Keep your eyes - and ears - open for the Black Rep's Evann Jones
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 20, 2012 - Applause is great. But while Evann Jones enjoys enthusiastic audience response as much as the next performer, her focus is also about illuminating the human condition.
Jones, 23, a second-year intern at the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, is known as a rising star. At the March 10 Black Rep gala, Jones belted out three solos including “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Stormy Weather” — more than any other entertainer there.
Her goal is to make it big as a singer, but Jones also appreciates the acting process and its transformative powers. In her role last year as Sophie in “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage, Jones dug deep inside to embody a Congolese woman who’s survived a mutilating rape by bayonet.
“I try to be truthful to that character to tell another person’s story,” Jones said. “I didn’t even know people went through anything like this.”
From Elvis elf to college phenom
Jones made her stage debut in an elementary school Christmas story featuring a pointed-toe version of the man famous for blue suede shoes. While she enjoyed being an assistant elf to “Elf-is” at school, at home she preferred to impersonate Disney’s “Aladdin” princess.
“I would put on my pajama pants and my training bra and act out Jasmine’s part,” Jones said.
Jones’ best-loved music still includes that which filled her home where she grew up the oldest of three: her mother’s Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and Stephanie Mills, and her father’s country tunes.
“I didn’t even know about rap until eighth grade and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve never heard this before!’” Jones said.
Her years at Cardinal Ritter High School were filled with choir performances; it was there that she also played a doo-wop singer in the school production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” among other plays. Field trips often took her to the Black Rep.
“‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Dreamgirls’ were my favorites. And I thought, ‘I have to be on that stage one day,’” Jones said.
Some scoffed at her dream of studying the performing arts when she enrolled at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. — one of the top 10 theater colleges in the country — but her mother was in her corner.
“She would tell them, ‘That’s what Evann wants to do,’” Jones said.
Jones was in her sophomore year before Stephens instructor Lamby Hedge heard her sing.
“She auditioned for one of our musicals, and she just blew the lid off the room,” Hedge said. “She just has a phenomenal voice.”
After that, “everything she touched turned to gold,” according to Hedge, including a particularly difficult acting assignment in which students chose and performed a monologue written for another gender. Jones picked Walter from “A Raisin in the Sun,” bravely went first and “knocked everyone’s socks off.”
“That’s how I knew this woman was something more than just one kind of talent,” Hedge said. “She has incredible potential and in a variety of styles; she can do drama, she’s a terrific comic and she can really sink her teeth into something very textured and very challenging.”
Living the dream that almost wasn’t
When Jones auditioned for a Black Rep production after college, founder Ron Himes asked her if she wanted to apply for the intern program.
“I was like, ‘No, I want to see if I can make it as an actor full-time',” Jones said.
But after not getting the part and a subsequent stint at Victoria’s Secret, she reconsidered. Himes had a little fun with her turn-about.
“He said, ‘Oh, now you want to be an intern?’” Jones said.
Since December 2010, Jones’ days with the Black Rep are filled with working the box office, assisting artistic associate Linda Kennedy, performing in mostly local touring shows in schools and libraries, and in the last year, acting in mainstage productions including “Ruined,” “Black Nativity” and “Hairspray.”
Her Black Rep debut in “Ruined” was “terrifying,” Jones said.
“I was on the stage, not sitting in the seats, and I was surrounded by so many wonderful actors like J. Samuel Davis and Andrea Frye,” Jones said.
Jones’ “Ruined” role called upon all her acting skills and personal experiences. She could scarcely imagine living the horror that her character survived. Jones had faced challenges such as her parents’ divorce, but she’d focused mainly on the silver linings of that experience, which included a larger world of new relationships.
“It was hard because I usually do happy musicals and ‘Ruined’ had so much dirt and true emotion, it was hard for me to tap into that,” Jones said.
So when it came time for her character to recoil from a man’s slight touch — have a “crazy freak-out,” according to Jones — she found a way to make it real.
“It was like, ‘Just focus on what’s happening, this is happening to you right now,’” Jones told herself. “It felt like something else took over my body. I had to take a minute to calm down because I’d never experienced emotion like that.”
Next act as a duo
One emotion Jones does frequently feel is love for her new husband, Roy De-Bose, an old friend from high school. De-Bose, now working at the V.A. hospital in enrollment and also in the National Guard, called Jones “the sweetest person I’ve ever met.”
“If there’s a wreck on the road, she prays for them,” De-Bose said.
De-Bose has watched Jones’ confidence grow since their days at Cardinal Ritter and sees no obstacles to her achieving her goals.
“She has limitless potential,” De-Bose said.
But getting married “changes everything,” Jones said. Now, thinking for two as she ponders her future, Jones sees them staying in St. Louis for another year or two and possibly moving to Austin after that.
“I just hope the fates work together so we can both do what we want to do,” Jones said.
When we interviewed Ron Himes in January, we asked him to point us to young talents we should be paying attention to. Evann Jones was one of the people he recommended.
From time to time the Beacon will be profiling established figures in the arts and using their guidance in finding younger people to shine the spotlight on.