'When fear comes knocking ... answer with faith'

A conversation with Book-It¹s Jane Jones

Seattle overflows with theaters. But right now the theater crowd is focused on a café — Café Nordo in Pioneer Square. That’s where Book-It Repertory Theatre is presenting an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, “A Movable Feast.” 

The creative inspiration behind this collaboration is Jane Jones, founder and co-artistic director of Book-It.  

“When we decided to do “A Movable Feast,” Jones said, “we were thinking it would go well with beautiful food. Hemingway and his wife Hadley didn’t have very much money, and they were always hungry. So we thought it would be a fantastic pairing to bring food and theater together.”

The evening features a four-course meal, taken from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, with minor adjustments. But it is not dinner theater, because no one eats during the show. Only before, in between and after the acts. 

Jones studied ballet until she was 18. In London, she studied at the Royal Academy of Ballet. But she was beginning to question her choice. “At one point, my ballet instructor took me aside and said, ‘Jane, you have such a marvelous time … from your neck up.’ ”

From that time on, Jones devoted herself to theater. Her illustrious career has taken her all over the country, from Virginia to San Francisco to New York, back to the West Coast, back to New York and finally Seattle. 

In San Francisco, she worked with artistic director Bill Ball at the American Conservatory Theater. Then Ball was fired from ACT, and the company was reduced from 65 members down to 15.  

“At that point, a bunch of us moved to New York City together, and founded a company called the 29th St. Project. We found a space that we could convert into a very small black box theater — at 29th and 10th Avenue. And that’s where Book-It was born.”

Jones never appeared on Broadway, but her career flourished. She found an agent in New York City and was able to audition. She did a lot of regional theater, played many leading roles and worked with a slew of great directors.   

When she was in her mid-30s, Jones tired of moving around all the time. 

“I was living out of a suitcase. I really wanted a home; I wanted to be part of a community,” she said. “Seattle was perfect. Puget Sound, the mountains and nature, the recreation, a vibrant city with regional theater. I had already worked here and really loved it. As an actress, I had made my way up the West Coast, so I still had lots of connections. So in 1987, I left New York City and came to Seattle

“I brought the idea of Book-It with me. I rallied a group of people, and we called ourselves ‘The Collective.’ We were able to rent the old Empty Space Theatre across from the Comet Tavern on Pike Street—we all paid $25 a month. From there, I was able to continue the work I had founded in New York with Book-It in Seattle.” 

At the same time, Jones was getting other acting gigs. A lot of film work came through Seattle in the 80s through the 90s. Jones’ film and TV credits include “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Singles,” “Homeward Bound,” “Rose Red.” and “Twin Peaks.” 

“When David Lynch cast me in the pilot for “Twin Peaks,” it was one of the most memorable days of my acting career. He was so generous, and he trusted his actors. I saw this first hand on the set--people were willing to do anything he asked, because he was so gracious, respectful and trusting. He is very sensitive and amazing — he just made you feel terrific.”

“Of all the roles I have ever played, I think my favorite was Emily in ‘Our Town.’ I played her three times, and every single time, I loved that part more and more.  But I have to say, since I’ve been doing this in Seattle for almost 30 years, some of my very favorite parts are the plays from Book It’s adaptations of literature.”

And there have been many—125 world premiere adaptations thus far. 

Book-It’s current adaptation, “A Movable Feast,” was co-conceived by Jones, who is also directing it. 

“When we were thinking about “A Movable Feast,” I said, ‘You know what? We have a Hemingway — Riley Shanahan is available to do it and he’s perfect for the role.’ I mean, you wouldn’t want to do “Hamlet” without a perfect Hamlet. So we said, “Let’s do it.”  

Hemingway was a struggling, young, expatriate journalist and writer living in Paris with his wife Hadley in the early 1920s. Then as an older writer, he decided he wanted to write about that time in his life. So it is written from an older man’s point of view, looking back on his young adulthood  

Each chapter in the book is not more than six to eight pages at most, and every chapter has a title. Out of 18 chapters, Book-It has adapted nine. The cast of characters goes from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas to Ezra Pound, F, Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda.

“Hunger is the discipline--that is one of the chapters and one of the things that Ernest understood as a young artist. You have to keep hungry; you have to keep reaching for it. Never empty the well, always stop when there is still something in the deep part of the well. That hunger is about the creative process.

“As Hemingway said to himself, ‘You have written before and you will write again.’  I feel that way about leading a not-for-profit company for 30 years — we even survived the recession of 2008.” 

I couldn’t resist asking Jones about President Trump’s plan to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts. She was quick to answer. 

“I’ve often thought, ‘Okay, all of you people. Try living for one week without literature, art, theater, music, and architecture,” she said. “For one week, remove yourself from those things we take for granted and see what happens to the way human beings relate to each other.”

We’re not sure our current administration cares about the arts. Perhaps that’s the problem with the “new” Washington.

Should we be afraid? 

Jones has an answer for that too. ‘When fear comes knocking at the door, answer with faith.’  You just have to have faith that the right thing will happen. How else can we truly live?”