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Volume 24, Number 10 — October 2017

Arts for Youth Spotlight

Alissa Jones
Alissa Jones

Jones opens dialogue about depression

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 26, 2017

Alissa Jones' first acting role was an orphan in a middle school performance of "Oliver," when she was in elementary school. "The middle school theater director came to my school asking for fifth and fourth graders to be orphans. I had severe anxiety and hated school, so everyone was surprised when I volunteered. I was drawn to it. I've been hooked ever since."

Coming from a family of movie buffs, her first love was film. "I could hum "The Little Mermaid' theme before I could even talk," she says. "I knew that theater was going to be my life when it became my main priority. I was a very active and involved kid. I played all kinds of sports, including the dance team, as well as playing the violin in my middle school's orchestra. I was willing to give anything and everything in order to attend rehearsals. I wanted theater to consume me. I spent all of my time reading plays, rehearsing scenes, listening to musicals and immersing myself in this world. I knew I was truly addicted when I realized everything felt like work, except rehearsals and performances."

It isn't just the mechanics of the theater that enthrall Alissa, it's the feeling of community. "You form a bond, a family-like relationship with your cast members. It's invigorating and nearly impossible to not feel connected when you spend that much time with a group of people who share the same passion as you. I love bringing people joy and that's what theater is. It's pure joy and magic. It's a magical adventure that you ask audience members to go on with you."

Alissa is translating her passion into a musical, "Her Monster," to raise awareness about depression. It tells the story of a woman who is suffering from depression and her journey with the illness. The production explains the disorder from the viewpoint of the individual who is experiencing it.

"A lot of information, such as age, home, life, etc. has purposefully been kept vague, so that audience members can replace the main character with someone they know who is struggling with this disorder.

"The only two characters are the girl, Alice, who will be played by myself and the Monster, who is being played by William Scott. Will's character is meant to be a physical representation of her depression that Alice is hallucinating. He is always there with her, but she can only see and hear him when her mood is extremely low," Alissa says.

She hopes that the production will open up dialogue about mental illness, inform individuals and provide realistic hope to those who struggle with something similar everyday.

"We can talk about a broken arm or heart disease, but any form of mental illness is considered taboo and as a weakness. I want those who feel alone to no longer feel like they are the only ones. I want to change how the audience views mental health, and if at least one person walks away changed in a positive way then I will consider this production a success. Possibly if we talked about it more, removed the embarrassment of the stigma and actually listened without judgment, maybe we, as a society, can help those who suffer. Knowledge is power, and understanding brings us closer together," Alissa says.

She wrote the script and the music and lyrics of all but three songs. At first, she wasn't going to have original music, but then she started playing the ukulele. She combined that new skill with her poetry and "before I knew it, I had enough songs for the musical." Her friend, Maxine Poole, turned the ukulele chords into a piano accompaniment, which they recorded to use with the musical.

She describes her style as a mixture between Meisner, which is about listening and responding to your partner, and the Stanislavski system, which involves putting yourself into the character and using your experiences to bring truth to your character. She was trained primarily in Stanislavski, but did a mentorship on the Meisner acting technique with Trisha Matthews from Barter Theatre.

"For this production in particular, myself and my cast mate, William Scott, have had to be experimental. This musical is happening inside her head but everything she experiences is very real," she says.

Alissa is a senior at Emory & Henry College, majoring in musical theater, and plans to be involved in theater "until the day I die." She has been auditioning and applying to as many theaters as she can.

If that doesn't work, "I plan to move to a city, so I'll be closer to the work. I would also like to delve into film acting, as it has always been a medium I have felt passionate about."

She is a member of Emory & Henry's concert choir and Alpha Psi Omega, the national honors theater fraternity. She loves to paint and take photographs and play her ukulele.

She is from Kingsport, Tennessee and is the daughter of Dr. Gregory and Keri Jones.

Topics: Music, Theatre