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Freedom Now: Daniel Alexander Jones, in conversation with Shonni Enelow

Liberté maintenant : Daniel Alexander Jones, en conversation avec Shonni Enelow
Libertad ahora: Daniel Alexander Jones, conversando con Shonni Enelow
Liberdade Agora: Daniel Alexander Jones conversa com Shonni Enelow
Shonni Enelow


Entretien avec le performeur interdisciplinaire Daniel Alexander Jones sur son travail actuel, ses inspirations et ses influences, réalisé par Zoom le 2 mai 2022.

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1I met Daniel at Fordham University in New York, where I teach in the English Department and where he taught until December 2021 in the Theatre program. But I had been a fan of his work long before, particularly his performances as his alter-ego, the glittering diva, singer, and monologist Jomama Jones, who is legendary in the downtown New York theater and performance scene. In the fall of 2021, we co-conceived and co-taught an interdisciplinary undergraduate seminar together on the playwright Adrienne Kennedy, and I became well acquainted with his rich thinking about experimentation in theater and performance, historical memory, and Black cultural tradition.

2Daniel’s singular and highly acclaimed body of work comprises plays, performance pieces, recorded music, concerts, music theatre events, essays, and long-form improvisations. Recent productions of his work include: Radiate (Soho Rep and National Tour); Black Light (Public Theater, Greenwich House Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Penumbra Theatre); Duat (Soho Rep); An Integrator’s Manual (La MaMa, etc. and Fusebox Festival). He has directed world-premieres of new plays and performance pieces by E. Patrick Johnson, Erik Ehn, Renita Martin, and Shay Youngblood, among others. He is a company member of Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, an associate company member of Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, an alumnus of New Dramatists, and was a company member of Frontera @ Hyde Park Theater in Austin. He has also recorded six albums of original songs as Jomama Jones, and his current project,, significantly expands his digital media presence.

3Daniel’s many honors include a PEN America Laura Pels Foundation Theatre Award in 2021. Daniel is a TED Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and the recipient of the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, a Doris Duke Artist Award, an Alpert Award in the Arts, a USA Artist Fellowship, an Arts Matters grant, an inaugural Creative Capital Grant, a McKnight National Residency and Commission, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, a NEA/TCG Playwriting Residency, a Jerome Fellowship, and a Many Voices Playwriting Fellowship. Jones was the lead artist on five projects awarded support by the MAP Fund and is a NEFA National Theatre Project grantee. Daniel has been a Mellon Creative Research Fellow at the University of Washington, a Hume Fellow at Occidental College, a Fellow at the Hemispheric Institute at NYU, and has been in residence at a number of colleges and universities across the United States, currently as a Producing Artist at CalArts’s Center for New Performance and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Jones received a Bistro Award for Outstanding Performance Artistry for Jomama Jones, and a Franky Award from the Prelude Festival in recognition of long-term, extraordinary impact on contemporary theatre and performance.

4We spoke over Zoom in May of 2022.

Shonni Enelow: Daniel, I would love to start by talking about where we are right now. As an artist, what is captivating you about this moment, either within the theater and performance worlds or outside them? And what is challenging or pushing you?

Daniel Alexander Jones: I answer in part by saying that I cannot imagine any artist at any time not being aware of the movement of history around them. You and I know each other from our work together in a university. And so we share the understanding that when we look at major moments of aesthetic innovation, or the rise of a certain kind of content in the zeitgeist of a particular era, we can say: this is in great measure because artists had to attend to the need that the time presented them with. And I think of that – and I will misquote it – often-used quote from Nina Simone that the artist has the responsibility to society, that we in some ways become the eyes, the ears, the soma, of a collective.

At this moment, what my generation – and I’m 52 – knew our world to be has come apart. So many long-threaded historical forces – questions of power and sovereignty, questions of race and identity, questions of gender and identity, not as individual phenomena, but rather, in terms of larger movements – ultimately lead me to the question: are we promoting an idea of liberation or freedom, self-determination? Or are we heading toward essentially a kind of authoritarian way of being in relationship to one another, a new feudalism? Which seems like it is emerging. So when I'm working, when I'm thinking right now, I cannot help but ask the question: what does "free" mean, now? What are the costs of freedom now? And what is the imperative for freedom now? And can freedom exist in a context that has been so overdetermined by inherited narratives of what that freedom was supposed to be?

On the surface, we might feel we are free. You know, I'm talking to you on a device that when we were young people was science fiction, but we are also looking at the eruption of tensions around the world that feel like they come from the first part of the 20th century. There's this weird time warp of forces. So honestly, what's exciting and what's compelling me is that whatever we're making, it's life or death, in reality. Right now, the small piece of terrain that I work as a cultivator has to be dedicated to liberating the imagination. That's what I know. I don't know yet what that looks like. But I know that it's been my life's work, and now it has a different fire underneath it.

Daniel Alexander Jones

Daniel Alexander Jones

Image courtesy of the artist

S.E.: I wonder if I could draw you out on that question of inherited narratives of freedom and how we move beyond them. And if we can constellate that with aesthetic practice. Because that seems like such a rich rubric for thinking about devising new forms as well as new content. Do you see older narratives of freedom being deployed in art in ways that you would like to push beyond?

D.A.J.: Yes, that is so good. Indulge me one point of historical reflection. I follow a number of social media accounts that are dedicated to images that come from Black cultural history; I like knowing that I'm going to see something that inspires me during the day. And there were recently a number of images in relation to this being a watershed season on Broadway and in the mainstream theater for the presence of Black American artists. This is to my understanding the largest percentage of shows [on Broadway] either written by, directed by, or starring, or having as their subject matter, Black life, and it’s a wide range of shows from musical to drama, etc. This historical feed was actually showing a lot of material from the mid-1970s when there was another boom. It was Bubbling Brown Sugar, you had Ain't Misbehavin’, you had The Wiz, you had the Negro Ensemble Company, making work that was starting to really impact in a quote-unquote, "crossover" way. Of course, for colored girls [who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf].

And so I was thinking about that period in the 1970s. This was actually a moment of tremendous breakthrough. The idea of having access to that kind of venue, that kind of audience, those kinds of resources, you know, becoming "mainstream", so to speak, was a deep, deep desire among many of the Black artists who were working at that time. Not all! Many decided they would do something completely different. They would make theater "by, for, about, and near us", like that old DuBoisian edict. So there's always been that tension between art that is controlled by and made for Black audiences, and art that has some kind of "crossover" or "mainstream" appeal. But the notions of what success was were still tied to that project of the Civil Rights Movement that was about finding parity, equality of access, you know, equality of resources, all of that stuff.

And so it's odd to now be in a similar moment, two-plus years out from "We See You, White American Theater", the call-out experience that happened as a result of the collision between the impact of George Floyd's murder and Breanna Taylor's murder with the beginning of the pandemic1. And I would even include the [preceding] "#MeToo" movement – it was all about exposing the underbelly of the industry to itself and to the world. It was very sobering to me to realize in my conversations with a lot of the artists of color who I got to know during that ["We See You"] time that many of their aspirations were still for that same kind of crossover success that typified the 1970s. And I say, why? Why do we still want the same thing? And what does it mean to dream of a different kind of relationship, not only to the way that the art moves in the world, but to the reason we're making the art?

Having been raised by alternative artists of that era, my foremothers were the ones who were the more experimental avant-garde, who pushed back at the politics of that kind of crossover representation. I had an example of what it meant to build a life outside of any engagement with that larger power structure. And so I want to move away from the terminology of the white gaze, or the straight gaze, or what have you. To move away from the idea of a binary dynamic with someone else's gaze, toward genuine sovereign expression. What does it mean, to voice a fully embodied, whole sense of a human experience?

I have often asked this question of artists, and when I'm working with Black artists in particular: what does it look like when we love ourselves? What does it look like when we are loved? What does it mean to presume sovereignty before we even start the conversation? And what I find, to my dismay, Shonni, is that I'm in a lot of rooms now where that piece is missing.

And it is a piece that for me was born from some of the theory of the Black Arts Movement about decolonial thinking, how to look at oneself, and how to regard oneself on one's own terms, with alternate histories from the ones that we've been given. But it’s also about the radical love and desire and power that came out of Black Feminist theory and Black Womanism in particular, where it's like, actually, when I wake up in the morning, there's enough there to make a show about! I'm a text; my family, my community, is a text. As Toni Morrison reminded us, Black people are an infinite subject. I don't need to be defined by anyone else to feel whole.

So my longing is for a thing that I have tasted in the past, which is what it means to be in the presence of an artist who is really sovereign. And speaking about the indwelling wholeness of us.

We have an opportunity now because of this odd democratization of access to digital platforms, and also because the field has now said, y'all, we have a dirty house, and we have to clean! You know, like everybody now knows, the American theater has a dirty house. You have to really stretch not to know it! Right? So can we make room? Can we acknowledge there are actually different ontologies to contend with?

S.E.: That is a great segue to ask you about your current projects. And also perhaps to put them into the context of your own journey as an artist over the last couple of years.

D.A.J.: I think there was a real shift for me, as I approached turning 50. What began to be clear to me is that, truly, my practice is a genuine interdisciplinary practice, it always has been. And so oddly, during that pandemic period, one of the things that was a great gift to me from that harrowing time was that by being isolated, I had to get back in line with my own true rhythms.

So I would stay up till all hours of the night. I would have two, three, four days in a row where I could come back to a text or come back to a piece of music that I was working on. And what resulted was this understanding that I create more like a visual artist does than most folk might think a theater artist does. I abide with a single thing and I layer, I layer, I layer, I remove, I remove, I layer, I layer it up. And I have to have that time to be intimate with it, and then step back and look at it, and then come back to the intimate, unbroken as a result of that all of this creative work came to fruition during that period, because I didn't have an impediment. I could stay with it long enough.

There were times where language was at the forefront and other times it was tone. Other times it was the body, it was dream, it was theory, it was an idea. I think in music, it's legible that somebody would need to create in that kind of multi-layered way. In visual art, it makes sense. I'm looking at friends who were just at the Venice Biennale, and looking at Simone Leigh’s body of work that was so celebrated, and we don't question the fact that she would have thought of the concept and then designed the thing, and then needed to actually be assembling the thing –you know, that she needs to touch every aspect. But in the theater, especially in our contemporary mode of making, there are a lot of very rigid underpinning ideas about the roles that we take. There are still these silos, and I've never really been like that, ever. And I think any subsequent desire I had to be identified in relationship to these pre-existing categories was connected to a desire to have a certain kind of impact in my career. That was a self-defeating process, for sure. I wasted a lot of energy trying to do that.

So that’s where the work is right now. The ATEN Project, for example, was recorded music that was created in an intentionally very short period of time in a highly concentrated collaborative relationship with my songwriting partner, Josh Quat. And once I made that, I looked at it. And I said, "Oh, that's Part One. Now this is now going to extend itself into music videos, or short films". And as I was doing that work, an entire other kind of language developed: a symbolic language that knit the thing together in such a way that it helped me better understand what my initial impulse was. And then it further enabled me to say, "Oh, these are these questions that rose up out of what I made. Now, let me go and interview people to talk about those questions". So I had developed that conversation and podcast series.

So it had a very organic growth. We're actually putting the finishing touches now on what will be its final quote-unquote "iteration", which is a long-form edit of all of that material. So that it will be something someone can just click and experience the whole.

You know, like all of my friends, including you, who have kids, say, "you don't know until they’re there, like what their personality is, and then you have to develop a relationship with them". I can only know so much from the inside, I have to wait until the work is in the world.

That idea, too, is an old idea for me, having been part of arts collectives in the 1990s that were deliberately embracing the idea of different processes. For example, I was part of a theater company in Austin, Texas, called Frontera @ Hyde Park Theater, that existed from 1992 until 2001. And at that time, it was a bunch of 20-somethings, early 30-somethings who all said, "we know what it would be, you know, to write a play and submit it. We know what it would be to be a regional theater director or an actor. We know what those things are. But we're really interested in what would happen if you came together with, like, a choreographer, a motorcycle gang, somebody has a projector, but no film, somebody else might have some film. And then there's a youth group, what can we do?" You know, like, what, what else is possible?

In all of those communities I came from, the emphasis was always on, "what else can we do?" It was never that we didn’t know how to write a play. You know, people would say [expecting a traditional dramatic structure], where's the conflict? Where's the climax? I'm like, I could write a [standard] play with my hands tied by my back. I have no interest in writing that play. And it's not that I don't think that play is interesting. It's just I don't want to do that. And so what else might I want to do?

Duat, at Soho Rep, 2016

Duat, at Soho Rep, 2016

Credit: Julieta Cervantes

S.E.: Could we zoom out for those who may be reading this interview and who may have never experienced theater and performance work like this before, but have some idea of what devised work is? How would you explain the difference between what people might think of as a devising process, such as the ones that we've read about from England in the 1980s, or what we might associate with theater companies like Elevator Repair Service, who have extensively toured Europe? How would you articulate the relation and the difference between those kinds of processes and the ones that you're talking about?

D.A.J: So, in what I would call that white Western avant-garde tradition of devising, there is usually a vital, like hot or electric point of entry, usually a question that is either theoretical, or a kind of embodied question, a task or something like, "what would happen if we did 500 of this gesture? What are the kinds of collisions that emerge from our repeated engagement?" It's almost like a physics experiment of shooting particles at something. You want to see what emerges.

That willingness to start with a disorientation or a disequilibrium is something that I think is shared between what I do and what that long tradition is. Where it differs is that within that devising tradition, there is very often – not always, but very often – still a movement toward a composition that is complete, in and of itself, that is shared with an audience. And there may be within that composition certain places that deliberately invite that destabilizing to happen. But more often than not, they arrive at something that is a fixed composition that then is repeated and shared.

One of the companies that was slightly younger, but a peer company to the company I was with in Austin, was the Rude Mechs, who are legendary for their devising. Their pieces are born from these incredibly wild impulses, and then they end up being these beautifully rendered things that have a shape and a form. That's part of their gift, that they're able to create with such precision. That to me is a glorious part of my generation’s contribution, and I’m about it, I love that work.

What I bring is what my foremothers brought, which is jazz. And the understanding that you do all of that preparatory work, but there will be an actual compositional component that only can happen in real time, in an embodied way. In my work, I actually do not know until I'm doing it exactly what is going to come out on that particular night. It’s not that I didn't think of it or I couldn't finish it, it's that I know there is a necessary leap that happens in the room. So what that presupposes is that it is utterly necessary, it is a core component of the work that you will be present to a group of people whom you have not been present to before, and they will be present to you and to what you're doing, and that they have not been present to you before. And in that meeting place in the time we share together in space, something will emerge, and my job as the artist is to shepherd it into utterance in real time.

So I have to be aware of both of the compositional mooring posts that I've made for the evening, and have the experience that this room is having in real time as this thing emerges. It's a leap, like, oh my god, what will even happen tonight? That's my tradition. It is like the Motown review on tour. You know what your songs are gonna be, you know what order the people gonna play in, those sorts of things. But you actually don't know until the night of, until the moment of, what you need to do. And if I have artistic brilliance, it's in that place. And the rest of it is to get me to that place. And that's why I think it's illegible to a lot of folks in the West. Because they need it to be on a page. And I'm like, "no, it's only going to be in the moment". It’s very hard to capture that.

S.E.: I would love to hear you describe what theatrical jazz is and tell us about its lineage.

D.A.J.: That term, theatrical jazz, was first uttered to our knowledge by the late, great playwright Aishah Rahman. Aishah’s work is known in the U.S. largely through two of her plays, Unfinished Women Cry in No Man’s Land While a Bird Dies in a Gilded Cage, which is about both a home for unwed mothers and the death of Charlie Parker. Fascinating play from 1977. And The Mojo and the Sayso, which is about the impact of gun violence, in particular the all-too-familiar story of a young Black man who is shot by the police. Aishah was a part of the Black Arts Movement. She grew up in Harlem in the wake of the Harlem Renaissance; she was a denizen of that legendary city. And just as Harlem was a center of Black culture in the U.S., it was also a center of jazz, and in New York there was a concentration of many different schools of jazz. That included foundational work songs and blues that were part of the roots of the folk music explosion; it also included the virtuosity and glamor that jazz achieved in the 1940s and 1950s when it became a world music. You had all of your legends, like Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, who were these glamorous, exalted examples of the most refined aspects of that music. And then thirdly, and most importantly for this tradition, you had the jazz of an emerging consciousness, sovereignty, and rebellious experimentation [of Black culture] and that was typified by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the avatar of my entire body of work – Alice Coltrane. What does it mean to not only break form, but also to think about jazz music as a system, a language system, that can be applied to any aspect of life? Aishah became really fascinated – along with other artists of her era, like ntozake shange, Laurie Carlos, Robbie McCauley, Sonia Sanchez – with the relationship between jazz and what was emerging out of the Black Arts Movement, which was a rhythmic understanding of poetic text that was also about embodiment. How can I listen to what my body is going to express in a moment that is redefining the parameters of my body on my own terms? The rhetoric of "Black is Beautiful" – as complex and contradictory as that language has been – means if I am speaking from "Black is Beautiful", I am going to sound different than if I’m speaking from the rhetoric of "Black is a problem, Black is second-class or marginalized". This is also a time of deep spiritual inquiry on the part of a lot of young folks, who sought the connections of [African] diasporic utterances around the Atlantic and were thinking about correlates with ancient religious traditions around the globe. So you have a fascination at that time with Indian mysticism, with the Sufis, with martial arts traditions from China and Japan, as ways of understanding that there had been, before the advent of European colonialism, these deep-seated traditions and cross cultural influences that could teach us something.

All of that was present in the music. You begin to hear these motifs – like the scale of a raga will show up inside jazz. You start to hear sounds associated with the beginnings of the punk movement in the UK, when Miles Davis went electric. Theatrical jazz was Aishah’s way of articulating the principles that undergird jazz music: 1) spontaneity, 2) extemporaneous composition, 3) virtuosity: you have to have control of your instrument and understand what you are expressing, 4) collectivity: you have to do it together, with the dynamic relationship between the individual and the community. It was Aishah’s dictum that theatrical jazz need not contain jazz music in order to be. It is structural. It’s about layering, shifts in perspective, and the idea of a composition that is in time, its meaning is inextricable from the fact that you have to experience it unfolding in real time.

There is a whole tradition of artists who work this way, going back to the 1960s. In addition to Aishah, I go to ntozake shange and the women who created for colored girls, and we could also go back to the person they all quoted – with all the complications of who he was noted – Amiri Baraka, and Larry Neal, Paul Carter Harrison, those founders of Black Arts Movement rhetoric, who connected this kind of aesthetic experimentation and expression with the political work of finding one’s sovereignty. Writers like Jake-ann Jones, movement artists like Cynthia Oliver, Eisa Davis, I could go down an incredible list of folks who have some kiss with this. Another artist, a white artist, who works in this way is Erik Ehn. Contemporary artists like Kaneza Schaal, and of course the incredible Alesha Harris, who with Whitney White is creating these pieces [this season, off-Broadway]. Younger artists may not cite the term theatrical jazz, because these are histories that are very often sidelined or even erased from the record they have access to. But when I look at what the principles are, all of those things are at play.

  • 2 Soul Train was a musical variety television show that aired from 1971 to 2006, primarily featuring (...)

S.E.: This is a good lead-in to a question about Jomama Jones, your alter-ego, and altar-ego, as you call her. I know she has been a part of your practice since the mid-90s. And I have heard you say that she originally came out of a piece that you were making about Soul Train2. So I was wondering if now that you've sketched this history for us, you can locate her within it.

Jomama Jones

Jomama Jones

Credit: Gregory Kramer

D.A.J.: It's important to start with Soul Train in that what typifies her is inextricable from that moment. And I want to be clear that she's not a period piece, right? I'm not performing as though we were in the 1970s and 1980s. I'm saying that there's something in her that she carries from that time.

I had a conversation with a wonderful young writer whom I met doing a workshop at the Playwrights Center a few weeks ago. They are working on a piece about Marvin Gaye and we were talking about that era and they are of a younger generation and they asked me what did it mean to you…you were alive when Marvin Gaye was alive? What would you say that music was doing at that time? And the thing that I came back to was this: whenever you look at footage of that classic era of Soul Train, you see Aretha [Franklin] and then Stevie [Wonder] and then Smokey Robinson and Tina Turner and Rick James, and all of the people who populated the show at that time – you think of the radiance of those performers. And especially I'm thinking of Earth, Wind and Fire, right? The kind of resplendent – I come back to that word sovereignty, the radiance of the heart, the sense of hope, the sense of centering love.

That was the material out of which that music was made. So that music was also the literal soundtrack of our lives. As Black people. We heard it all the time through our radios, through our cassette players or Walkmen or record players, eight tracks in the car. It was everywhere.

It was a commonly held text. We all knew what it meant when Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills sang together. We all knew what it meant when Marvin [Gaye] came back. It meant one thing to a crossover audience. It meant something else to us. There was a period where that kind of Black music meant something to Black people. Before it ever meant anything to a crossover audience. And that original meaning is tied to me, to who Jomama is and what she walks with.

So she's framed as this expatriate who's returned to America, right? So she had that journey that was not dissimilar from Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, like all of those legendary artists. But she's of the generation of Dionne Warwick, of Diana Ross, that younger crew who were the ones who were actively out in the world making and doing and fulfilling the movement's promise.

We look back now and we can see where the flaws are, where we can see where the holes were. We can see where things fell apart, so to speak. But I cannot emphasize enough to young people in particular that what was working, what, what was fueling [that movement] – was indescribably clear and strong.

You don't have the Civil Rights Movement without having those Black-organized events, like the March on Washington, that are suffused with music. Our music was not on the side. It was at the center.

So Jomama represents to me a certain kind of Black excellence that I fear now is taken as grind or assimilation, whatever. And it was never that. Being that full, being that beautiful, being that opulent in your energy and your thoughts and your imagination. I think part of what I wanted to do was remind myself and remind other people that that is part of our cultural tradition.

S.E.: I'm so glad you concluded on the word "tradition". Something that I find so inspiring and beautiful about your work is your deep thinking about intergenerational connection.

You know, I hate to frame it this way, because this is exactly the sort of binary comparison to white Western culture that I hear and feel you trying to move away from. But I would say that this honoring of tradition is something that sets your practice apart from white narratives of the avant-garde, which are often about radical breaks from the past.

And of course, some of those impulses [of radical break] are there in Baraka and other Black artists; of course, some of those impulses are there. But there is also a deep lineage that you're tracking that is present within those artists’ thinking as well. Could you zero in a little bit on that notion of lineage, and how you see yourself in relation to those who came before, and maybe also tie that into this question of how we make or find new forms?

D.A.J.: So this is such an important question. I want to try and do it justice to say number one, I do feel that contradiction between tradition and breaking tradition is the engine of the culture. I often think about Black culture as a tradition of transgression.

I'm reading Alice Walker's journals right now. And there is no sense that she ever desired to separate herself from her forebears in terms of understanding the contributions of Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston, or Jessie Fauset, any of them. Walker understood that they were about a kind of mission, right? So there may be very big aesthetic differences, but there's a commonality of purpose, which is freedom.

You honor those who came before you. Not because – and this is where I get a little weird about, like, "standing on people's shoulders". I'm like, no, you're in relation to them. I'm not standing on somebody's shoulders. I am in an active relationship. So my ability to seek beauty in otherwise austere circumstances comes from somewhere – [in Walker’s case] that her mother took the jars of fruit and vegetables that she canned and put them up to be displayed, to make color in the space. Those are inheritances.

I'm playing these chords that I learned from someone else. Now I will use them in ways that are very particular and I'm happy to stand in the places where I think I've done something where I can say, yes, this is Daniel's spin on this thing. Like, this is how I would play that. But I don't think I made it. Like, there's no part of me that thinks I originated this. And the people who claim that they did, they didn't either. They didn't do that. Kaneza Schaal speaks beautifully about it. She said, whenever we single out these individuals sans context, we just erase everybody else's work, because this is a collective labor.

So tradition for me is political. I name my foremothers, because I want you to know that their labor is in anything that I'm doing. I inherited their labor as much as I inherited their ideas. And I apply my labor and my ideas with the hope that as people encounter what I've done and are moved, that they will also be able to further the project.

But I hope they'll call my name the way I call other people's names. And that, to me, when I get down to it, is what disturbs me. I remember my foremothers talking about this: they will pick one or they'll pick two, they’ll name the one who's the innovator, they’ll name the one who's quote-unquote "great". Or "the genius" or – blah, blah, blah. I hesitate to use words like capitalist and corporate, because I think they're too general for this, but we've had such a struggle against the idea of ownership, like bodies who have been owned, land that has been owned, you know, ideas that are owned and this idea of ownership – rather than participation – creates all of these horrific schisms.

The danger is when you have young artists who don't know this history, who come up brilliant and are led to believe that their brilliance is singular rather than an exemplary thing that reflects the truth of the culture. Then it serves to separate that power from the collective. And it serves to minimize the role that those artists who are not "chosen" have in continuing and growing the culture.

And it sets us at odds with one another in a way that is just out of balance. It’s profoundly deleterious and I've now seen it happen again and again. I've seen who they picked in the ‘80s and the ‘90s as they picked them, and I've watched those people sometimes go on to very, very difficult experiences, sometimes be enshrined and sometimes they get trapped inside of their own identity or their own style or what have you.

I say this as someone who used to wonder about whether or not inclusion of that kind was going to be my path. Because it’s certainly tied to the apportionment of resources here in this country; notoriety and fame and visibility mean a lot to America. So for me, it's always important, whatever measure of success I have, to be naked and intentional about the fact that it is not my own alone. It is not my own. It is not my own alone. And I am not lessened by my connection. That's what I would offer.

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1 See the webpage for the collectively authored statement, "We See You, White American Theater". Daniel Alexander Jones is a co-signer.

2 Soul Train was a musical variety television show that aired from 1971 to 2006, primarily featuring soul, R&B, and later hip-hop artists. The "classic era" of the show that Jones refers to is the 1970s and 1980s.

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Titre Daniel Alexander Jones
Crédits Image courtesy of the artist
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Titre Duat, at Soho Rep, 2016
Crédits Credit: Julieta Cervantes
Fichier image/jpeg, 385k
Titre Jomama Jones
Crédits Credit: Gregory Kramer
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Shonni Enelow, « Freedom Now: Daniel Alexander Jones, in conversation with Shonni Enelow »IdeAs [En ligne], 21 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2023, consulté le 05 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Shonni Enelow

Shonni Enelow is an Associate Professor of English at Fordham University (NY) and the author of Method Acting and Its Discontents: On American Psycho-Drama (Northwestern University Press, 2015). A Discourse on Method, a hybrid art book co-authored with David Levine, was published by 53rd State Press in 2020. Her articles and essays have appeared in Theatre Topics, Theatre Survey, Modern Drama, Film Comment, and Reverse Shot, among other publications. Her recent essay "Sweating Tennessee Williams: Working Actors in A Streetcar Named Desire and Portrait of a Madonna", published in Modern Drama (vol. 62, n° 2, 2019) won the Modern Drama Prize.

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