created in Thailand for a puppet festival that was happening outdoors in Bangkok. We figured our chances of success were greatest if we made a show that didnt depend on the puppets cracking jokes in English. Its very different for us, and also very fundable, since its less funny. My favorite muppet is Sam the Eagle. As a child, I took LSD and went to see the movie Aladdin when it was in the theaters. At some point it became too intense and so I got up to leave and saw Sam the Eagle glaring at me from a seat near the exit. He was by himself.