In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Charles Jackson Jr. spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff ahead of his directorial debut at Jubilee Theatre.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Marcheta Fornoff: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. I’m so excited to talk about your directorial debut here at Jubilee Theatre. For people who are not familiar with the performance, if you can give a quick overview of the plot and just a little tease of what they can expect if they come watch.
Charles Jackson Jr.: Thank you. “Moon Man Walk” is written by James Ijames. He won a Pulitzer in 2022 for “Fat Ham” (a reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”).
(But this) show is about a guy whose mother passed away and he’s preparing the funeral arrangements. And his entire life, she told him that his father was absent because he was stuck on the moon. He discovers that he wasn’t stuck on the moon. His father was up the street in prison the entire time. And so the show is about navigating having a single parent and also missing the parent who isn’t present.
I like to call it fantasy escapism. And it’s basically Spencer using his imagination to navigate his way through the grief of burying his mother and the fantasies he had of his father being on the moon. It’s comedic and dramatic. It’s a really great play.
If you go
Times: 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Dates: Performances occur on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Jan. 27 – Feb. 26
Location: Jubilee Theatre
506 Main St.
Fort Worth, 76102
Fornoff: When you were looking over this season with the artistic director and talking about who would direct what, you said if you got to pick one piece, it would be this one. Why’s that?
Jackson: I like experimental stuff, and Jubilee’s big stuff is the musicals. I wanted us to have a play that was very artsy and kind of different from the type of shows that we normally do.
My favorite genre has always been sci-fi fantasy growing up. All my favorite movies have reality and then some type of sci-fi element thrown on top, but I rarely saw those types of stories with people of color. (In) most of my favorite movies, those leads are not people of color. And when I read the script and all this fantasy stuff going on, it was just so cool to me on one side. The other side was the element of the absent parent was very close to me. In the show, he has an absent father. Mine was a mother, and I always had fantasies of how this person would be or how they are. So I was really connected to the way that the playwright wrote this fantasy and this astronaut stuck on the moon fighting to get down to his kids, I thought was really cool.
Fornoff: How are you bringing The Moon here to the stage in Fort Worth? How are you making that happen?
Jackson: We have a really cool set. Mya Cockrell is our scenic designer. She’s a student over at Texas Wesleyan. And she did a really, really good job. We are using a lot of projections. Holli Price is our projectionist. It’s going to be really, really cool.
Fornoff: You grew up here in Fort Worth, tell me about your relationship with theater growing up here. Were you super involved as a kid or is that something you came to a little later?
Jackson: I wasn’t involved as much as a kid. I started theater when I was a freshman in high school and attended South Hills High School in Fort Worth. Victoria Scheffler was my theater instructor, and I took one class with her and I knew I was going to do it for the rest of my life. I (later) attended Saginaw High School, and I was in a theater program (there), but I really hit the ground running when I got to college. I went to Southeastern Oklahoma State where I got my two bachelors and decided that I wanted to be producing all my own stuff. So I would come back to Fort Worth in the summer when I was off from school and I would book Amphibian Stage up the street with Kathleen Culebro, the artistic director. I would book their venue to do my own shows, and (in) 2021, she asked me if I would be their first producing apprentice at Amphibian. And so I said yes and then I worked at Stage West very briefly in their marketing department. That’s how I ended up here at Jubilee.
Fornoff: Mm. And there are a lot of people who are drawn to the theater scene because they’re interested in being on stage. And you’ve mentioned a few different roles that are really, really vital, but not necessarily public facing. And I’m curious about that decision and what drew you to it.
Jackson: I was a senior in high school and high schools in Texas do one act plays for UIL. Basically it’s a short version of a play, and they compete. It’s like the Oscars if you win something. My senior year, I didn’t get cast and I was so heartbroken. I remembered making the decision at that time that I never wanted to wait on people to give me the opportunity to perform. I wanted to have way more control over that. And if I auditioned for something else because I wanted to, not because if I don’t, I won’t ever have anything to perform in. So I knew that I wanted to start producing my own stuff, either writing it or buying the rights to something.
I discovered all of my favorite movies again and most of them didn’t have people who looked like me as the leads. I was determined to figure out why, and the more I looked at it, the more I realized that the people who are making the decisions are why. And I thought, well, if I want more shows that match the things that I like to watch, then I have to be in charge of putting it out there. And so I decided that I wanted to lean heavily in producing because I could tell the stories that I wish were told with me in it growing up, and I could give people like me opportunities.
And so this show is really good because, again, it’s all the stuff that I would have watched growing up with people who look like me. And so that’s why I pivoted more toward the producer, because I realized it was more important to me to have some control over what stories are being told about people of color than it was for me to always have to be the face of it on the stage.
Fornoff: Will you talk about that just in the context of Jubilee Theatre, which is this sort of the Mecca of Black theater in Fort Worth? What does it mean for you to have the opportunity, especially at such a young age, to be one of the people making those decisions?
Jackson: It’s a big deal, something I dreamed of. I didn’t work with Jubilee growing up, but I always knew who they were. I auditioned for them one time when I was like a junior or senior in high school. But it is a really big deal because I’m able to give people opportunities at a place that is literally made for that in the Black community. I really love the fact that I’m able to do a show like this here because we’re not used to seeing ourselves represented in those types of roles.
Being able to do “Moon Man Walk” here at Jubilee in a safe space for Black artists … it’s really hard to explain how great it is. Knowing that a lot of people will be able to experience this show here and it doesn’t always have to be at the other bigger theaters (that) have all the money and the funding. We can do it right here in the area. It’s a big deal.
Fornoff: Great. That covers all the questions I had for you. Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you want to mention or you think is important to know?
Jackson: I think it’s important to know that this show is going to be really wild. Whenever I read the script, the big thing that really pushed me outside of everything we’ve already talked about was seeing a Black male as a lead that’s lonely. I don’t see that often. Just (a story about) a lonely guy that isn’t rooted in police brutality or things of that nature. Those things are important and those stories should always be told. But it’s not the only stories that represent our community. One of my favorite movies is “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is my No. 1 favorite film of all time. But when I read (this) script, I was like, ‘This is giving me “Her” vibes of just this lonely guy.’ And I had never seen it with a Black (lead) or really any person of color.
I think it’s so important to show that, especially in a Black community with males having to be tough and endure it all and be strong, we rarely get to see them be weak or sad or anything that’s an emotion other than angry. That’s a big theme of this show. You just get to see a guy who is struggling because he lost his mother and he has never met his father and trying to navigate through that with his imagination so that he won’t crumble under the weight. I think that’s really important.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.