IUPUI's musical man: Dennis Jones shines onstage and in the Campus Center

Dennis Jones in Campus CenterView print quality image
Dennis Jones helps open the Campus Center every day. He and his team keep the IUPUI building functioning like a song. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

In show business, a triple threat is a singer, dancer and actor all rolled into one performer.

That must make Dennis Jones an octuple threat: One, Jones is a beloved presence in the Campus Center, where he has worked for the past seven years for Campus Facility Services. Two, Jones is a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy, based in San Diego from 1982 to 1992. Three, Jones has sung the national anthem before Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever games. Four, five, six and seven, Jones is an actor, director, producer and backstage guru for Indianapolis' Footlite Musicals theater group.

And eight, Jones will be honored with the 2019 Advocate of the Dream Award at the annual -- and sold-out -- IUPUI Black Student Union's Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner. The award goes to a staff or faculty member at IUPUI who promotes the ideals of freedom and equality presented in King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

"When I found out about the award, I was sitting here during rehearsals for 'Legally Blonde,'" Jones said while standing in Footlite Musicals' 255-seat theater. "I got all emotional."

Jones is producing Footlite's current show, "Murder Ballad," which will be presented in a cabaret format with a live band Jan. 18 to 20. Tickets are available for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. As producer, Jones must monitor show budgets, ticket sales and marketing while being a conduit between theater bosses and show director Bradley Lowe.

Description of the following video:

[Video: Jones appears in the lobby of Footlite Musicals' theater, wearing a "Murder Ballad T-shirt.]

[Title appears: IUPUI presents]

[Title appears: Dennis Jones, Campus Facility Services, actor/producer/director]

[Dennis Jones speaks: Hi, my name is Dennis Jones, and we're coming to you from Footlite Musicals.]

[Video: Jones makes wide gestures, showing off parts of the theater lobby and photos]

[Jones speaks in voiceover: I've been in several shows here. I started out with "The Music Man," and this has been my home ever since.

[Jones appears on camera and speaks: My upcoming show that I'm doing, I'm producing "Murder Ballad." It's our cabaret.]

[Video: footage of a dress rehearsal of the show "Murder Ballad"]

[Jones speaks in voiceover: It's more intimate, where you're on the stage and you're almost a part of the show. It's a great musical. We have a fabulous director, Bradley Lowe, and you should really come and see it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday ...

[Jones appears on camera: ... the 18th, 19th and 20th. There's tickets left. You can go to Footlite.org, and you can order your tickets, and we hope to see you come out. It's a dark show that you wouldn't normally see here at Footlite, but I think you would be intrigued, and we're also taking this show to the theater contests. Hopefully, we'll win a national title with that. Thank you.]

[Screen fades to black; music from "Murder Ballad plays]

[Title appears: IUPUI fulfilling the promise, iupui.edu]

[End of transcript]

Dennis Jones will be honored at the IUPUI MLK Celebration Dinner for his work in the Campus Center and in local theater.

While Jones made his debut for Footlite in 2011, acting and singing in such classics as "Sunset Boulevard," "Follies" and "Big River," he co-directs the theater's summer camp for teens and has been added to Footlite's board of directors.

"He means quite a bit to us," said Keith Matters, Footlite's president. "He's very good with people, working with our youth and he's great all-round. You have to know how to do all of these things to make an organization like ours work."

Balancing his passion for his job with theater has been a dance of long hours and maintaining a hectic schedule during show runs, but it's been well worth it for Jones, an Indianapolis native who holds a theater degree from Indiana State University.

That versatility has helped Jones' work at IUPUI. He's a fixture in the Campus Center as much as the bookstore, the Cultural Arts Gallery and Starbucks.

Campus Center star

Jones collects an average of 12,000 steps a day at the Campus Center. He helps lead a crew that keeps the IUPUI campus crown jewel clean, organized and functioning.

While certainly not shy, Jones is less animated at work than he is onstage. After all, his shift starts at 6 a.m. But he is always happy to see students, faculty and staff members who have come to love him over the years. You can't walk with him for more than 20 seconds without someone saying "hello" to him as he scales up and down the Campus Center's five bustling levels.

"I guess they appreciate me. I don't know. I try to do the best I can," Jones said.

Jones said he wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. Coffee, watching the news and relaxing before opening the 250,000-square-foot Campus Center are part of his predawn routine.

"It's quiet," Jones said. "I don't do anything but come to work. During the summer, I meet some of the parents of the students. We talk, and I assure them that I'm like the students' second or third father here. I make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do. If they linger too much, I send them off to class.

"I see them as freshmen, and then I see them when they leave and go spread their wings."

During a recent visit, Jones said hello to Cindy Harkness and Jennifer Zotz, senior coordinators for recruitment and outreach in the Enrollment Services office. Jones directed Zotz's son, Tommy, during last summer's young artists camp at Footlite, which culminated in a production of "Pirates of Penzance."

"I loved that he shares his gifts and talents with young people," said Zotz, who saw all seven "Pirates" performances. "He has amazing patience, and he's so great to work with. On the stage and off the stage, he's just a shining star."

Harkness has known Jones since his first year working in the Campus Center. She's among the many staff members who are aware of Jones' theater talents.

"We tell him, 'When you go to Hollywood, remember us,'" Harkness said with a laugh. "We love Dennis. I think we need a star in the Campus Center with Dennis' name on it."

The show must go on

Dennis Jones at Footlite Musicals theaterView print quality image
Dennis Jones has acted, directed, produced and worked backstage at Footlite Musicals in Indianapolis. His talents earned him a spot on the theater's board of directors as well. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Jones remembers the moment he fell in love with theater. Sure, he played the giant in his elementary school's smash musical version of "Jack and the Beanstalk," but he really developed a passion for theater while attending Northwest High School.

Toward the end of his first year, Jones happened upon his school's production of "Bye Bye Birdie." The rest of his life has been dedicated to the stage, even if it meant serving his country and later keeping IUPUI's student hub functioning first.

Footlite Musicals gets the majority of Jones' theatrical work, but he has expanded to television, online promo work and even film. During his time in Southern California, Jones got some TV work in Los Angeles. When he returned to Indianapolis, he got a local spot for WISH-TV as well as being a face of IN Biz advertising.

Jones is pumped for March. He was cast in a new project from Indianapolis author Joyce Licorish -- a film version of her novel "The Forgotten Timepiece," which was published in 2017. The shoot will take place in Covington, Georgia.

"She directed me in 'The Color Purple' here," Jones said. "When she was writing the novel, I told her I wanted to be a part of it, and she stayed true. I did have to go through the audition process, but I got in."

Jones' love of the theater -- and IUPUI -- has increased each season. When he's not at home, he's usually at his work home or his stage home.

"Most shows, everyone gets along like family," Jones said. "No matter what I'm doing, as long as it's around theater, it's just what I do."