Oration | Address to Convocation
A founding member of the comedy troupe CODCO, Andy Jones was born in St. John's and educated at St. Bonaventure's College, Gonzaga High School, Saint Mary's University, the University of Toronto and the
University of Alberta.
Mr. Jones joined CODCO in 1974 and became one of the province's best-known actors in the 1970s and
1980s. Mr. Jones entered the Newfoundland Travelling Theatre Company in 1972, performing children's plays and British farce, and later joined the Ken Campbell Road Show in England for its production of
In 1974 Mr. Jones returned to Newfoundland and participated in CODCO productions, television work, and productions with the Sheila's Brush Company.
Mr. Jones was a founding member of the Resource Centre for the Arts in 1979 and served on the board of directors for the LSPU Hall until 1984. In the 1980s his work expanded to formal theatre. In 1984 he
won the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council's first Neala Griffin Award for achievement in theatre.
Throughout the remainder of the 1980s Jones wrote and performed the CBC radio series, Letters from Uncle Val, and directed various plays, including The Argentine Consul and Wedding in Texas. Between 1986 and 1990 he co-authored and performed in 38 shows for the CODCO national television series. He resigned from CODCO in 1990 following CBC's censoring of a sketch.
Mr. Jones will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.
Oration honouring Andrew Jordan Jones
Shane public oublic orator
To speak of fools is to step into a world of paradox, a world of distorting mirrors. And for those of us who hold seriousness and wisdom in high esteem, to take such a step is to hold ourselves open to reproach. Chancellor, on this stage we commonly, or uncommonly if that would be your preference, honour philanthropists and those who have served their communities, scholars and those who have accomplished great things. To be a fool is to be none of these, yet all. However, if we do not honour fools we are but fools ourselves for we fail in our fooling to recognize the folly of our foolishness. Thus needs we be careful and move only at a snail's pace, to use an old analogy, or picosecond by picosecond to use a new — a new analogy that is precisely of the precision we would achieve in uniting our wisdom with the candidate's accomplishment.
And so, these words disported, we proceed to the dissection of merit. This man was last in and first out of this quartet. Entering late, he left early because of a dispute on a matter of principle with the CBC. He felt that the CBC was censoring him while he savagely censured an institution that had cultivated him. But he had done this earlier with the vehement madness of Father Dinn, who preached to little children on the sinfulness of little children. And here lies the paradox, for Andrew Jones was born on the feast-day of St. Ita, that holy woman of Limerick, foundress of a school for little boys where was taught “Purity of heart [and] simplicity of life with religion”; where was taught St. Brendan who brought Christ and European civilization to these our shores. And what have we here — a man who exposes the wickedness of the priests and sets in train the attitudes that bring down the Roman Church. This is merit? It is — in this world of distorting mirrors — for it involves the candidate's pure and simple notions of religion; an expectation which, when violated, made him as the saviour amid the money changers in the temple: riotous with rage turned wisdom in ridicule.
Mr. Chancellor, these contradictions evaporate when we accept that Andy Jones is at heart a traditionalist. How else could he pen those subtly moving, remarkably deft “Letters from Uncle Val” which we used to hear every Saturday morning, and which were so affecting that many listeners wrote to Val as if he were a real person. Why else does he render our folktales into children's theatre in Jack-Five-Oh? This is the man who, squirrel-like, maintained the CODCO office and ensured that, when it closed down, all the records were deposited at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. This is the man who, ejected from the St. Bon's choir for lack of voice, found vocation as an altar boy and so became enamoured of ritual because he knew, with Yeats, that “in custom and in ceremony/ Are innocence and beauty born.” This is a man who, watching the LSPU Hall become a place of discord, helped remake it as the community-based Resource Centre for the Arts. He was one of those who shaped our national consciousness by humour; who made the comedy of our lives, our pride, and so turned back the vectors of ridicule. And this service was recognized when he was made a member of the Arts Council Hall of Honour in 1993. I present to you, Mr. Chancellor, for the degree of doctor of letters (honoris causa), a man with a sense of posterity and place, a man with a deep sense of his own country, his Newfoundland, Andrew Jordan Jones.
It's hard to be the last person in a series of CODCO people because usually they say before what you meant to say. We used to have a thing one time in CODCO where we all had to vomit onstage. And I was the last vomiter. And of course I had to do the best one. It was very dangerous because Tommy Sexton used to go before me and sometimes if the crowd really loved him a lot, he couldn't help, he would do my vomit too. And then I had nowhere to go.
I'd like to tell you a little story. Once upon a time not so very long ago, in fact on the 31st of March of this year, I performed in a children's show in Buchans at Lakeside Academy — we dramatized two Newfoundland folktales: Jack and the Three Giants and Little Jack The Little Fisherman.
The eight members of the company all agreed that day in Buchans, that that particular performance had been very, very, very special. It had been a magic 45 minutes. Those moments do happen occasionally in the theatre and do happen occasionally in life, and the 100 or so adults who were in the audience and 200 children seemed to agree by their obvious surrender to the seductive charms of story telling.
I should point out that this show that we were doing was not part of the curriculum, was not a profit making venture and was not designed for tourists. It was a magic moment totally without agenda ... and without Walt Disney. Just a bunch of Newfoundlanders listening to our own stories and enjoying our own particular take on what it is to be human.
It takes a lot of work to produce 45 minutes of magic. Two years of planning, writing, rewriting, rehearsing, designing and building — but more important are the cultural threads that led to this human connection in Buchans on March 31.
I'll just list some of them, and they're probably the same threads that run through your lives: the stories themselves were originally told by Mr. Freeman Bennett from St. Pauls on the west coast of the island, part of the rich oral tradition of Newfoundland; they were collected by Herbert Halpert and John Widdowson, whose life's work was supported by the people of Newfoundland through Memorial University; the actors themselves were from all over the province — Stephenville, Corner Brook, Badgers Quay, Kelligrews, Merasheen Island, Mount Pearl, St. John's and Clark's Beach; two of the actors were graduates of the Grenfell College, one was an alumnus of Figgy Duff, one from CODCO — where we stole stories, phrases, characters, and even lines from our parents who were from Conception Bay, St. Mary's Bay, Notre Dame Bay, Bay of Islands, Carters Hill and Gower Street; another of our actor's beginnings in the theatre go directly back to the Jack tales as told by Mr. Pius Power of South East Bight in Placentia Bay and heard on the school broadcasts as collected by Anita Best, our wonderful singer/storyteller — an alumnus and bright light of Memorial's Folklore Department; another actor started his career because his community was doing a project based on Bernice Morgan's novel Random Passage — which is probably the best story of how we all got here in the first place; another career in our group started because of a high school teacher in Kelligrews who loved the theatre.
I've only just scratched the surface of all these threads — cultural threads that were there at that moment in that magical 45 minutes in Buchans. We do really have something very, very special here and we all know that. But we must tell our fearless leaders that it didn't come about because it made a profit or because it was for tourists. It was generated by human beings — together in our complex, evolved, and still very dynamic Newfoundland culture nurtured by the people of Newfoundland in institutions such as the university and the school system. And the art that comes from that culture should be available to our own people first and later on for the tourists.
And that's just a story and I'll end it the way Mr. Pius Power ends all his stories, by telling you that when we finished the show in Buchans we all sat down to a meal at a tin table, but the tin table bended so my story's ended. If the table had been stronger my story would have been longer, and if the people in the story don't have good luck then may all of ye.