Student Director Talks Social Issues in Next Play

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Senior Drew Jones, featured above, both acts and directs. (ALANNA MARTINE-KILKEARY/THE OBSERVER)

By ALANNA KILKEARY

Senior Drew Jones, featured above, both acts and directs. (ALANNA MARTINE-KILKEARY/THE OBSERVER)
Senior Drew Jones, featured above, both acts and directs. (ALANNA MARTINE-KILKEARY/THE OBSERVER)

21-year-old British-born Texan and Fordham Lincoln Center senior Drew Brandon Jones is an actor-turned-director. In response to the recent social and racial issues of 2015, Jones is directing “Master Harold and The Boys,” a play by Athol Fugard, this fall semester. The story is set in South Africa during the 1950 apartheid and revolves around the relationship between Hally, a white boy, and his family’s two African employees, Sam and Willie. The play addresses matters of race relations and human interest–concepts that Jones is very passionate about. Here, Jones discusses his vision for the performance.

The Observer: So, you chose to direct “Master Harold And The Boys.” Why this play and why now?

Drew Jones: I chose to direct this as a response to events that have happened over the last year in the U.S. There seems to be a new wave of systematic racism in our culture today, and along with that, a new wave of awareness…So I wanted to do something that was sort of a reaction to the cyclical nature of it all, and just how it continues to happen. This play was written in 1982 in South Africa, and it’s set in 1950. The playwright is a white South African, and the play’s obviously about the experience between a white South African boy and two black South African men, so I found it very interesting that he had written that play during the 1982 apartheid, about the apartheid in 1950. It just kind of goes to show how things don’t really change. I was also attracted to this play because it’s a very human story attached to these social issues. It shows how this is affecting real people and real people’s stories. There’s no crowd scenes, rally scenes, courtroom scenes; this is a show about a boy who’s grown up with these two black men. They’re basically raising him, but this outside world is affecting these more personal and human relationships in a big way.

O: What does it mean to bring this play to Fordham in light of recent events of ‘bias incidents’?

D: I think it’s interesting. I mean, our Fordham Theatre Mainstage season is “Season at the Mountaintop,” in reference to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. I think everyone in different ways wants to talk about it. Obviously these events at Rose Hill had happened after I chose to do this, and I already had started work on the play…

O: Yeah, that’s weird how that happened.

D: It is. Not surprising though, unfortunately. There are different ways to comment on these issues, even just in the realm of theater. As I said, this is like a human story, but there are other styles of theater that can be much more didactic. Like Brechtian theater would be much more like, pointing the finger, and be like this is the problem and this is the solution.

O: Do you see that at all in “Master Harold And The Boys”? Although it ends pretty ambiguously, does the conclusion offer up some kind of solution in your eyes?

D: I’m still struggling with the end of this play, about whether it’s hopeful in the end or not. At the end of the play, Hally has kind of, like, exploded. His inner racism has just come out in every direct way towards this black South African man who has been so close with him all his life. And at the end of the play, he forces this man to call him ‘Master Harold,’ as opposed to ‘Hally,’ which totally changes the relationship there. You think, “well, this is ruined now… There’s no turning back from this.” He’s just a new generation of a person who isn’t changed, someone who’s exactly the same and still has these prejudices. But then there is a moment at the end of the play where Sam does call him ‘Hally’ again and says that maybe they can “try again tomorrow.” I would like to think that that’s a hopeful ending.

O: Wow, it really is cyclical in every way. As for the roles of Sam, Willie and Hally, they are extremely co-dependent on one another, and the life of this play is in their particularly interracial relationships with one another. What were you looking for when students auditioned? Do you think you found it?

D: I think so! Darby Davis (FCLC ‘16) and Tristen Dossett (FCLC ‘18) are playing Sam and Willie, respectively. What I love about Darby, who I also know well as a person, is that he just has so much passion. He’ll be a valuable part of our conversation. Tristen is definitely very different from Darby, which is what I wanted. I think Sam and Willie are very different, in that they are both victims of the same system, but I think they react to it in different ways. I think the dynamic between the two will be really great.  Austin Spero (FCLC ‘19), who’s playing Hally, is very excited about the play and already seems very in tune with the role of Hally. I think anything he’s got will add to the conversation. Even if we have to start from scratch and look at it from a different perspective, that’s fine too. I think everything you can know and learn about your character is valid, whether you use it explicitly in a performance or not.

O: This play has a very distinct backdrop—a South-African world in the 1950s. The issues and subjects it brings up, however, seem to transcend time as we’ve discussed. Do you know how closely you might stick to the original script, or will you stray?

D: It’s interesting you ask that, because I just went through some photos from past productions that I’ve seen. Some of them really do set it in 1950s, Port-Elizabeth South Africa, in a tea room. I just loved the way it looked and I was like “ah, I wanna do all this!” But, in talking with my directing/production workshop class and in light of recent events, it might serve me more to take a more open approach and have the audience fill the rest in. If I make the aesthetic of the play traditional, meaning, this is South Africa in 1950, people can look at it and have the opportunity to say, “that’s not America today, that’s South Africa in 1950, so thank you for your play, Drew…” and they’ll leave that in the theatre and go home. But if I leave it more open, people can fill that in and see what that’s like. Vincent Gunn (FCLC ‘18) is on our team as my set designer, and he’s wonderful, so I have absolute faith that he can probably make anything happen with anything I give him.

O: So what direction does that leave your ‘creative process’ in?

D: It’s definitely shifting a little bit. Shifting from realism, to a more poetic realism, if you will.

O: Is there one moment in the play between Sam, Willie and Hally that you’re very excited to direct?

D: There are actually two. The first is a moment of change with Hally’s character. Throughout the play, you get the sense that he has a very bad relationship with his father, but then there’s a point where he talks to his dad on the phone, and his tone absolutely shifts. You see him being pleasant with his dad and kind of joking and having cheery conversation. And that really gives the audience an idea of Hally’s personal struggle between being pulled between Sam and Willie and his father and his family. The struggle between, should you do what they say you should do as opposed to what you think you should do?

O: To conform or not to conform.

D: Exactly. In this instance, it’s like being for apartheid or not being for apartheid. So, that is an important moment where he talks to his dad and you see that shift.

And then the second, the climax of the play, when Hally makes Sam refer to him as Master Harold, and you see this huge turning point in their relationship, that could be life changing for them or as we said before, that it could be better the next day and just keep going.

O: Is there anything in your process that you’re going to take from something you learned in a Fordham class or from a professor?

D: Yeah. This semester I’m taking the “Young, Gifted, and Black” class with Professor Drew Alexander Jones, and I think that’s gonna inspire a lot of discussion. The class is an open discussion about race and these issues that everyone’s discussing right now. I want that to be a jumping off point for us because one of the things we do discuss in class is how there are not many forums to discuss these issues, and I want my rehearsal room to be one of them. I think that will start in table work, and then we can continue the conversation throughout the rehearsals. I’m really excited about that aspect of it.

O: What do you want your audience to take away from your particular production of “Master Harold and the Boys”?

D: People know that there are issues going on in the country, but this is it coming to life in human form. It won’t be so far away from them. People are going to see a story affected by the problems we’ve always had from all over the world, whether it be South Africa, Australia, the UK or America. I hope people feel, and I hope people think. I hope they go and have a conversation because that’s what we have to do. We have to talk about it, even if we’re uncomfortable—we’ve got to keep doing it.