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ASU Herberger Institute student chases the drama while pursuing his master’s degree

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May 04, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Herberger Institute grad student Jericho Joseph Thomas was born in a “red state,” identifies himself as a Christian and writes about race, sex and faith.

“I like things that are messy,” said the 2017 MFA Dramatic Writing candidate who will graduate from Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is a unit of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. this month. “I think messy and honest are synonyms. I’m always chasing the drama.”

He isn’t exaggerating. His artist statement declares that he “loves to write inside the threat of what could happen.” Given that type of scope and sphere, Thomas’ work goes to some interesting places.

March saw the debut of “Writes,” an original play on narrative ownership, misrepresentation of blacks in fiction and the loss of white privilege. On May 13 he’ll debut “Racy,” at Phoenix Theatre during the Caleb Reese Festival of New Plays and Musicals. The new work explores the crossroads of race and sexuality.

And he recently finished a screenplay called "NevaehHeaven spelled backwards.," which teams the son of an prominent television evangelist with a black female atheist in order to "Robin Hood the Christian right."

The 32-year-old credits ASU for giving him the latitude and encouragement to be creative.

“Traditional is a bad word around here, which I dig,” Thomas said. “Traditional is a place to start but not a place to perpetuate.”

When Thomas graduates on May 8, he plans on a new start. He is awaiting word on a two-year fellowship in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, working with local artists at the grass-roots level. If that falls through, he said he’s heading to Hollywood to chase the drama once more — this time in television.

“Netflix and Amazon have created a new golden era of television,” Thomas said. “They have demonstrated time and again they are not afraid of hiring playwrights.” 

Before Thomas hits the road, he answered some questions about his experience at ASU. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the arts?

Answer: Writing and self-producing my first play in New York. It was hard and electric and scary and emotionally fulfilling all at once. Actors and audiences alike were moved by it, and I remember thinking, "Yeah, I could do this forever."

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU?

A: There is always more to learn about something. Context is key. I have to look at and around and beside and through and behind and ahead of something to understand it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Their dramatic writing didn't force me to choose playwriting or screenwriting, but instead allowed me to move fluidly between disciplines. ASU affirmed and fueled the exciting fact that I am more than one kind of artist.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Show up. Classes, events, meetings, commitments, whatever. And always ask for help. Don't stop asking until you get it.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus?

A: The Nelson Fine Arts Center. I learned and created so much in those rooms.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Pursuing a career in television writing.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: You know what's depressing? Every global problem I can think of tackling needs light-years more money than $40 million. But I'll still answer and say racial justice.

Top photo: Herberger Institute MFA Dramatic Writing candidate Jericho Joseph Thomas will graduate May 8. Photo courtesy of Ian Shelanskey

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