When former Shelton resident and playwright Jennifer R. Jones ascended the stage at Dalton State College Nov. 14 to receive honors and flowers, it marked the end of a four-night run of her play The White Rose.
It also marked the latest phase of a journey that began some 15 years ago and took her through two Connecticut Community Colleges.
The play, which deals with five students who formed the White Rose resistance group to oppose the growing barbarism of Hitler’s Nazi regime, found its roots in a history course on the Holocaust she took at Norwalk Community College in the late “90s. It was here, that, thanks to Professor and Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges (4Cs) member David Fuchs, she discovered the story of the White Rose group.
This course, which included a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., piqued her interest in the students, who were executed for leafleting. “Their stories and photos intrigued me,” she said. “They seemed like kids I could have known and I wanted to learn more about them.”
The following semester, she took a playwriting course at NCC with Prof. Ron Song Destro, founder of the Oxford Shakespeare Company professional theatre and drama school based in NYC, London and Stratford-upon-Avon. “It was here that I decided to write a play about them: I wanted to publicize their story,” she said, over coffee in a Dalton restaurant before the Nov. 12 performance.
However, other interests came to the fore, and Jones’ play gathered dust on a shelf. Those interests revolved around news and feature writing, so she registered for noncredit courses in those subjects taught by 4Cs member Anson Smith at Bridgeport’s Housatonic Community College. The goal of the courses was to help students get a news and feature story published in a daily or weekly newspaper under their bylines. Jones did both.
So delighted was Jones that she decided to repeat the courses to add more articles to her portfolio of published works. Then, to help her continue her development as a writer, Smith created an internship for her in the public relations department. The results: articles published in the New Haven Register, Manchester Journal Inquirer, Bridgeport News, Inner-City News, and the Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury, Hartford and Springfield Inquirer, among others.
“I can still remember Mr. Smith’s sayings, things like ‘Never use two words when one will do’ and ‘The writer’s most important tool isn’t the pencil, it’s the eraser’,” she said.
It was this experience that taught her how to revise and improve her work, something she would find valuable as a playwright. “This was the first time I felt like a writer and the first time I had anything published.”
“It gave me the motivation to keep on writing,” she said, “as well as the confidence I needed to make my own revisions.”
This class also reintroduced her to the theater, something in which she had shown a passing interest. One of her first assignments in the class was to do an article on the HCC’s Theater Arts Program, where she met program coordinator and 4Cs member Geoff Sheehan. Her interviews with Sheehan rekindled that interest in the theater.
“I remember him saying ‘Even if you have a natural ability for the stage, training is still important in many areas such as physical and vocal expression, script analysis, and understanding how to create your character within the director’s vision’,” she said. “It was the same lesson I learned in writing: there’s a point where training becomes more important than talent.”
Those two threads that came together in the community colleges would intertwine after she moved to Georgia in 2006. She became involved in the theater and in pursuing her Master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Tennessee in nearby Chattanooga. Then came acting with local theater groups and finishing her White Rose script. Finally, it culminated with the performance of her play at Dalton State College earlier this month.
The next challenge for Jones will be getting the play published.
Jones is grateful for the help she received at Norwalk and HCC. “People may bad mouth state employees and union members,” she said, “but it was the help of people like Profs. Fuchs, Destro, Sheehan, and Mr. Smith that helped bring me where I am today. They went out of their way for me … and that made all the difference.”