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Thomas W. Jones 

Director, lyricist for Horizon Theatre's Three Sistahs

Since Thomas W. Jones, co-founder of Atlanta's Jomandi Productions, stepped down as producing director of Atlanta's landmark African-American theater company, he's been focusing more on his national audience than the local theater scene. He renews his Atlanta credentials as director and lyricist for Horizon Theatre's Three Sistahs, a musical inspired by Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters that showcases Dorothy Bell, Bernardine Mitchell and Crystal Fox.

Where are you currently based and what do you do?

All the time people ask me "Where are you?" and I say "I'm here! I live in East Point. I'm next door!" I run a small entertainment company called VIA International Artists, and we develop musicals, especially by African-American composers, so I'm always traveling, especially to Washington, D.C., and New York. Two Queens, One Castle [which Jones directed for Horizon Theatre in 2004] is still touring, and I'm working on several new shows, including Bricktop for Las Vegas. Three Sistahs was more of a commission: Janet Pryce had a notion for a show, having read Chekhov, and hired me to write the book and lyrics, and William Hubbard as the composer.

How much is Three Sistahs based on Chekhov's play?

It's not an adaptation in any way, shape or form, although Chekhov's names inspired the characters, so instead of Olga, Masha and Irina, we have Olive, Marsha and Irene. It's also set against a military backdrop, at a time of radically changing values. In America, there was a lot of that in the 1960s, probably one of the biggest transitions since the Civil War. In the 1960s, you'd even have families turning against each other, especially in the black community with the effects of African-American radicalization on the Civil Rights Movement. So much of the play lives in the memories of these women that the music evokes earlier periods, like the 1940s and 1950s. It's gospel, it's rhythm and blues, it's jazzy -- it's got some bump in it.

Having worked at Jomandi for more than 20 years, what's your perspective on African-American theater in Atlanta today?

It seems like the best work is being dispersed with a lot of theaters, like the Alliance, Horizon, 7 Stages and others, and not relegated to a specific institutional framework. Kenny Leon's True Colors specializes in black literature, but there's also many new African-American plays being produced. It seems like D.C., where so many theaters do African-American work but no one seems to suffer from there not being an audience for that kind of show. Theater begets theater.

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