S-C thespian selected to speak before U.S. Legislature

By Faith Bemiss

March 14, 2014

Smith-Cotton High School thespian Keelly Jones, a junior, has been selected to speak before the U.S. legislature this month advocating for arts funding in public schools, which fits with his future plans to major in theater and political science.

Jones, the son of Rose Ellison and Maurio Jones, both of Sedalia, began acting in seventh grade with the encouragement of friend Alec Wilken. His first performance was in the Liberty Center Association for the Arts production of “Beauty and the Beast,” where he soon realized acting was something he enjoyed.

“We’ve been friends since sixth grade,” Jones said of Wilken. “He was like, ‘hey we have a play production and you should audition, and hey your really good you should help us out.’ I always feel this calling to help people out, I say a friend in need deserves help indeed.

“I’d always had this thought in the back of my mind, being an actor would be cool, really cool. So I did it and I loved it and I’ve been with this department ever since.”

With remarkable poise, maturity and leadership and his outgoing personality, he never misses an opportunity to place someone at ease or make a friend.

“When we go to conventions or organized meetings, my philosophy is, we don’t know each other so the first thing I’m going to do is sit here awkward,” he said. “And as soon as I sit down next to someone I don’t know, I introduce myself. Because I feel like if I make the first step, that encourages them to do the same and eventually we all know each other.”

He was recently in the LCAA 2012 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” His latest performance, and also his favorite, was in the Smith-Cotton fall production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“More than likely, that’s because of the reaction, everybody loves ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” he said. “They thought it was really great. I had a really good time playing the lion. That was my dream role. I said wanted to be the lion, and they said ‘why?’ Because he’s scared all the time, he’s this character that can play up really, really funny spots … and he’s got some really good songs.”

The audience fell in love with his character and still complement him on the performance when they see him out and about.

“I was still getting complements for that show three months afterwards,” he added.

Jones will play Otto Frank in Smith-Cotton’s April 4-6 production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The actual opening dates have been pushed back so Jones and his Smith-Cotton theater and speech education teacher Teri Turner can fly to Washington, D.C., March 23 through 26.

“I became familiar with an organization in the theater department, in the theater industry known as the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education,” he said. “I met their executive director (Ben Martin) two years ago when I attended my first state thespian conference in St. Louis. I got to know him a little bit, and he talked about how he’d love to have more people advocate for the arts, talk to their local legislatures and influence more funding in Missouri schools. I met him very briefly, and he introduced that idea to me and as soon as I came back to the school I was ready to do this.

“I want to do this because it’s in this point of my life that politics has started to make its way into my career choice,” he added. “This is perfect, advocating to the legislature and politics. Doing it for arts education — arts, a perfect match-up.”

Jones made sure Turner and his friends knew about it and that he turned all his registration in on time. He also participated in an essay contest in conjunction with the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education, and his essay was chosen by Martin.

“You were to write about how the arts has influenced you as a person,” Jones said. “And why it’s important that the arts continue to be taught in Missouri schools. He responded back saying congratulations we have selected you to represent Missouri.”

Due to this opportunity Jones has plans to add politics to his future.

“Usually when I pick something I stick to it, unless I have a dominate or significant reason to change,” he said. “At this point in time, and I do not plan on changing this, God willing, I plan on double majoring in theater performance as well as political science. So politics has definitely become one of my career paths. Once I set a goal I try to meet that goal, and my goal right now is to become a member of the legislature. My wishful thinking, per se goal, is to become President.”

Jones, along with Turner and other Smith-Cotton students, attended the Show-Me Arts Summit in Jefferson City this past week. Attending the summit was part of the requirements for him to go to Washington, D.C. While there he had the opportunity to further his political knowledge.

Turner said she has taught Jones since seventh grade.

“He’s one of the group of students that I came up here with and kind of grown with, so that’s been a very unique experience for me,” she said. “He’s very motivated and very passionate about theater, the politics behind it as far as arts. He became a Missouri State Thespians board member, he was one of four kids. He was voted in last September, and then officially became an officer in January.”

Jones, also a member of the school’s International Thespians, will be one of the ones responsible for planning the 2015 state conference.

“You give him a task, and he’ll sit there and figure out how to do it,” she added. “He really puts his full foot forward, his full effort.”