This is not the first time Rebecca Naomi Jones has been in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” In fact, it’s not even the first time she’s played country wench Jaquenetta in the Shakespeare play.
“I went to [North Carolina School of the Arts] for classical training in drama and one of the workshop productions that we did was ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ and I actually played Jaquenetta,” she says. “I know, it’s ridiculous! I guess I’m destined to be a country bumpkin who’s sexualized. Call on me!”
However, in the version she’s now starring in, Jaquenetta has a little more heft than in Shakespeare’s version. Director and book writer Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman, of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” fame, have reimagined the play as a musical for the Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park. The production starts performances tonight.
“The character is such a small role in the Shakespeare version of the play,” explains Jones. “There’s still a lot of questions that we have about her, but they’ve given her this beautiful song to help shed some light.”
Jones chatted with us about working hard, networking, and getting typed as an actor.
Jones first met Timbers when they were both a part of the Sundance Theatre Lab in 2007. Jones was in the acting company, and though they didn’t work on the same project at Sundance, they’ve kept in touch over the years. In addition to her connection with Timbers, Jones has also worked at the Public before with “Passing Strange,” which she also did on Broadway. “With all of those connections, somehow they ended up having me in mind for this role,” she says. She wasn’t involved in early readings of the project—Lindsay Mendez did the readings—but when Mendez accepted the role of Elphaba in “Wicked,” Jones was the obvious choice. “They had me come in, and I did a very little bit of the material, just to be like, ‘Here I am!’” she says.
Jones has been learning a lot working with Timbers, who she calls an “amazing talent,” but she says his style of working so quickly in the rehearsal room has been a challenge. “I don’t find myself to be at all like an alpha type personality except in terms of my work in theater,” she says, likening Timbers’ directorial style to that of a film director. “I want to figure out what the character is. I want to figure out what they’re doing in this scene. I want to map out the journey! With the way that Alex works, it’s been really good for me to remember to just trust Alex’s way. It’s been a bit of a discovery for me, and it’s scary as an actor to just get thrown in, but it’s actually been a good reminder that you know theater can work in many different ways.”
Try something new.
Though Jones studied Shakespeare in school, she’s known for being a musical theater actor in New York, having appeared in “American Idiot,” “Passing Strange,” and “Murder Ballad.” Though she admits she hasn’t done a “traditional” musical, per se, in a while. “I’ve gotten really used to doing really raw, rock musicals, and this is definitely contemporary, but it’s more traditional musical theater style,” she says. Even though she relishes the opportunity to do a musical, she acknowledges that sometimes directors and casting directors can pigeonhole actors as “musical theater actors.” “When you do a lot of musical theater, people forget that you can do straight plays as well,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll go in for something, and it'll be like, ‘Oh, but she’s a musical theater actor.’ Well, sure, just because she sings she’s a musical theater actor, but the hope would be that any musical theater actor would be an actor as well.”
Take care of yourself.
For most of the rehearsal process, Jones worked on “Love’s Labour’s Lost” during the day and performed in “Murder Ballad” at night. “Honestly, it’s been really hard,” she says of her double duty. “That alpha part of me feels like I’m failing because it’s so hard. I want to say, ‘I got it! It’s alright!’ But it’s been really stressful, and it’s nobody’s fault. I wanted to do both shows, and I can’t expect Alex to not call me into rehearsal. That’s how it works. But it’s been mostly the lack of rest.” But at the end of the day, Jones is extremely thankful for the opportunities. “How grateful am I to have this wealth of wonderful work in New York,” she says. “So all I can do is kind of suck it up and breathe through it and allow it be hard and just try to do my best. Living the dream, yeah! The dream is complicated as we get older.”
Have interests outside of acting.
Jones says in order to be a good actor, you must be a well-rounded individual. “When a show closes, and I don’t know yet when I’ll have a job and I freak out and I think I’m worthless and I think I don’t know what I’m doing and I’ll never work again,” she says, “eventually I have to re-learn the lesson I always learn, which is, you have to remember that you are a human being and not just a vessel for acting. It’s so important to remember to be interested in other things and to continue to be yourself with knowledge about other things and to remind yourself that you have other interests and to cultivate those interests. Otherwise you don’t have anything to tell; you don’t have anything to share.”