Pro Bono Playwright Donates His Talent to Student Writers

A onetime student playwright at Minnesota State University, Mankato is today a heavy hitter in the Minneapolis law scene, the drama in his life now found in courtrooms instead of on stage.

But Bruce Jones hasn’t put theater behind him. Every Friday during the Spring Semester, he returns to campus to teach playwriting for the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“All spring it is a high point of my week,” Jones said from a Houston, Texas, courthouse where he was awaiting the verdict on a trial. “The plays students come up with are always interesting…It’s wonderful to sit down and talk through the plays with them. I always encourage them to see if they can find someone to put the plays on their feet so they can see them in a production and learn more that way.“

These Friday trips are a homecoming of sorts for Jones. He grew up in Mankato, and his parents frequently took him to theatre productions at the University. He recalls seeing the first Highland Summer Theatre production of “Sweeney Todd” as a kid and marveling at the methods used to simulate effects such as bodies being tossed into an imaginary cellar.

groups of theater students in 1975
Playwright Bruce Jones, center, and the cast of his play “Round Trip Ticket” in 1975,

While enrolled as a theatre student at the University in the early 1970s, he wrote two plays. One of those two, “Round Trip Ticket,” was staged at the University and in 1975, made its way through both regional and national stagings with the American Collegiate Theater competitions.

That success helped him into graduate school at the University of Iowa’s theatre program, from which he received his master’s degree. He continued working in theatre as a writer in Minneapolis and Chicago.

Photo of Bruce Jones
Today Bruce Jones practices law in Minneapolis.

His interest in law—and in making a better living—led him to try the LSAT and, impressed with the results, he enrolled in law school at the University of Minnesota and soon afterward began a law practice that continues today.

The time demands of his law practice trumped playwriting, and for years his theater work was at a standstill. Yet when contacted by Dr. Jane Earley to consider contributing to the construction of the Andreas Theatre, Jones asked about opportunities to teach playwriting part-time at the University.

“I missed it and I hadn’t been doing any playwriting,” he said. “I thought it might be a way to prompt myself to get back in that mindset.”

A later meeting with Paul Hustoles, the Theatre and Dance chair, resulted in Jones being invited to teach a playwriting course.

Today, he teaches in three-hour blocks, a chunk of time that allows each play the amount of time needed for good critiques.

The classes are workshop format, taking place in a conference room instead of a classroom, and with the emphasis much more on the students’ work than Jones’ experience.

“If it’s a choice between reading a student’s play and commenting on it (or) hearing me talk, we’re going to read the student’s play,” Jones said.

Passionate about playwriting as a student, Jones today is enjoying watching that fire grow in students working on their own material. And he’s giving the University more than his time: He’s donating his adjunct pay to the theatre department.

“I make a good income as an attorney,” he said, “and I’m honored that the department lets me come back and teach.”

This story originally appeared in Maverick Nation, our electronic magazine for and about young alumni. To have Maverick Nation delivered to your inbox, sign in here.

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