Pushing the envelope has paid off in spades for Daniel Alexander Jones.
Last month, Jones, an associate professor of theater, received word that he’d won a Doris Duke Artist Award. The award, for which he was anonymously nominated (and was a complete surprise to Jones), features a whopping $275,000 cash prize, with $225,000 going toward an unrestricted, multiyear grant.
The rest can be used for targeted support toward audience development, and personal reserves for creative exploration during retirement. Funds are available over a period of three to five years.
As he was sworn to secrecy until the official announcement on April 2, Jones joked that he had to avoid everyone he knows and loves so as not to reveal the news. He joins 19 other working performance artists in this, the fourth class of Duke artists.
“There are a number of artists who have been in the field for two decades or more, whose work is celebrated in the field in the communities where they make work,” he said. “But they’re not necessarily “mainstream” artists.
“It was a real validation for those of us who have been working in ways that might be termed ‘underground.’”
In addition to teaching at Fordham—he is head of the playwriting program, among other duties—Jones’ work explores how we are bigger than the boundaries that we often try to live inside of. His primary vehicle for this exploration is a character, Jomama Jones, who is a fully realized soul singer in the vein of Tina Turner.
Last year, “Jomama” starred in a new musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz, which takes place after the events in the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, at Salvage Vanguard Theatre in Austin.
Jones wrote the adaptation, which he titled Bright Now Beyond, while on a faculty fellowship in 2012. With the Duke award, he’s now hoping to bring the show to New York City.
“It’s really an exciting piece for me. It has roots in vaudeville and the dusty magic of that era of performance, and a hauntingly beautiful score by Bobby Halvorson,” he said.
In the meantime, Jones is relishing the fact that someone—he’ll never know who—nominated him for such a prestigious award.
“It’s a testament to something I think often goes unseen in the performing arts world, which is that there are genuine, collegial, and loving relationships across the board. There are people who support and admire one another’s work but who may not know one another very well,” he said.
“You see there are others who’ve been supporting you for years, and in this particular moment, one of them advocated for you and your work. It’s powerful, and I feel like whenever I’ve been in a position to advocate for someone else similarly, it makes me really excited to do it.”