Black History Month Feature: Veralyn Jones
By Bridgette Ramirez
February 17, 2021
Veralyn Jones is a Resident Artist at A Noise Within and a co-founder of Lower Depth Theatre. She shares about her unconventional path to her present-day career as an artist, following her curiosity to wherever it led her, from dance to Wall Street to theatre.
How did you get started on your artistic journey?
I was 14 years old when I saw my first Broadway show, and I was smitten. I was completely mesmerized by the sheer theatricality of it all. The fact that a whole world was created on a stage, that took me on this journey, that evoked so many feelings in me totally fascinated and intrigued me. I never forgot the experience. The first play I did was with a local company called the Caribbean American Repertory Theatre, CART for short. Having seen one of their products, I saw a way in, and I had to get involved. I auditioned and got cast. That started me on my journey to learn the craft and the business of the craft. I started reading the trade papers and started going on auditions and seeing as much theater as I could afford. I also met and started studying privately with a wonderful teacher named Dana Zeller Alexis. She became an early mentor who saw a developing talent in me and encouraged me to continue studying, which I did.
How did you get to where you are now? What challenges did you face on the way?
I certainly did not have a straight path to the stage as an actor. I began as a young dancer in New York. Fresh out of college, I booked a national tour of a musical revue (my first professional acting job), then took a really unexpected detour to Wall Street (because I needed a job), then ended up going to securities training school where I earned my license to trade stocks and bonds. Spent 9 years working for a major investment banking firm as a registered representative, all the while auditioning and performing in plays in the evenings. A transfer to the LA branch of my firm brought me to California, which ultimately got me where I needed to be to solely pursue work as an actor. My main challenge I think was not really knowing what I wanted to do early on.
How did you find and end up at ANW?
A wonderful and talented director, Stephanie Shroyer, brought me to the attention of ANW. She initially brought me in for The Maids that was done a few years ago. I did not get that part, but some time after, she called and offered me a role as one of the mad women in The Madwoman of a Chaillot. I went on to do Argonautika and then Gem of the Ocean. I’ve always gravitated to the classics and saw myself doing more of it. I was very grateful for the introduction. Thank you, Stephanie!
How does your culture, family background, and history influence your work?
Growing up in the Caribbean, I come from very proud and hardworking people. We very much value family and our African cultural roots. Our community had a strong work ethic that was essential to our survival. Everyone, young and old, had a part to play. I believe that this stems from our long, painful, and troubling past as enslaved people. I learned early that I had to make my own way in life and that it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, you must always maintain your self respect and dignity. I was always taught that your dignity is part of what defines you. It’s important to me to be in communities that value and support me as an individual and as an artist. My hope is to always bring authenticity and humanity to everything I do in life and in my art.
Out of all your accomplishments in the arts, what are you most proud of?
Big picture, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work on a professional level on the stages of some major theatre companies in LA and across the country. Another one of my proud moments is the co-founding of my theatre company, Lower Depth Theatre. We endeavor to champion new plays that break down barriers of cultural misunderstanding and transform perspectives. We’re committed to incubating and presenting plays that directly address these questions. We keep a pulse on the social conversations happening in our global community. I’m also extremely proud of having uttered the words of August Wilson’s seminal character, Aunt Ester.
Who is your favorite Black author/playwright/artist? What is your favorite work of theirs?
There are so many talented writers that I could name. The first that comes to mind is Alice Childress. Her plays are critical to studies of dramatic literature and to American theater history. She was the “first” African American woman in many areas of theater. The first African American playwright to receive a professional production of one of her plays in New York, the first to win an Obie, and the first to direct an Off-Broadway production of her own work (Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, which she co-directed with Joseph Papp). The majority of her plays focus on racial inequalities and social injustices, always featuring strong African American female characters. Wedding Band and Trouble in Mind are my favorites among her many works. It was rare during the civil rights era for a black character to stand up against a white antagonist onstage. She was well ahead of her time in that respect.
You can learn more about Veralyn’s theatre credits here. We also encourage you to check out Lower Depth Theatre to see what they are up to this year!