Award-winning performance artist, playwright, and Springfield native Daniel Alexander Jones released several projects last fall including two new books, an album, music videos and a podcast series.
Jones, who is widely respected and celebrated nation-wide for his transformational and transcendental performance and writing, explores his past work as well as expands his digital presence in this series of projects.
In this new series of projects, he explores his past work as well as expands his digital presence. Zydalis Bauer spoke with Jones to learn more about his bodies of work and how his upbringing in Springfield influenced him to become the successful artist he is today.
This story originally aired on October 15, 2021.
Read the full transcription:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Award-winning performance artist, playwright, and Springfield native Daniel Alexander Jones released several projects last fall, including two new books, an album, music videos, and a podcast series.
Jones, who is widely respected and celebrated nationwide for his transformational and transcendental performance and writing, explores his past work as well as expands his digital presence in this series of projects.
I spoke with Jones to learn more about his work and how his upbringing in Springfield influenced him to become the successful artist he is today.
Daniel Alexander Jones, Performer/Playwright: I was very fortunate to be coming up during an era where Springfield had some of the best public schools in the nation, and the teachers were so generous and so loving and…and I feel like I was able to — through their teaching and through their guidance, find out that I was an artist. And to then learn that that could be a path I could take.
And they were, you know, we came from a working class neighborhood, and, you know, there was no sense that, you know, a career in the arts was something that I had seen before, necessarily. But they just believed in us and they’re like, “Yeah, you’re going to go and you’re going to do that thing!” you know?
So, I always I always think of my teachers, my fourth-grade teacher Miss Celine A. Davis in particular, who put the, you know, in us that sense of you can — you can be who you want to be. And you have to learn to — the discipline and the work ethic to follow your dreams.
I felt, when I left to go embark on my venture of my career, that I was coming from a place that had taught me how to be and had shown me the value that relationships and people matter most.
Zydalis Bauer: And speaking of your career, you have a lot to celebrate this fall, with two new books, an album, music videos, a podcast conversation series.
I said this to you earlier: while we’re all feeling burnt out from this pandemic, you somehow have managed to find the motivation to create so many different bodies of work. Where did that inspiration come from?
Daniel Alexander Jones: Number one, I feel like whenever I’ve had a challenge in my life, I bring that to my art. Like it’s the place that I can work things out and I can ask big questions.
And last year, not only were we dealing with the pandemic, but in my family, we were also dealing with the sudden decline and the death of my mother. And the experience of going through that really brought me back… A, I came back to Springfield for that experience and then B, I really came back to those core values that my family instilled in me.
And one of them is, you know, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Like, get pull yourself together and figure out a way to do something. And then the other one is, you know, that if you — if you’re dealing with something that’s really challenging, then the things that you already have at your disposal aren’t going to help you get out of it. You have to reach bigger, you have to dream bigger, and you have to learn, ask more questions.
So, all of this work was about, you know, asking myself, “What if?” you know? And — and the music and the videos came out of, like, thinking about what happens when we die, because my mom was — was on her way toward passing. And it led me to a meditation on the Solar System in the Universe. And so all of that work came out of sitting with my own grief, and sitting with my own wonder about — about life and death.
And then the book was, you know, all of these works that I made and being invited by this publisher to collect them and to have a chance to go back. And a couple of the pieces are actually set in Springfield.
So, it’s like it was deep to kind of come back and say, you know, I’ve been in dialog with this place for decades!
Zydalis Bauer: Right!
Daniel Alexander Jones: Yeah, yeah.
Zydalis Bauer: How was it like for you to revisit all of these past pieces of work? Because the book that you’re referring to “Love Like Light,” it’s a collection of twenty-five years’ worth of your pieces.
How are you able to choose and how — how was it feeling, you know, having to reminisce on those pieces?
Daniel Alexander Jones: Yeah, what a beautiful question! It was hard to choose, because it’s like, you know, I don’t have children, but I imagine it’s like, that thing of you can’t pick a favorite. Everybody gets in trouble, right?
Um, but I really I love the opportunity to — to say, “Yo, these are questions that I had in the 1990s. These are questions that I had in the 2000s. These are questions that I had in the 2010s.” And…and to say that — that I realize I was — I’m a creature that is related to history. You know, we’re all in a historical moment.
And so for me, the joy was to go back and say, “Wow, I remember that community-mindedness and that energy of togetherness and uplift, that that was in the 70s from the Civil Rights Movement. Like, I remember what that felt like. So, the work that I wrote about that testifies to that.
And then I remember the the hardship that came during the Reagan years, economically and politically, for — for our communities. And I was able to write about that. And then also writing about identity.
And, you know, I wrote a lot about gender and sexuality and…and multiplicity and identity before we had a lot of that language for it. For now, there’s a lot more freedom and space. And so, it was really powerful to look back and say, “I wrote about those things even before a lot of people were writing about them.”
Zydalis Bauer: That’s amazing!
And the pandemic presented you with a unique opportunity to explore the digital universe with your series ATEN, which you were referencing before, which features yourself — and I have to mention your alter ego, Jomamma Jones.
Daniel Alexander Jones: Yes! Jomamma Jones!
Zydalis Bauer: What was it like transforming this live production into now a digital production? What did you learn from it?
Daniel Alexander Jones: First of all, I had the best time! You know, because anyone who does theater or does live performance anywhere, like if you sing in church or communities, whatever you do, you know, you know that there’s so much work that goes into it and then you do it and it’s gone.
But doing this work, where it lives now in these videos, and you can keep coming back to it and you can share it across vast distances — everybody doesn’t have to be in that room — was a revelation.
Zydalis Bauer: One of the statements that stood out to me on your website was when you say that your work is continuous, but it’s not your work alone.
Daniel Alexander Jones: That’s right.
Zydalis Bauer: Why is collaboration between the arts and different artists so important for you and important for the community as well?
Daniel Alexander Jones: I believe that we are always smarter, more loving, and more capable when we find ways to come together, period. And I know that I know certain things very well. I know I have certain talents and abilities. But I also know what I don’t know, and what I can’t do.
And so when I dream of a piece or have a big question I want to explore an art, I automatically say, “Who are going to be the people that are going to bring the contributions that will make it whole?” Because I can’t do that by myself.
And then you find that not only do they bring out your best, but you can…and you know, it’s not easy! Because, you know, people got personalities and people have histories and you know, and you know, drama occurs for sure.
But if you’re committed to the idea, then you can find a way to inspire others as well to bring out the best of themselves.
Zydalis Bauer: Now the last question that I have to ask…I want to talk about Jomamma Jones really quick, because she came to you in 1995. And as a messenger coming from the future, what would Jomamma Jones want us — want to share with us about the future?
Daniel Alexander Jones: Without question, she would say that the future is in our hands and we must take action in the service of those things I’m talking about: about community, about generosity.
The greatest tragedy of my lifetime was watching that movement from that community-minded Civil Rights era into the ME generation of Reagan, and the way that as individuals, we’re…we’re led to believe we’re in it alone, we should only go for our own, and that helping other people is weakness.
So what she would say is, “The time is coming where we’re going to need one another. And so, you better start practicing now.”