Open Forum

Mentor Spotlight: Gai Laing Jones

By Ginny Butsch posted 10-08-2019 10:38


Earlier this year, we launched a brand new Community program called Mentor Match. This unique online networking and career development tool is an EdTA members-only benefit that helps you find, connect, and share experiences with others. Our Mentor Match spotlight will feature some of the incredible mentors who are available to help you accomplish your professional goals.

Our first featured mentor is Gai Laing Jones, a long-time EdTA member, Hall of Fame inductee, former California Chapter Director and the current EdTA Board President. She has written four books to help her fellow theatre educators and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise to share on a variety of topics. Gai is currently accepting mentees, so if you would like the opportunity to benefit from her sage advice, sign up now and send her a mentor request.

How long have you been teaching and what subjects?

I taught Theatre on the middle/high school levels for 38 years. I began by teaching middle school English/Speech and Drama. I have also taught Theatre on the college/university levels. I now teach all levels as an Artist-in-Residence. My most recent yearly contract involves providing theatre instruction to fifth graders, along with directing them in the process of theatre production and performance. 

What are your areas of expertise?

Best Practices in Theatre Education Curriculum for high school. I also provide knowledge and wisdom in Thespian and Drama Club Student Leadership. 

Why did you sign up to be a mentor?

I value being able to pay it forward with any teacher who wants an ongoing discussion and sharing about curriculum. 

Describe yourself in three words.

Knowledgeable, Professional, Progressive

Do you have any special training or certification?

California Standard Theatre Credential

Did you ever have a mentor or role model? What did you learn from them?

Every theatre educator whom I have met has mentored me in some way, by giving me a new way of looking at our profession.

Why do you believe theatre is important?

It encourages students to be collaborative, part of an ensemble, to develop communication skills, and to become empathetic human beings.

Tell us about your greatest current challenge or describe a previous challenge you faced.

Like several of my fellow educators, I have had an administrator who did not value theatre arts and wanted to edit every script and festival material so that the subject matter and language were suitable for elementary school audiences.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Since I have retired (yes, there is life after full-time theatre education), I spend time doing what I value and have fun doing: texting my daughters; having coffee with my husband; working on EdTA Board projects; performing with a group of retired educators by doing Senior Readers Theatre performances of staged stories in elementary schools; directing at the local community theatre; looking at social media; working with SAG/AFTRA Radio Plays Committee; walking my Cocker rescue dog, Ginger.

Tell us about the best day of your career.

The first thing that comes to mind is a production of THE DIVINERS, catching the eye of the Light Operator as he executed the final water drowning scene. The smile on his face is memorable. This young man, as an adult has become a staff writer on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. 

What is/are the resource(s) you most recommend to others in your profession?

I have written four theatre ed books which have helped teachers daily. I often receive thank you notices or shout-outs by teachers. Many teachers contact me saying that my books are great for curriculum enhancement and providing subs with achievable lesson plans.

I am always looking at books, videos, apps, online courses. I have had the privilege of developing webinars for EdTA and DTA. 

Do you have any tips for theatre educators who are just beginning their careers?

Set rehearsal schedules which allow you to spend quality time with your family. Your high school students will graduate; your family is forever. When you state that a rehearsal will end at a specified time, that means you are walking out the door, and all students are gone. Hire and find qualified volunteers to help. Honor your custodian and office manager. Get out of the theater/classroom at lunch; talk to someone over the age of 21 years each school day. Take care of yourself. If a student just doesn't love theatre as much as you do, work with the student, the parent, the counselor, then it is okay to encourage the student's counselor to change the student's schedule. 

What is the best advice anyone has ever given to you?

Guide students to take on leadership roles; help them by providing tools for success. If the student does not succeed in their assignment, make adjustments and keep on progressing. 

What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?

I love the play/musical on which I am working at the present time, so right now it is SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL! I would love to have directed RAGTIME, but I never had the ideal cast. 

What was the first play you ever saw?

The first professional musical was WEST SIDE STORY at a professional theatre in Fort Worth, Texas.

What inspired you to pursue a career in theatre?

I knew in the 5th grade that I wanted to be a Speech/Theatre teacher. I was inspired by taking Elocution (old time acting lessons) from Mrs. A.B. Morgan who had moved from NYC to Chickasha, Oklahoma. Thanks to my mother who knew that I would succeed in an oral communications art.

What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?

I think that the period of time when the script is staged and the actors are working on memorization become somewhat frustrating, and in the same time, exhilarating. Jane Chu, recent guest speaker at the 2019 EdTA conference, mentioned that “There is a fine line between art and ugly.” In those working rehearsals, sometimes all rehearsals move toward art, and sometimes those rehearsals are not pretty. 

What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

The most recent accomplishment that comes to mind is last year I got to act as Production Director of an Alum show featuring El Dorado High School, Placentia, California Alums from a ten-year period of graduates who performed musical selections from our high school musicals. The show was a benefit for EdTA, EDHS, and Cystic Fibrosis. It was great to work alongside the Alums who were not only performers, but directors, choreographers, musical directors, publicists, etc. 

The other accomplishment was one granted to me. The year I retired the faculty renamed the Black Box Theater as The Gai Jones Theater. What an honor.

Gai clearly loves supporting her students and colleagues and would serve as the perfect mentor for a new theatre teacher or a more experienced teacher searching for a sounding board. Learn more about Mentor Match here. Contact me with any questions about this opportunity: