The production Josh: The Black Babe Ruth focuses on Negro League baseball player Josh Gibson, who is considered by many to be the “best baseball player you never heard of.” QG discusses the new play with its writer, producer, and star Michael A. Jones.
Tell us a little bit about your background as an actor and screenwriter.
As an actor, I have performed in over 15 plays and several films. I’ve won two awards (Audelco). As a playwright, I’ve written a total of 10 plays and had five of my plays produced. I’ve also written several screenplays.
I have a BA in theatre arts from Point Park University. I’ve studied at Lincoln Center’s Director’s Lab, Gotham’s Writers Workshop, and the New York Film Academy. I’m a member of the Uptown Playwright’s Workshop.
You wrote, produced and will be starring in the lead role in the upcoming play Josh: The Black Babe Ruth, which is about the life of one of The Negro League’s greatest players, Josh Gibson. How did you first learn about Mr. Gibson’s story?
Growing up, I would hear references to Gibson and the Negro Leagues. It was constantly stated that some say Gibson died of a “broken heart.” This is what initially piqued my interest. I made the decision to write a historical piece, and Gibson’s story as the “best baseball player you never heard of” came to mind so I conducted more research. As part of my research, I interviewed family members and various historians.
What was the most inspiring aspect of his legacy that motivated you to write the play?
Gibson’s prolific astounding stats in home runs and accounts of his ability as a catcher. In addition, his ability to persevere in that type of oppressive environment as a black man in the 1940’s in a blue collar town. He managed to persevere through racial prejudices and economic strife.
Gibson also went through physiological issues – he was committed to mental institutions on more than one occasion. He later died of a brain aneurysm. Once I uncovered the depth of his story, I was greatly impressed that despite his challenges, he was able to gain acknowledgment as one of the best players in baseball history.
Can you share with us the process of getting the play produced?
Once I felt the play was ready for production, I reached out to investors for financial support in addition to my own financial contribution. Once I raised enough capital, I began assembling the team – director, stage manager – as well as auditioning actors, hiring technicians and a costume designer. I also negotiated the terms of the rental of the space with the theater – we needed to agree on profit sharing terms, rehearsal times within the theater itself, the number of weeks the play would run, access to costumes and set pieces. We also collaborated on the content of the press release.
You’ll be starring in the lead role as well. How did Mr. Gibson’s family react to that news?
The first time the play was produced I did not play the character of Josh Gibson. At that time, Gibson’s great grandson, who runs the Josh Gibson Foundation, reacted positively to the play. He was excited that his great grandfather’s story would be told, but he was also protective of the legacy. He has not yet commented on the current production.
As an actor, playwright, and now producer, what are some of your aspirations for the entertainment industry?
My goal is to perform and write for television and film more often because they provide a larger platform for allowing our stories, the stories of marginalized or underrepresented groups, to reach a broader audience. In the current political climate, raising awareness across populations can do a lot to ease rising tensions.
Are there any more projects in the works?
My play “Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water” will be produced in Pittsburgh in May 2017 and will be presented in Portland that same month. I am also planning to begin pre-production on a new film later this year. I am also developing a new play that focuses on arranged marriages between younger women and older men from West Africa.
What advice would you give to aspiring playwrights?
Don’t quit your day job.
Write the stories that you want to see. Rather than complaining that the media doesn’t portray the stories that are important to us – write them.
Watch and read a lot of good plays and movies. And study the greats – Tennessee Williams, Martin Scorsese, early Spike Lee, the list goes on.
What is your definition of the Quintessential Gentleman?
[Jones puts on his hat and sunglasses] I look at it like a Renaissance man – don’t wait. If there’s something you really want to do, do it. However, don’t forget on whose shoulders you stand. In one word – maverick.