Patrick Oliver Jones, Actor and Podcaster: On Connection (Part 1)
By Liam Klenk
Patrick Oliver Jones is an American actor and the creator of the podcast Why I’ll Never Make It. In our chat, Patrick shares valuable personal insights on connection, belonging, and on what it means to truly show up for all that you do. Let yourself be inspired. The interview is in two parts. This is part one.
Here is Patrick in his own words:
Speaking with you here today, I am thinking of how difficult an actor’s job can be. It is important to recognize and acknowledge that. To find the reason or reasons to keep going.
In order to do so, we need to understand what motivates us. What was it that grabbed us when we were an eight-year-old, for the first time on stage?
I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up in a single-parent household. It was just me and my mom. Ours was a fairly traditional, conservative home. In general, and we also went to church regularly. Then, I went to a Christian school.
You could say, religion and Christianity were ingrained in my upbringing. And it is still the foundation of how I want to live my life. It helps me grasp that there is something bigger and beyond myself.
This spirituality also laid the groundwork for me to understand my path as I got older.
I began thinking about what I wanted to do… life, career. I was into sports, basketball, arts and crafts, working with my hands. But once I hit upon performing, it called to me more than all my other hobbies.
There was something about being on stage that resonated deeply.
I would say, it’s the connection.
Performing. The connection with other people in the cast. You are telling a story. You have relations with the other characters. And you perform with other individuals.
This, for me, is even more important than the connection with the audience. It was the interconnectedness with the cast that drew me in.
Being an only child, I was inherently alone. There was some loneliness. I wasn’t an extrovert. I wasn’t someone who often invited people over, etc. But I was not a complete introvert either.
Theatre provided me with a way to be around people. A way to experience these relationships. Even if they weren’t my own. But within the story, I got to pretend.
That’s a big reason why theatre meant so much to me because it made me feel whole. As a person. I was seen, recognized.
Now, I look back and as a child that was really what I was longing for. A sense of belonging.
Theatre gave that to me more than anything else. My theatre family became my extended family.
As I grew up, I wanted to do more and more productions. I kept pursuing the life of an actor. But it didn’t dawn on me that it could also be a career.
In college, I performed at the Birmingham Summer Fest. It was three shows spread out over five to six weeks. You rehearsed a show, started performing it, rehearsed the next one while you performed this one, etc.
That was my first professional job after my freshman year. I was getting paid for the first time.
My very first show was with Rebecca Luker. The Broadway actress.
Working at the Summer Fest opened my eyes. I was like, “Oh wow, these people do that as a profession.”
I started auditioning. Did some contracts and shows.
By the time I graduated, I had about ten professional theatre shows under my belt.
Then I auditioned for a longer gig in Tennessee. At the Cumberland County Playhouse.
After I graduated, I did a seven-month contract there. Much longer than any other contracts I had ever done before. It was my first real taste of the life of a performer.
Again, it came down to that connection. I loved working with the other actors. And I had a girlfriend in the cast as well. I called it my ‘showmance’.
It was a continuation of finding this connection with other people. Relating to them and discovering who I was as well.
One of the biggest things college helped me with was figuring out who I was. I figured out my sexuality. Dated more. Came to terms with what it was to be with someone else.
Being away from home and living in Tennessee was my first chance to put my new insights to use. I didn’t know anyone there.
My seven-month contract at the Playhouse was a chance for me to see that I did enjoy this. And could do it as a career. At the same time, it was also an enormous confidence boost.
But it wasn’t until I did The Tempest that I came to understand more deeply what it means to be an actor. During The Tempest, a week into the run the director came to my dressing room and said, “So, Patrick, are you gonna show up tonight?
She had never said that to me before.
I asked, “What?”
And she said, “Yeah, I mean are you going to be there one hundred percent from the start of the show tonight?”
She had been waiting for me to be one hundred percent committed to the role. To be present. From the very first line of the play.
It dawned on me then that my default setting was: I know my lines. It was more that I had usually given a performance, rather than actually embodying a character.
The director asked me this momentous question twenty-five years ago. It still sticks with me to this day.
Her question propelled the rest of the run of The Tempest and then all the shows that followed.
It is certainly something I’ve tried to emulate since then. My aim is to always be aware. To be present from the very first line until the very last curtain.
It was another step of discovering who I was. Because I did the same in my life as well. I was playing a part according to what others wanted me to be. But I wasn’t really showing up to either, life or work.
It is still something I have to work on. Even twenty-five years later. Because of my need to find a sense of belonging. This need can lead to me wanting to be whatever someone else wants me to be. I think this has hindered me in being my true self in a lot of areas.
It’s also why it took me so long to come to terms with my bisexuality. It took me until my thirties.
I don’t need to be what other people need me to be. I need to be who I am. What I feel. Acknowledge the truth about myself.
My personal journey has helped me in my career onstage as well. It’s a two-way street.
The only way we can portray the characters onstage is to discover the truth in ourselves. To then bring this truth to the stage.
I remember one performance in my college years that stood out. Because I’ve never been one of those actors who can cry on command. Except in that one performance. It’s about a father who has lost a child. But he still talks to her in his mind. The play is called To Gillian on her 37th Birthday.
So, in that play I played the father and there is a moment when he comes to term with his daughter being gone. And it’s just a breakdown. I had played the part again as best as I could. But there was one show, one night, when it wrecked me. I was present. I had showed up that night.
It was those little moments in my performance. Looking back, it was those kinds of things she talked about.
We’ll never be one hundred percent present in every second or every moment. But there is that goal to strive for exactly that with each performance.
So, in the years since that time in Tennessee, since she told me to show up, my performing career has slowly taken on a different aspect.
I take jobs for money, or for my resume as well of course. For example, a great director to have on my resume. There is certainly the business aspect as well which has grown.
But the personal, passionate side of connecting with the character has taken more emphasis in my performance.
I realized there needs to be a connection with my character as well. In addition to the connection with the audience and with the cast.
I need to really insert myself into what the character would be thinking and doing.
Being able to do that has made a difference to the types of roles I am able to do.
I went to Disney World and was there for nine years. It’s a theme park. You’re not going to do great theatrical pieces there per se. But still, one of my favorites was playing Gaston in Beauty And The Beast.
There was still the important aspect of one hundred percent commitment to the character. Some people might be distracted. But there are many people who love these characters, the movies. They want to see their favorite characters come to life.
This brings to mind one girl specifically. She was a special needs child. In her late teens. She came to the show on a regular basis. She loved Gaston. And she would do all the muscle poses. Knew all the lines. She would generally be in the first few rows. I would make a muscle pose. She would make a muscle pose. One of those rare moments of really connecting with the audience.
That was about fifteen years ago. But she was definitely one of the highlights of my time at Disney World. Because there was a real purpose and connection which could happen with audience members.
Towards the end of my time at Disney we did a meet and greet. It was one of the few times when I as the actor asked for them to bring this girl back to the meet and greet. So, she came backstage. And her face lit up as soon as soon as she crossed the corner and saw me and the cast there.
There was a big hug. She was grinning from ear to ear. It was a really special moment I have taken away from my time there. I have never forgotten that special connection and how important it is what we do on stage.
It might look like we are only giving people a diversion. But it is a chance for them to connect, feel something. Feel belonging. Almost feel like a revelation, like “Oh, that’s me!”
We as actors can forget that. We get caught in the process, the business aspect of it all. And we can lose sight of that sense of belonging which can touch an audience member.
More in Part 2…
Instagram – @pojnyc
All social media of podcast – @winmipodcast
More from Liam Klenk:
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