Jones’s edgy sets exude a punk rock feel and are, as the New York Times recently gushed, “simple but spectacular.” But for all the praise, she says she’s still an outsider in an industry intent on mass-producing Disney stage adaptations held together by a toothpick-thin plot. “I don’t really like musicals,” Jones says without a second of hesitation.
“Most musicals have terrible music. And the stories tend to be kind of dopey and it’s just not my scene.” Dressed in black, with metal screw earrings adorning her ears and dog-tag chains around her neck, Jones is certainly more hipster than theatre geek. But she is well aware of the irony, especially considering that her last two ventures have been veritable hits.
After a decade of working on a number of Off Broadway shows and one short-lived Broadway musical, Jones’s breakthrough came when she designed the sets, props and furniture for Spring Awakening, a musical that was anything but mainstream when it premiered Off Broadway in 2006. Based on an adaptation of a controversial 1891 German play, Spring Awakening depicted teenage suicide, masturbation, homosexuality and rape, all set to an alternative rock score. It moved to Broadway less than a year later and went on to win eight Tony awards, including Best Musical, with the New York Times proclaiming: “Broadway may never be the same again.” Jones was nominated that year for scenic design but lost to a show diametrically opposed to her artistic aesthetic: Disney’s Mary Poppins.
Jones explains that traditional Broadway scenery, where the sets are painted, grandiose and whimsical in tone, are usually the most lauded. Conversely, her Spring Awakening set evoked a dark, sober tone with little more than a few wooden chairs, brick walls and neon lights. Jones reveals that her alternative style is not a cognisant choice: “When you sing, your voice is your voice. When I design, that’s just the way it comes out of me, in that deconstructed style.”
Jones says being nominated was a thrill — especially since she had given birth to her second child just five days prior to the 2007 Tony Awards ceremony. “I hadn’t been able to shop for a dress because I didn’t know what size I would be or if I would be able to go at all,” she recounts. “But a costume designer friend lent me something to wear, and my mom came from Montreal and babysat so my partner [actor Dallas Roberts] and I could go. I had to hide a breast pump in my handbag because you literally can’t go that long without nursing. It was a crazy evening.”