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From left: Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten at a cafe in Rome.

Reprint: A Happy Threesome

In community theaters across the country, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten are dearly beloved playwrights.



published Friday, May 21, 2010

Editor's Note: TheaterJones originally published this story on Sept. 24, 2009. But we figured it was a good time to reprint it, considering that these three playwrights are still pretty popular around here. Among their plays currently running, or coming soon:

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Given the number of theaters in North Texas, the list of shows in any given season would naturally feature a few writers and composers whose names recur again and again.

Shakespeare and Charles Dickens always win the "most produced" contest. Neil Simon and his British counterpart, Alan Ayckbourn, are typically well represented. And this coming season in North Texas, composer Charles Strouse is up there, with Bye, Bye Birdie at Lyric Stage, several productions of Annie and a new version of his It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman at the Dallas Theater Center.

But the most produced—and unsung—playwrights have to be Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. They rank only below the Bard and Sir Christmas-Carol for productions in Texas in recent years, thanks to their slew of Southern-fried comedies, perennial favorites at community theaters across the country.

These shows include Dearly Beloved, Southern Hospitality, Christmas Belles, The Dixie Swim Club, The Hallelujah Girls and the newest, 'Til Beth Do Us Part. Jones also co-wrote the community theater staple Dearly Departed with David Bottrell. (They both adapted it for the 2001 movie Kingdom Come, starring Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J and Jada Pinkett Smith.)

The Jones/Hope/Wooten trio has seen more than 600 productions of their work around North America and internationally—in just the past four years. The plays have been performed in all but four of the United States (Wooten names them without hesitation: Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and Rhode Island) and throughout Canada ("We're inexplicably popular in Saskatchewan," says Jones). In May 2010, The Dixie Swim Club will have its international premiere in Melbourne, Australia.

For anyone trying to make a living writing for the theater, having your plays produced this much is good news.

"Playwriting is not necessarily a lucrative career," says Jones. "I read somewhere that something like 85 percent of people who see theater in this country see it at their community playhouse, and that's very heartening for us. The American community theater is a viable market."

Jones and Hope, both Texans, met while doing theater in Austin. She performed the lead in a play he wrote. They eventually moved to New York, and then to L.A., where Jones made a string of guest appearances on TV shows (Designing Women, Grace Under Fire and Cold Case, among many others) and in such TV movies as The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. Hope has written for ABC and Disney, and served as a casting agent for Theatre Communications Group and Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

In California, they met Wooten, a North Carolina native whose TV writing and producing credits include The Golden Girls and Half and Half.

All three had roots in theater, and decided to return to that world. After their playwriting trifecta was formed, they decided to leave La-La Land, and scoped out other cities where they might buy houses and set up permanent shop. After seriously considering Portland, Ore., and San Luis Obispo, Calif., they settled on the mountainous beauty of Asheville, N.C.

Now they write and make public speaking appearances across the country—and wait for those royalty checks to come in.

"Every time we open the mailbox, it's a surprise," says Wooten. "We are thrilled and shocked that [our work] took off the way it did. We always want to know why success happens so that we can replicate it."

To community theaters, their popularity is no secret.

"Although we theater folk love to direct, see and perform in thought-provoking dramas, many times the general public comes to the theater to just forget their troubles, laugh and escape," says Patsy Daussat of Grapevine's Runway Theatre, where Southern Hospitality played in September. "Though their plays have a touch of tenderness and a serious note or two, Wooten, Jones and Hope know how to make an audience laugh—and with a PG-rated tone. Their characters range from simple to outrageous, and the dialogue is often hysterical."

They may not be winning Pulitzer Prizes or receiving MacArthur grants, but their success can be quantified with the sheer number of productions of their plays. How many Yale School of Drama playwriting graduates or newly championed "hot young" off-Broadway playwrights can boast upwards of 50 stagings of their work in any given year?

Hope says the key is writing relatable characters and roles that are fun for actors and audiences.

"You can trace pockets of where a Dearly Departed is being done," Hope says, "and then see a ripple effect in maybe a 100-mile radius where other theaters that will do that play, and then the other plays. It's because the audiences had a good time."

Because their characters and plots are frequently Southern-tinged, they get a lot of productions in Texas and the South. But they have also been surprised at quality stagings of their plays in unexpected places. Once, while vacationing on an island off the coast of Maine, they stumbled on a theater doing Dearly Beloved.

The three put an equal amount of work into the creation process, and their camaraderie proves that such a collaboration can work.

"When you've done [writing] for so long, it comes quite naturally for you," says Jones. "Someone will come up with an idea and then we spend quite a bit of time talking about it."

"We get very drunk. It gets ugly—don't think it doesn't," Wooten says jokingly.

To which Jones adds: "After the blood dries, the last one standing gets the final vote."

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Below is a list of current and future productions of the Jones/Hope/Wooten oeuvre in North Texas community theaters: (note: This list was as of Sept. 24, 2009. Many of these productions have come and gone)

Southern Hospitality
:

Dearly Beloved:

The Hallelujah Girls:

The Dixie Swim Club:

 Thanks For Reading




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Reprint: A Happy Threesome
In community theaters across the country, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten are dearly beloved playwrights.
by Mark Lowry

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