By Jon Lewis
Life is a Stage for Tammy JonesStory: Jon Lewis Photo: Bret Christensen
Tammy Jones can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing, and even her earliest efforts were validated: “My teacher in third grade was devastated when I had chicken pox and couldn’t sing in the Christmas program,” Jones recalls with a laugh. “I was the only one who sang loud and knew all the words.”
That may have been one of the last times Jones missed an opportunity to be on stage. Growing up in the small town of Castella and working her way through Castle Rock Elementary and Dunsmuir High School meant plenty of chances to shine.
Dunsmuir High, with a student body of 200, was too small to stage musicals, but Jones says she was happy to be part of the choir, madrigals and student plays. There also was tennis and basketball. “I did it all. You didn’t have to be awesome; you just had to show up. I got to try everything,” Jones says.
Far from feeling trapped in a small town, Jones says her upbringing in Castella was pretty idyllic. Her father, Regis, worked at the Kimberly Clark mill in Mount Shasta and her mother, Arden, served as Castella’s postmaster.
As soon as she learned to swim, Jones was joining her two older sisters in riding innertubes through the rapids on the upper Sacramento River, which ran directly behind their home.
The home had a decidedly country feel to it, thanks in part to her father, who cut and sold firewood to finance his hunting trips to Alaska. Jones says she grew up with one of dad’s prized trophies: a giant moose head mounted on the wall. The would-be Bullwinkle now graces the wall at Ammirati’s Bar in Castella.
By her junior year, Jones had decided on a career as a dental hygienist and after graduating Dunsmuir High, she was off to Sacramento City College to learn her trade. License in hand, she returned to Redding and settled in with Dr. Larry Watts in 1981.
The settled-in process was interrupted five years later when Jones enrolled at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland with plans on becoming a graphic designer. After 18 months, Jones says she realized that art school was not her cup of tea.
Watts called to ask if Jones was interested in returning to the dentistry world “and I came back and I’ve been with him since October of 1988,” Jones says. “I see seven to eight patients a day, and some I’ve been seeing since 1981. I’m seeing some of their grandchildren now. It’s crazy. But I do love my job. I love cleaning teeth a lot. I know some of my patients so well it’s like visiting with old friends every day.”
And, yes, she’s been known to sing to her patients.
Jones discovered a new love in 1990 when a roommate, who had been volunteering at Riverfront Playhouse, mentioned the community theater company was going to stage the musical “Damn Yankees” and suggested that Jones audition for a role.
Jones was cast as Gloria, the reporter, “and I was hooked, hooked, hooked,” she says in appropriately dramatic fashion. “I never had any formal training. I kind of just loved it and learned as I went.”
The productions started to come fast and furious: “Dames at Sea, “Bad Day at Gopher’s Breath,” “Hay Fever,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” four separate versions of “Nunsense,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Charlie’s Aunt,” “Peter Pan,” “A Christmas Story,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Rumors” and most recently, the drama “August: Osage County.”
Of all the shows, Jones says her favorites are the pair of Shasta College productions directed by longtime instructor Robert Soffian. “Working with Robert is just great and I learned a lot. He’s a great director and a master at blocking,” says Jones, adding that she’s also received valuable advice from her friend John Truitt, an accomplished actor as well.
In between plays and musicals, Jones found time to lend her voice to a quintet called 5 Women Who Sing. The acapella group was later reincarnated as Women Who Sing. The group snared a bit of North State history by being the first act to perform on the newly renovated Cascade Theatre stage during the “Hard Hat Party” fundraiser.
Jones has had a special connection with the Cascade since it reopened in 2004. She was a founding member of the Jefferson Repertory Theatre Company, the first group to stage professional productions at the Cascade.
Although disbanded, the company served as a creative catalyst that led to some significant cultural contributions to the community, including James Santos’ Dance Project and the Westside Performing Arts Company.
Plus, the Cascade is in downtown Redding, another of Jones’ loves. In addition to living downtown, Jones has long been active with Viva Downtown and was named Volunteer of the Year in 1999.
There’s yet another love in Jones’ life: travel. Her adventures started with a post-graduation trip to Poland with her high school basketball team and now include a three-month visit to Austria doing mission work for her church in 1983; a month in Europe in 1991 to take in all the art she had studied about; and six separate trips to New York (each included two to three Broadway shows).
And there’s one more love she’s adamant about: Lyle Lovett. “Lyle Lovett is my boyfriend,” Jones matter-of-factly says about the quirky Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and actor who lives in south Texas.
Lovett was unavailable for comment.