2014 Best Student Actor: Zach Jones as Chip in The Boston Conservatory's "On the Town"

Although we have announced our 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Winners, we continue our Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Few performers "wow'd" us in 2014 like Zach Jones.  A rising senior at The Boston Conservatory, Zach has the triple threat with a side punch of a charming smile; a kick of an abundance of energy; and the love, respect, and work ethic to tackle any project.  His Chip in The Boston Conservatory's On the Town was a standout in a production that exceeded expectations, dancing, singing, and smiling into our hearts.  In his Interview, Zach explains conservatory life, his strong relationships with his co-stars in On the Town, and some of his guilty pleasures.

Photo by Julia Gannon

Photo by Julia Gannon

Hi, Zach, can you introduce yourself to our ArtsImpulse readers?  Who are you, where are you from, what is your performing background? 

Hello!  My name is Zach Jones and I am a rising senior at The Boston Conservatory!  Huzzah!  I hail from the west suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where I grew up with my mother, Robyn, and two brothers, Austin and Sean.  My performance career began when I was five years old shortly after my older sister, Felicia, passed away.  Felicia was an all-star big sister and all-around wonderful young person.  She took piano lessons, played softball, danced at the park district, was a total bookworm, and really took care of my brothers and me in our early years of life. 

When she was 10 years old, she passed away from an acute pancreatitis.  At the annual dance recital that year, friends and families brought flowers, expressed their sentiments to my mother, and asked if “the boys” were going to start dancing.  Before she could say, “No…”, my brothers and I jumped and screamed, “Yes!”, and from that summer on, we were hooked.  After 13 years of dance (10 years being a part of the Aspire Dance Company), 9 years of choir, 7 years of theater, and 18 years of my life, I had no idea what the future would hold.  Or what I even wanted to do for the rest of my life.  For as much time as I dedicated to the performing arts, I had never considered pursuing dance, or theater professionally.  Then again, I had yet to really think about any career.  But I remember something one of my high school teachers told me.  She said to do something that filled me with passion.  To work hard at everything I do, but build my life on something I enjoy.  When I could not picture my life without performing, I knew I had made my decision to become an artist.  But I didn’t just want to dance.  I wanted to expand my person and abilities to be able to work and express myself in all the ways I love to.  After not being able to schedule an audition because they were all full, getting an audition at the last minute because someone cancelled, having a wonderful audition experience, and, two months later, I was accepted to The Boston Conservatory!  Huzzah, once more! 

And since then I’ve been a part of numerous Mainstage productions at the conservatory (On The Town, The Pajama Game, Oklahoma!, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar); senior director projects (The Wild Party, Peter Pan, Urinetown); and outreach/fundraising performances, such as Disney’s On The Record, Post Secret Cabaret, Miscast Cabaret, and our annual drag show!  I have had nothing but wonderful experiences at BoCo.  I have learned so much already and look forward to the school year to come!

How does The Boston Conservatory prepare you to play roles in new and old musicals and plays?  What is the training program like? 

The conservatory prepares you to do practically anything.  Seriously.  Our teachers provide us with solid acting, vocal, and dance technique to safely, intellectually, and artistically explore the widest range of material.  We study the history of theater, history of musical theater, Shakespeare, and modern drama to expand our vocabulary and expose us to an unlimited number of styles.  In addition to studying IPA and dialects, we work on a bunch of texts, monologues, and speeches ranging from Greek to Shakespeare and beyond. 

The most important thing we learn is who we are as artists and people.  The conservatory helps each student to develop a personal aesthetic.  Our program is about digging deep into yourself, finding the human you are, artist you aspire to be, and cultivating that. We are not a “cookie-cutter” program. We are individuals striving for personal excellence. It is through strong technique and personal exploration that we are able to breath new life into classical characters.

Walk us through a typical day for you.  Where do you go?  What do you do in Boston? 

The typical day entails waking up, falling asleep, and a heck of a lot of in between. Some days, class starts as early as 8am and finishes around 7pm.  From 7:30pm to 11pm, I am usually in rehearsals for a show or school project.  After that, I’ll meet with scene partners, hit a practice room, or head home, Rice Bowl in hand, slap on some Netflix, and pass out.  Attending the conservatory is highly demanding, exhausting, and hard work.  But it is all worth it to do what I love, with people I love, in a city I love, every day.

Who was your character in On the Town?  What is his story?  How did you make the role your own? 

I played John Offenblock, but the fellas called me Chip!  Chip is a rather kooky guy.  A U.S. sailor from Peoria, he’s a family man through and through, with the biggest heart in the world.  He is dedicated to his family, friends, and country, but, most of all, his guidebook.  His father was in New York in 1934 and brought back a guidebook for Chip full of all the restaurants, buildings, and parks there.  Chip became fascinated and infatuated with the city, hoping one day, if only for a moment, he could see its beauty in the flesh.  So how fortunate for him when their unit docks in NYC and he has 24 hours on shore to see all the famous sights! 

Chip schedules the entire day around visiting everything in the guidebook, an ambitious, nearly impossible task.  When Gabey wants to meet the gorgeous, one and only Miss Turnstiles, Ozzie convinces Chip to put his plans on hold and go find her.  After the three split up, Chip stumbles upon, or is stumbled upon by Hildy, a wild, sexy, NYC taxi driver.  She shows him the town in ways that no guidebook ever could, and not just because the guidebook is incredibly out of date.  She teaches him to let go and realize life isn’t about the places you see, but the people you see them with.  And sex.  Lots of passionate sex. 

One of my favorite parts of discovering Chip was creating the guidebook.  I researched all of the places that he mentions in the text and filled the book with information, pictures, and quirky facts.  Using a prop I worked so hard on dropped me right into the period of the show and the organized nature of Chip. 

Another component to making Chip my own was working so closely with Michelle Chassé, my director and choreographer.  Michelle is a fantastic leader and collaborator.  In choreographing On The Town, she allowed so much room for discovery, play, and personality.  The story and relationships were constantly evolving, and having that space to work was tremendously helpful.

Tell us about your relationship with Ozzie and Gabey, and the actors playing them.  How about with Hildy, played by 2014 ArtsImpulse Award Nominee for Best Student Actor Mimi Scardulla? 

Ozzie and Gabey are Chip’s two best friends.  He looks up to the both of them a great deal.  Ozzie’s confidence is something Chip looks for in himself, and Gabey’s strength and heart remind him so much of home.  Gabey saved Ozzie and Chip’s lives and that really unites the three of them as brothers.  From that moment on they would do anything for each other.  Which is so much of what Jordan Ford (Gabey), Cameron Herbst (Ozzie), and I found working together. 

Before every show, the three of us would go into a studio in our sailor under garments, play music from the ‘30s and ‘40s, and give ourselves a little bootcamp.  Pushups, crunches, planks… the whole shebang.  Jordan and Cam are bigger guys, so I would try to keep up, much like Chip would.  The dynamic between the three of us was so much like the three of the sailors that performing with them was an absolute pleasure each and every night. 

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

The exact same with MiMi Scardulla (Hildy)!  Chip and Hildy were instantly attracted to each other.  She is dangerous, wild, and not afraid to get what she wants.  Hildy makes Chip spontaneous and impulsive, and he tames her, not a lot, but enough to really share genuine moments of care and love.  The two complement each other very well.  MiMi was such a dream to work with.  Having just come off of Cloud 9 together, MiMi and I knew each other very well and clicked instantaneously.  She is such a wonderful, loving person and generous partner that working with her was easy as pie.  MiMi is bold and unafraid to take risks, which opened me up to new choices, as well!  Hildy would write Chip cute little love letters for each show, wishing him "safe travels" and telling him how much she loved and missed him and leave them in my dressing room.  Any guy would be lucky to have MiMi Scardulla as a partner, and I hope I get to work with her again in the future!

What are some of the roles on your bucket list?  What about some roles that you’d never play, but you’d want to nonetheless? 

Jack from Into The Woods, Bobby Strong in Urinetown, Jimmy Harper in Reefer Madness, and Bobby in Company.  I would also love to be Velma Kelly.  I’ll leave that on the bucket list.

What do you consider to be your performing strength?  Performing weakness?

From the moment I step on stage, I am the happiest man alive.  There is nothing I’d rather be doing than living and breathing song and dance, and connecting with an audience.  I find my joy and love for what I do to be my biggest strength. 

My weakness would definitely be self-judgment.  I love to perform, but I too often worry what others think.  In the worst instances, my fear inhibits my work and sucks the joy out of it for me.  Learning to let go of fear is something I continue to work on.

What are some of your guilty pleasures? 

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Lost.  Long showers.  Dominos pizza.  Mango margaritas.  Always.

What are some of your goals for 2015?  What are some of your career goals? 

I look forward to soaking up every bit of my senior year.  I want to grow as much as I can in the final stretch before I graduate.  My ultimate goal is to provide young, aspiring artists opportunities to pursue their dreams.  My mother has worked so many jobs and sacrificed so much to provide for my brothers and me, and I hope my success will allow me to alleviate that stress for similar families.  The arts have played such an important part in my life and the lives of many, and I want to be there for the ones who need it.  I want to help people find their happiness the way that so many have helped me.

What is one movie, play, musical, or story that has left a lasting impression on you?  Why? 

My friends are totally going to make fun of me for this, but the ABC television series Lost is everything.  I’ve seen it a bunch of times.  The show is about a plane crash on a mysterious island and much more generally about journey, redemption, and letting go. It’s a universal story of personal struggle, self-discovery, and love.  The thing that resonated most on my first watch was the characters.  All people hurt.  All people are learning.  And you never know the kind of life that a person has lived.  It inspired me to strengthen the way that I treat and relate to people.  To always be kind, curious, and eager for life.  Plus, it has the best quotes!  “All we really need to survive is one person who truly loves us.”  I mean, come on!  “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.” *cue tears running down my face.*  I highly recommend.

If I stole your iPod right now, what would be the “most listened to” song?  What would be the “last listened to” song? 

Ha!  My most listened to song would probably be Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk.”  I listen to it every time I travel.  The one time I didn’t, it started playing in the airport!  Don’t know why, it’s just one of those songs.  J 

And the last listened to song is “Belief” by Gavin DeGraw.  No fun story, I just like the song.

Photo by Eric Antoniou

Photo by Eric Antoniou

How would your best friend describe your personality?  How would your mom describe your personality? 

Oh, boy.  In three words or less:  Friendly, Goofy, and Big.  My mom would call me a Diva, and leave it at that!  But, actually, she would probably describe me as reliable, mature, and loving.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

This summer I will be working in St. Louis at The Muny in Hairspray running from June 23rd-June 30th, and Beauty and the Beast playing July 27th through August 7th!  Then, I am back in Boston welcoming the incoming class of BoCo students as an Orientation Leader and preparing for senior year.  After that, we shall see!  J

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

On The Town was a dream, playing Chip an absolute joy, and both will live in my heart forever.  I thank you so much for this nomination, your time, and “We’ll catch up some other time!”