Smoothies With Colin Jones: Neptune’s Got the Power!

In December, I was blown away by Colin Jones, who played Jean Valjean in Neptune Theatre’s Youth Performance Company’s production of Les Misérables: School Edition. His performance earned him a 2009 TWISI People’s Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Young Actor in a Musical. Jones has recently graduated from Sir John A. Macdonald High School and is heading to Victoria, British Columbia at the end of August to attend the Canadian College of Performing Arts in the fall. In anticipation of the next chapter in his life, Jones and I sat down at Second Cup on Spring Garden Road and enjoyed delicious Vanilla Strawberry Smoothies which are only $0.99 ($1.14 with tax) until July 17th. They are incredible, low in fat and ridiculously cheap, so I would encourage you to all run to Second Cup and take advantage of this berry delicious promotion. In the meantime, you should read this great interview with Colin Jones, as he is absolutely one to watch for. I am certain that he will be nationally heralded as a brilliant Canadian musical theatre performer within the next decade. Currently, he is the very definition of what Rosie O’Donnell would have called a “cutie-patootie” in 1996.

Amanda Campbell (AC): So, Colin, the first question I was wondering was when and how did you first get involved in the theatre?

Colin Jones (CJ): Um, I guess really it was in school and doing school stuff in elementary. My school, the school I went to it was sort of arts focused- I mean, it wasn’t like a performing arts school or anything because we were like five, but like in kindergarten our teacher would get us to do stuff like acting out the stories that we would read as a class. And then that led to summer camps… I don’t think that it was until grade four that we actually had drama and then in grade five I did my first musical. It was this terrible musical comedy about a traveling dentist. Oh, I almost remember what it was called…. How Floss Will Travel! (laughs)… Then I just kind of continued on from there—

AC: Wow. Did you have a big part in that show? Was there any sense then that this was something that you were particularly skilled at and that you should maybe pursue?

CJ: Um, I played the narrator and I liked it but I wasn’t like “this is what I want to do!” I don’t even know if I had that moment until not long ago. Maybe not even until this year almost.

AC: Did you have any early theatrical influences? Or even an artist you liked or a CD that you would listen to that had a profound effect on you?

CJ: Um, I dunno. Not really. Growing up I was never a really die-hard musical theatre fan and my parents almost never took me to see many musicals. I remember that my neighbour and I would always watch the Whitney Houston produced version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with Bernadette Peters and Brandy. I always really loved the big production of it all. I guess that I basically owe it all to my mom because she found Neptune for me, and I went to a musical theatre camp that summer and loved it.

AC: How old were you then?

CJ: I was about fourteen or fifteen. I think it was 2005. And the camp was Mamma Mia, the musical theatre camp, and I remember being skeptical at first because my mom was like, “you’ll get to sing ABBA all day!” and I was like, “ehn, I dunno” but I went with a couple of friends and I ended up auditioning for YPCo. I absolutely loved it. It was taught by Matt (Amyotte) and Mary Fay (Coady) and then some how I ended up being a YPCo Apprentice, back when they still had that. I actually don’t know how I pulled that off. First of all, the auditioner was sick so I got an automatic Call Back and then I had to be late for some reason, I can’t even remember why, but they knew, and I remember going into the Studio Theatre and it being packed with people and then slapping my name on my front and back and having to go in and sing in front of all those people. And there was such an intense dance call. And I did this terrible monologue-

AC: What did you sing?

CJ: Mr. Cellophane from Chicago.

AC: And you did a terrible monologue!?

CJ: Yeah, a terrible monologue that I had gotten from the Internet. And I don’t even know what it was from or remember what it was about, but what I do remember is that Drew, Drew O’Hara, who was also auditioning at the time, had the same monologue. And we both didn’t really know it that well, and so both of our monologues had the same sort of idea, but they were not really the same at all. No, it was actually kind of a miracle that I got it. I was actually kind of surprised.

AC: When was your first year in (the Youth Performance) Company?

CJ: My first year in Company was 2007.

AC: What show did you do that year? What was your experience like that year?

CJ: Little Women. Um, yeah. I really liked it. I really liked that role. As Professor Bhaer I got to play the romantic lead, and marry the lead and yet I was still only in like four scenes. It was great because it felt so rewarding but it wasn’t too much commitment. And also, I loved working with Sam(antha Wilson). She is so nice and just so… so eloquent.

AC: Did you like Little Women as a show? It was a bit strange the way it was set up, having such a major character not appear onstage until late in the Second Act. There was so much crammed into the end of that show.

CJ: Yeah, I did. It’s a bit strange, like you said. But I liked it a lot. It was also great working with Vicky (Houser) too. She’s great.

AC: And then you played Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. What was that like?

CJ: That was like ridiculous. I’m one of those people who don’t know a lot of musicals before I start rehearsals. There were people who auditioned for YPCo that year because Neptune had announced that they were doing Les Miz and they loved Les Miz. I auditioned for YPCo because I loved YPCo. And then when I was doing my research, people started to say that I should go for Valjean, like write it down on the paper for the audition or whatever. And when I was listening to it, I started to be like, “okay, I guess yeah, this would be a really cool part to play.” Mary Lou Martin directed and I had never met her, but some people in the company knew her and people like Meghan (Hubley) knew her and people started saying things like, “Mary Lou Martin hates flip flops” and “Mary Lou Martin hates Andrew Lloyd Webber… don’t sing any Andrew Lloyd Webber” and I started to get really intimidated. So, when I went in for my audition I sang “My Unfortunate Erection” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and she was like, “that was cute.” And that was like it. So, I was like, “what does that mean?” “Is she going to even cast me?” “Is cute good?” And then when I got the letter, that form letter, that had “Jean Valjean” filled in, it was sort of strange to think that someone thought I could do that. It’s still in the front of my school binder… the letter there saying “we are pleased to offer you… (laughs) It was such a big role to tackle. But, Matt (Amyotte) and Mary Lou (Martin) made it a lot easier. They both would let you go with it and to make your own choices, but if they thought you could do something better they would suggest different things and help guide you in the right direction. Also there was those two semitones that were lower in the School Edition so it wasn’t like I was belting Bs like Colm Wilkinson.

AC: Right. Better to wait until you’re on Broadway for that and you have mics. So after Les Miz, you played Jack in Into the Woods at Saints Alive Theatre Company. Can you talk a bit about that?

CJ: Um, it was like completely different and yet just as challenging. I mean, the musical itself is challenging, and some of the music in Les Misérables was a challenge, and then there’s just (Stephen) Sondheim in general. It was also a fun change to play a comedic, more carefree character rather than this sort of… epic… adult. I dunno, I loved working with Saints Alive Theatre. I sort of wish that I had gotten the opportunity to work with them before like my last term in school because you get the opportunity to work with older artists and it is so much more professional. I was working with people like Ian Gilmore, and other older theatre performers who aren’t just thirteen to eighteen. That was really nice. It was also really nice that I got to work with people who had already graduated from CCPA and Sheridan. It’s like; they sort of prove that you can do this.

AC: Can you explain to the readers who maybe aren’t familiar with CCPA a little bit about the program you’re embarking on?

CJ: Okay, from what I understand, there is a national tour of auditions in, I think, ten cities and over three days, and the founder and the Artistic Director are there and they videotape the auditions. Then they review the tapes, and people are asked for interviews and stuff and then they choose forty or so first years and you can go and do just your first year there and leave with a… sort of certificate of Performing Arts and that can be it. But, they also interview people again and they choose eighteen to twenty-four people for the Year Two program and then those people can graduate with an advanced certificate of Performing Arts. And then they interview again for their third year program, which is basically a Company Year, where the students do three shows.

AC: Is there anything that you’re specifically excited about at CCPA?

CJ: Um, for me, I just really enjoy musical theatre and I wanted to train in musical theatre rather than straight theatre. I have vocal training and I love dancing, and there are not too many choices for musical theatre at the postsecondary level and CCPA was the only one that I was accepted at. My parents are still iffy about me going, but they’re getting better because I think they realized that I was going to go no matter what. But really, I wouldn’t get excited about any school in particular, I’m just excited to learn in general. If it came down between Sheridan and CCPA I would probably choose Sheridan just because it is closer. But I think that I would learn from both, just in different ways. But that either will be a worthwhile experience. … I’m really excited to learn how to tap dance because it just looks the most impressive to me of any other kind of dance.

AC: Well, Colin Jones, I have to ask you the obligatory question: Where do you see yourself in five years? … If I could hand you your dream future on a gold platter, what would it look like?

CJ: Oh, okay. I dunno- there’s two different answers to that question really. There’s the realistic answer and the dream-

AC: Don’t say realistically you’ll be working at Starbucks because I don’t think that’ll happen!

CJ: That’d be fine. I’d take the free drinks! (laughs) Realistically, if I do all three years at CCPA, I would only be out for a few years… and I would want to be establishing myself… somewhere… I kind of feel like I’d like to come back to Halifax to work. Now, that is five years from now, so that could change, but I would love to work at Neptune because almost everything that I have seen there has been so impressive. That being said, I wouldn’t mind being in a National Tour or being on Broadway… but I wouldn’t expect that to happen so soon.

AC: Is there any particular show that you’re like, “I neeeeeeeeed to do this!”?

CJ: I think I’d like to have another stab at Les Miz. Maybe not even playing Valjean again, I just think that being in a big company and doing that show would be vastly different than what it was like with YPCo. I also really like The Last Five Years, I really like the music and I really like the concept of the show and the backwards and the forwardness and then meeting in the middle. But, I love most musicals, I’d love to be in any of them. I also would really like to be in something new that will be written in the future.

AC: You mentioned that you would like to come back to Halifax and work here, and I know that some of the professional actors here have been talking lately about the challenges that this city presents, so I was wondering, do you have a vision of theatre here that you would like to see in the next five years?

CJ: It’s kind of hard to say, I don’t have much to compare it to because I haven’t seen a whole lot of stuff outside of Halifax. I’d love to see more people that live in Halifax and surrounding areas getting their work here because there are a lot of talented people here. And recently I noticed a certain director of a certain show at a certain theatre brought in a lot of his friends from a certain city and the show wasn’t really up to par with the other shows that I have seen there, I didn’t think, anyway. I think that a lot of people I know… even people my age or slightly older, people who live here, could have done much better with that material. I didn’t even think the choreography was as good as was hyped.

AC: I know exactly what you mean. I agree. You mentioned that you got your start in Elementary School, and I know that between your generation and mine Public Schools in Nova Scotia have faced harsh Arts Funding cuts and there are more being threatened, how important do you think it is to have drama in school?

CJ: I think it’s important to have it in school. Kind of just doing the kind of stuff that I was talking about, like acting out the stories in Kindergarten, that’s important. I find that I work out excess emotions when I’m performing and I think that would be helpful to keep dumb High School drama down. It will keep everyone happier. At my school (Sir John A. Macdonald High School), the drama program was pretty well respected and so was our Improv Team, which actually has been a shining part of our school because they’ve gone to Nationals and stuff… less so our musical, which is still sort of iffy, and I found that Drama class was still sort of iffy… I once had to leave another class to go get ready for a Drama Final Exam which was a performance, and the teacher whose class I was leaving said, “this is unheard of! Leaving class for a Drama Exam.” And it was sort of disheartening to see that she felt that Drama was lesser than what she was doing. But, you still have to understand where they’re coming from, they’re there to teach this and Drama is not a grad requirement.

AC: What song have you been listening to a lot on your Ipod?

CJ: I’ve been really liking “A Beautiful Mess” by Jason Mraz.

AC: Is there a TV show that you’re looking forward to watching in the Fall or a show that you watch now that you’d encourage other people to watch?

CJ: I’m really excited for Glee. I love the pilot episode so much. What else have I been watching lately? Oh, yeah, So You Think You Can Dance. And there’s a fall season of So You Think You Can Dance too!

AC: What was the last good movie you saw?

CJ: Um, good as in entertaining, I saw The Hangover, which isn’t exactly profound, but was a funny, entertaining movie. I’m also excited for the new Fame movie, not to be too stereotypical, but it looks really good. … I’m going to see the new Harry Potter tomorrow. (laughs) The Midnight Premiere.

Well, I may not be a master at Divination, but I predict the doors to Colin Jones’ theatrical career will be swung open wide quicker than you can say ‘Alohomora.’Stay tuned!

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