Neisha Yen-Jones – following her passion and honouring her sister’s memory
Neisha Yen-Jones was just 19 years old when she lost her older sister, Farrah Amoy Tamieka Jones. Her sister had her sights set on a career in the performing arts. But before those dreams could be realised, Farrah died from multiple sclerosis. Yen-Jones told The Sunday Gleaner that her sister’s love for the arts ignited her own passion, and she’s determined to be the best in her field as a tribute to her sister.
“She loved singing and dancing,” said Yen-Jones, recalling her sister’s involvement in ballet, which led to her also enrolling in classes. “I had a lot of energy growing up as most young kids do, and my mom was, like, ‘ oh my goodness! we need to get her out of the house and give her something to do’. My older sister was going to dance school. I lacked the discipline or the determination for dance, but my mother said it was either karate or ballet (I had a brother who was doing karate). I didn’t like karate, so I did ballet with my sister. My sister wanted to dance and sing, but she didn’t get to go all the way. About three years before she died, she couldn’t move. She was in a kind of vegetative state, and I felt that for her. I decided I was going to do this for her. When was training for dance in England, I was training for her. She’s my inspiration for dancing and the performing arts. I continue to push for her so that she will be remembered and be known through everything I do.”
Yen-Jones is a host on TVJ’s Daytime Live, but very little is known about the woman who copped the Best Actress in a Lead Role Award at the recent staging of the annual Actor Boy Awards. Born in Jamaica, the actress, singer, and choreographer, migrated to England at the age of 12. She says that though she had a passion for the performing arts, she was least focused on acting. “I got a scholarship to go to a performing arts school, so singing, dancing, and acting, musical theatre is what I did. I did my degree in performing arts. I also went to LAMDA, which is London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, and that is an acting school, so I’m a rounded performer. I also write and direct musicals,” she said, pointing out that although she was trained in all aspects of theatre, dancing ended up taking the forefront. “Acting was the direction I was going down, and my dance teacher said to me, ‘Neisha-Yen, you can act when you’re old, but you can only dance when you’re young’, and so I went with dancing first. I didn’t mind because I absolutely loved it.”
Focused on acting
Now, she is focused on nurturing her career as an actress. “I enjoy feeling and telling people’s stories. I enjoy going through the process of recalling joy or pain. I love being truthful, and I love to see people on stage who look like they are the characters. I hate when I see people ‘acting’ – if that makes any sense,” she said. But she also wants to make a difference and make a mark off the stage as well. “I don’t just want to take from theatre as in what can theatre give to me as an actress, but I also want to explore the opportunities I can provide for others. The plays that I will write – I want to take them international. I want to tour and bring international bodies here. As far as the stars and moon are, that’s where I’m reaching. I believe that if you’re going to do something, do it to your fullest, with your all. I will go as far as theatre allows me to go.”
Since she has been back in Jamaica for the last six years, she has done two plays – both by playwright David Tulloch – and in both, she landed the lead role. They are White Skin, Black Heart and What Goes Around, for which she won her Actor Boy Award. She said she had no idea that she would walk away with the award as she believes she could have done more work with the role. Nevertheless, she is happy with the win as it adds to the ABA she won in 2016 for Best Choreography. The actress says she is now looking forward to cementing her place in the local theatre space as she is determined to make her name a household one.
As part of her legacy building, the actress will be doing a musical theatre camp this August. She will be producing a show called Grease for the Avant Academy of music. She says she is not only excited about the production itself, but as a mother, she is particularly eager because she will be working with children. She says she is grateful for the opportunity to be able to nurture the love for theatre in the younger generation. “I love kids, and I want to help nurture their talent. I am happy to be in Jamaica to help train the young ones and let them know that they can do it – they can achieve the world. I didn’t know that I could do it, but someone external believed in me and pushed me, so I wanna give that to others.”