Cornelius Jones Jr., delivers an outstanding performance in his one man show FlagBoy, an autobiographical account which explores everything from his relationships with family, race, sexuality and his coming to terms with being HIV positive.
Jones, 32, recently spoke with us about FlagBoy, his other projects and about his up coming trip to Chicago; he will be in town from September 27-October 3 to star in Disney’s: The Lion King, which plays at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago.
PRIDEINDEX: Why did you decide to produce FlagBoy as a one man show rather than a play with a full ensemble cast?
JONES: Well FlagBoy actually birthed in a memoir writing workshop. My original plans were to write the memoir. I didn’t really make a conscious choice to produce it as a one-man play vs. a full ensemble cast. The creative process presented itself to me as a one-man show. I allow the creative process to develop naturally…I give room for the divine in this situation. A full ensemble play is in my current conversations as I continue to emerge as a theater artist/producer as well it may be a little different from the one-man show, but I am open to it fully. However, FlagBoy is autobiographical….it’s about my life, me. And what better and true way to present this honest story through my soul and my body first.
PRIDEINDEX: Tell us about your current projects and any notable challenges and how did you overcome them.
JONES: My current projects are FlagBoy and HomoAffection (which I speak about below). I also perform selections from FlagBoy and HomoAffection as well as performance poetry and original monologues that are not found in the two full-length pieces, at various venues in and outside of NYC. My challenges: 1. Self-producing and the marketing of my work can be taxing and some days I am completely drained as I do a lot of my marketing, publicity, and self-promotion on my own. Thankfully I have a friend who is now assisting with a great deal of the administrative work. However, it is a lot of work and I have my days in which I want to just throw the towel in and surrender. And when those days come…from out of the blue I may receive a phone call either congratulating or affirming me in the work that I am doing or I’ll receive some interest in either wanting to help spread the word about my work or a possible booking. And when it does become too much, I allow myself to hibernate for a day or two or more. I also just remind myself of how far I’ve come and I do my best to live in the now and enjoy it, while reminding myself to not compare who I am and my work with others because everyone’s story and journey may appear similar but the walk is different. So I am so grateful and thankful for these moments.
PRIDEINDEX: Do you have plans to self-produce any other plays? If so when?
JONES: Well I just recently self-produced and premiered a new work currently titled HomoAffection, which is partly an autobiographical journey exploring different same gender connected relationships I’ve encountered with my father, brother, best friend, and former lovers. The piece also speaks to the intersection of spirituality and sexuality and how we as men negotiate our way through life and how we affirm our self-worth. The story is told through memories, dreams, and visions and incorporates multi-media, documentary footage, dance, and theatrical storytelling. It’s more of a conceptual piece… a story told in 4 movements/sections or “breaths” I would say because each piece can stand on its own.
I am also completing a play with a full ensemble cast, which again explores a young dancer’s relationship with his ailing father. And of course there are more ideas bubbling in my head that will be meeting the paper real soon. Stay tuned as I will continue to produce other artistic works, as long as the creativity keeps pouring in.
PRIDEINDEX: I understand that you were a member of the original touring cast of Disney’s:The Lion King, what was that like, tell us about the audition process.
JONES: Yes I am a Lion King “OG”! OG Stands for Original Gazelle. The First National touring company of The Lion King was called The Gazelle Tour Company. So if you every here someone say “I’m a Lion King OG,” they are referencing being an original company member of The Lion King’s first national tour, which opened in Denver, Colorado in 2002. Since then I went on to becoming a member of the company that is currently still playing to sold-out houses on Broadway in NYC, I also performed briefly with Lion King’s 2nd National Touring company (The Cheetah Company), which opened in Chicago in 2003 or 2004 I believe. The 2nd National touring company of The Lion King has since closed but the Broadway cast and The 1st National Tour are still going strong as well as the Vegas, London, German, Holland, and Asian companies. It has been quite a joy working and performing with Disney’s:The Lion King. The company has treated me extremely well artistically and financially. It is an honor to receive the privilege of traveling from company to company. Disney has a lot of trust and faith in the work I do. Now let me not forget to mention my audition process for the show…let’s just say it was not easy…fun, but not easy. I auditioned for the show 6 times….6!!!!!!!…before being cast. At the time I auditioned there were no touring companies, only a Broadway company and LA company, and they were opening a Canadian company. After my numerous auditions, I was never aware the creative team was actually considering me for the birthing first national tour, and that is what happened!
PRIDEINDEX: Where do you currently reside and where are you originally from?
JONES: Current residence: New York City and birthplace: Richmond, VA.
PRIDEINDEX: What is you earliest memory of being gay? Describe what was like to come out to your parents, to the world?
JONES: Well what I’ve learned in my short 32 years and with some good therapy is… though “I’m OUT” or have came out, I am still coming out. In situations where people do not know me or new places or surroundings I am still coming out. You feel me? So though I am out and public about by same gender affection, attraction, and connection in my work as a theater artist/actor “the world” still has to get to know me and I’m still coming out to “the world”. So let me answer the parents question: My coming out story to my parents is a bit traumatic in a sense and kind of humorous also, I guess it’s however you look at it. I share my coming out story to my parents very openly and candidly in FlagBoy. Just know that my process was challenging and my first coming out (yes…I came out more than once) to my family was not my choice, I was pressured by a friend of my parent’s to come out to them. My second coming out to my parents was my choice, which was during my early stages of becoming comfortable and okay with my skin-my being. I don’t want to be long winded but to I invite you to check out FlagBoy to get the word from word version of my coming out story.
PRIDEINDEX: Describe your artistic style.
JONES: My style as a solo/theater artist infuses a lot of oral history, storytelling, dance and movement styles in African/Modern/Jazz/House Dance, a little prose/poetry, spoken word, and soulful vocals. I really love the joy in oral history, ethnography, and the storytelling of it. I gather my own personal stories and stories from family and friends…place these stories on my body and embody the different characters that come out. Now if you ever come and just hear me sing, you’ll get a lil Al Green with a lil James Moore with a lil Stevie and a lil Seal and there you have me…I think…ha!
PRIDEINDEX: Where did you study professionally?
JONES: Duke Ellington School of the Arts (Wash., DC), Syracuse University (Musical Theater – Freshman Year), The University of the Arts (BFA in Theater Arts), New York University (Just recently received my MA in Dramatic Writing, Educational Theater, & Performance – May 2010!)
PRIDEINDEX: Name 3 people who have influenced your artistic style.
JONES: Umm…I can’t just name 3… Essex Hemphill/Marlon Riggs, John Leguizamo, Bill Cosby, Tom Hanks, My Family, House and African Dance, Afro-Beat music, NYC Ball Kids, Southern Pageantry Kids, AND The Little Engine That Could!!! Ok, I’ll stop here for now…Hmmm…you did say “people”…I took it a lil further.
PRIDEINDEX: I’ve read that you were featured in the television series NBC’s Law & Order: SVU tell us what it was like? Do you plan to do any more television dramas?
JONES: Well of course I plan to do more television dramas…that is still a big goal of mine. I was just recently featured in the 2nd season of a popular web series called “Drama Queenz” (check it out on YouTube).
SVU episode was titled “Burned” featuring Michael Michelle and Blaire Underwood. Being cast as a Burn Surgeon with lines on Law & Order: SVU was almost like winning the mega-million (hmmm…I think…ha!) In all honestly, I was completely honored and humbled by the entire experience. I had the opportunity to be directed by Television/Film vet Eriq LaSalle. Though being on the set of some television shows feel like a microwave minute, I really benefited from the experience and the direction of Mr. LaSalle and working with SVU vets Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni. I also returned this past season as a Resident Doctor in episode “Savior,” which featured Mischa Barton (just to let you know there was an alternate ending that the studio used and sadly my major lines were not used. In case you did see it and wanted to know what happened to the baby…the baby didn’t survive). Now if only I can get on Grey’s Anatomy…I LOOOOVE that show!
PRIDEINDEX: What’s playing in your CD player?
JONES: Everything. Ok I will try to give you an abbreviated version: A lil bit of Karen Clark-Sheard “Favor”, Dorinda Clark Cole “I’m Still Here”, Kelis “Acapella”, Usher “OMG”, Estelle “Freak”, Twinkie Clark “Worship The King”, Ivete Sangalo “A Galera”, Magarathe Menenzes “Pra Voce”, Saulo/Banda Eva “Nao Precisar Mudar”, Patricia Costa “Pega Pega”, Yahzarah “Cry Over You”, Eric Roberson “Change for Me”, Baron “Celebrity”, Lady Gaga “Bad Romance”, Fela Kuti “Shakara”, PJ Morton “Don’t Ever Leave”, N’Dambi “Ode to Nina”, Dennis Ferrer “Hey Hey” (Actually I’m a big House Head…so I listen, on a daily basis to: Dennis Ferrer, Louie Vega, Masters At Work!!!), Jill Scott “Do you Remember”, LeToya “Regret”, Ledisi “So Right”, Sarah Vaughn “Dindi” Katy Perry “California Girls” Trey Songz “Say Aah” David Guetta “On The Dance Floor” Kelly Rowland “When Love Takes Over”, Black Eyed Peas “One Tribe”, Joshua Radin “The Fear You Won’t Fall” hmmm…that wasn’t so brief…. I love music!!!
PRIDEINDEX: Tell us 2 books and CDs everyone should own.
JONES: 2 is hard…how about 3. The Book of Psalms, The 4 Agreements, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire….oh and my book (when it’s published!) CD’s: Hmmmmm… Ledisi “Soul Singer” and Tamia “Tamia”
PRIDEINDEX: Where do you see yourself in the future?
JONES: Actually, where I am right now is a beautiful space and place to be in, so I am really focusing on the now and living in the now. I feel I do so much thinking about where I will be in the future (“what’s next?”), and don’t really live in the present. Also, I have been blessed with a lot at my age and I have accomplished some great things really fast, so I am really resting and enjoying this moment, as I figure out what’s next…Or what I should say as I wait for the “what’s next” to show up/present itself. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” We are always growing up even when we feel we’ve achieved it all. There’s more to learn and more to do.
PRIDEINDEX: What advice would you offer to other aspiring actors?
JONES: Approaching the business of theater or television/film or even as an independent performing artist…find a mentor…someone who has lived and breathed both sides of the industry. Also, stay up to date on current events read the newspaper, magazine, watch the news…just stay as current as possible and don’t abandon any of your hobbies…You never know where a hobby can take you in life or how you can use it to help your career as an actor.
PRIDEINDEX: Shameless promotion, when and where can we see you in action?
JONES: I would definitely say check out my website daily: www.corneliusjonesjr.com, I update it often with lots of info. And subscribe to my monthly newsletter by emailing email@example.com and place subscribe in the header.
Monday November 29th – I will be performing at New York University in an artist segment featuring the works of out gay and poz artists of color sponsored by New York University and the Office of LGBT Student Services: Cornelius Jones Jr., Tim’m T. West, and Brandon Lacy Campos
November 30th – February 13 – I can be seen performing with the Broadway cast of The Lion King in NYC (you may even catch me on as adult Simba at various shows!)
2011 – FlagBoy returns to NYC for a limited run and I will also be featured in a Gay Artists of Color segment at New Jersey Performing Arts Center – Stay tuned to my website for more details.
FlagBoy is also inviting bookings for 2011 so definitely email: firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a showing and more info.
For performance-based workshops in Theater, Voice, and Dance for students and community/social groups and/or speaking & performance engagements email me directly at Cornelius@corneliusjonesjr.com.
Last: check out and subscribe to: www.GloTVNetwork.com. I have a new show that I Co-Produced with filmmaker/actor Maurice Jamal (Dirty Laundry/The Ski Trip). The show’s working title is: LIVING LIFE in which I host and profile individuals who are living life beyond their HIV diagnosis. The show is utterly enjoyable and informative.
For more information go to www.corneliusjonesjr.com
YouTube (Subscribe Now!) – www.youtube.com/LifeJones77
FaceBook: Cornelius Jones Jr.
FaceBook FanPage (Like Now!) – FlagBoy the official Fan Page of the Actor