Sitting on a small patch of grass against the wall of the dark studio, audiences waited to see the senior thesis show, “Destiny.” Written and directed by senior Daejione Jones, “Destiny” tells the story of a young girl who goes from the being homeless in California to attending Amherst College.
Before the show started, the audience watched the cast play childhood games like hopscotch and Double Dutch, setting the stage for the life story of the main character, Destiny. The small studio allowed for an intimate theater experience, and the patches of grass and green steps on the far side of the room gave the feeling that viewers were sitting in someone’s front lawn, watching children play.
The collection of monologues gives the viewers a clear idea of where Destiny is coming from — a place where teenagers mess around with little hope for their futures — and the expectations placed on her upon making it to Amherst College.
Destiny’s story is told by those around her: her neighbors back home, her mother and her friends at school. They talk about how worried they are for Destiny upon discovering that her family is homeless. She stays on campus for four whole years and pulls away from her friends. None of them know how to help her, and they critique the resources that are supposed to be available to students. In the end everyone is conflicted on what to do about Destiny. The play ends with Destiny being found back in her hometown — no one knows what happened to her.
I talked to Daejione Jones about the experience of creating, writing and directing this show.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Destiny?
A: I’ve known I had to write a thesis since I became a theater and dance major. I had no idea what I wanted to write about — I decided to do a writing and directing thesis. I took a special topics course with one of my advisers, Connie Congdon, where we read a play called “Jack” by David Greensband, and I did writing exercises where I copied the play’s format. I wrote three monologues based on “Jack” that ended up being in “Destiny.” My adviser really clung to that idea and we worked on developing those monologues into a full-fleshed story, which became my thesis.
I feel like “Destiny” tells a story that is common on campuses across the country, but it doesn’t get talked about because of things like class issues. It was an idea I had when writing my first piece, “And Destiny was homeless,” so when writing anything afterwards that’s the idea I kept.
Q: What was the idea behind the play’s heartbreaking ending?
A: I didn’t want to do an uplifting and hopeful ending because then people would walk out feeling happy, and it would take away from the ultimate message I wanted, which was for people to reflect on their role in other people’s lives — especially on small campuses like ours. I wanted people to walk away thinking, “Woah, what could we have done to help someone like Destiny? Do I know anyone going through similar troubles? What could I do now? Whose job is it to help?”
Quite honestly, we don’t know who the people represented by Destiny are and where they end up, often they end up slipping through the cracks. As long as they go through the motions of going to class and passing those classes, people don’t notice that anything is wrong because all the school cares about is getting you your degree. Which is the function of a college, so you can’t even fault them really. So what happens once individuals have completed their responsibilities? The question is what is their responsibility, and is there more that they should be doing now?
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing and creating this play?
A: The biggest challenge was getting started writing. We’d been talking about what we wanted to do for our theses since our junior spring, and this was not at all what I planned on doing. We all changed our thesis by the time fall came around. The hardest part was getting something on paper. I could not think of what to write — I spent my entire summer trying to write this thesis and ended up with nothing. But once I got back on campus, the special topic course I took with Connie put pressure on me to start writing and meet her deadlines. I didn’t have to think about it in terms of my thesis, I just had to write. And then she told me she thought it should be my thesis. From there it was much easier because I had something to go off of.
The process of doing a creative thesis is very very draining. I think often times people assume that creative arts don’t work as hard as science or other majors do in terms of creating a thesis, but it’s just as hard. We have to put in so much time, so many hours, just like they do. And the creative process is physically and emotionally draining. Right now, I am exhausted. The exhaustion from the last two months of rehearsals just dropped on me today. Thank God spring break is next week; it’s a well-needed break.
Q: What did you look for in your actors when you cast the play?
A: On my casting call I specifically said: only actors that identify as black or brown. I really only wanted black or brown bodies on the stage because when you think of Amherst College you see white, affluent students and that’s not the case for a lot of students here. And we never see ourselves reflected in the media on the grand scheme of things, and even less so on our own campus. It was very important to me to only work with those actors. And the biggest worry was how to put that casting call out without hurting white students’ feelings. But I very much wanted to work with these actors and have them be a part of my production.
Casting was very fun — a lot of people came out and were wonderful. Making the decision of who was right for the project and who wasn’t was the hardest part for me as a director. I ended up with a great cast of seven wonderful people. I knew I wanted Lola to play Destiny and the other actors, labeled as ensemble, doubled as many different characters in the play. I’m grateful I found seven great actors who helped me put it all together.