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UI theater to perform Stick Fly

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | NOVEMBER 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Tisch Jones remembers growing up in Iowa City — especially her walks home. In her teenage years, Jones trekked across the emerald green bridge that connects the east side of campus to the west. In the cold winter months, she took a shortcut through the University of Iowa's Theatre Building, always passing through the Mabie Theatre on her way.

The now 63-year-old recalls taking that shortcut to warm up and being drawn by the ghost light at the center of the stage.

In those moments, she believed that fate would lead her to act in the space.

Now, many years later, Jones will direct her last production, Stick Fly, a story about family acceptance, on that same stage.

Jones believes that her roots in a cultured and artistic middle-class black family made this piece fitting for her last production.

Stick Fly will come to life at 8 p.m. today in the Theatre Building's Mabie Theatre. Performances will continue at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays through Nov. 19, with a 2 p.m. performance on Nov. 13. Admission is $5 for UI students with valid IDs, $10 for youth, $12 for seniors, and $17 for the general public.

The director considers Iowa City to be her second home; she is originally from New Orleans. Before teaching in the UI Theatre Department for 10 years, she attended high school in Iowa City and received two degrees from the university. She said it is one of the few places where people remember her being a teenager.

"It's a great honor and a great joy to teach [at the UI]," Jones said. "I take great pride in being able to come back and work with great colleagues and see the changes the department has made since I was a student here."

Jones has witnessed many additional changes during her time in Iowa City.

She often reminisces about the boathouse along the Iowa River as one of her favorite kissing spots, living in married-student housing where the Hancher/Voxman complex now sits, and watching Professor David Thayer walk along the riverbank and being starstruck by his presence.

Memories such as these have collected over time at these secret spots and landmarks. And while this final production is a bittersweet experience for Jones, she also considers it to be her pinnacle production.

"More than anything, this is the most important production of my life, because it gives me confidence that I can still do it and that a stroke won't keep me down," Jones said. "This is what I love to do, and this is what I hope to continue with in my retirement [to the Twin Citites]."

After suffering a stroke in December, Jones went through rehab at the university to strengthen her voice. Relearning how to breathe, becoming more aware of her dietary habits, and getting lots of rest were essential to her recovery. The biggest challenge has been learning to stay in the moment and to not become stressed, she said.

With the help of her trusty 41⁄2 -pound poodle, Jacquo, she has been able to keep her blood pressure significantly low during rehearsals.

A department faculty member suggested directing Stick Fly as something that might interest her.

The play revolves around a series of exposed family secrets when two African-American brothers bring home the women in their lives to their parent's summer home on Martha's Vineyard.

"It's about the dynamics of when you bring your significant other to meet the family, and it's almost as if they opened Pandora's box," Jones said. "I found it interesting that anyone can relate to one character's story in this play."

The play's six-member cast is determined to work until Jones' vision is portrayed.

Greg Geffrard, a UI third-year graduate student, plays Flip, a 37-year-old African-American plastic surgeon who brings home a white woman with whom he is in a relationship.

He said his experience in Stick Fly allowed him to experiment with his acting abilities, and he attributes much of this to Jones's directing style.

"[Jones] doesn't try to turn us into a classroom, so we are allowed to learn from each other, and she has said on occasion that she has learned from us," he said. "This is probably the most ensemble-feeling process that I've been through, and our relationships are constantly being explored outside of this space. I think that really translates on stage."

Jen Harris, also a third-year graduate student, plays the role of Taylor, the fiancée of Flip's brother, Kent. Harris describes her character as an energetic and strong-minded person who is not afraid to speak her mind.

Her favorite part of working with Jones was the way the director took time for the actors to fully understand the personalities and actions of their characters.

"It's really sad that this is her last show here, because I would have liked to work with her again," Harris said. "But this show reminded me of the many reasons I chose to act — to tell a story in which the audience will be able to talk about after the show is over."

A longtime friend of Jones, Luis A. Sierra, met her in 1983, when he came to Iowa from Los Angeles.

Since then, the two have worked together in six shows. Sierra couldn't turn down Jones' offer to participate in Stick Fly, because he knew he wanted to be part of her last production.

"It's been nice because we've known each other for so long and have watched our families grow up," Sierra said. "Whenever she needs an actor to work for her in a show, I don't think I've ever turned her down. It's always great to work with her."

Jones plans on going to New Orleans after directing this final production to celebrate one more Mardi Gras. Then she will move to the Twin Cities to be closer to her two sons.

"I have had the greatest department and the greatest cast that anyone could want after going through something like this," Jones said. "All I can say is there is a feeling that everyone wants me to succeed and do my best."


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