Volume 94, Issue 28

Thursday, October 19, 2000


A Conversation With...Jayson McDonald

Name's Ryan, not Bryan!

A Conversation With...Jayson McDonald

Gazette File Photo

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

It's been 10 years since Jayson McDonald arrived in London and in that time, he has made quite an impact.

McDonald, the multi-talented writer, director, producer and star of the wildly entertaining theatrical series, The Boneyard Man, was actually born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario.

Yet, McDonald's theatrical career took flight in this city. "I did my first theatre during high school," he says. "I wrote a couple of plays for the one-act festival at my school and was encouraged because they were very well received. As a fully thinking, reasoning human however, it wasn't until I came to London that I was able to do it properly."

A few years ago, McDonald made the decision to pursue his writing as a full-time career. Although he admits there are certainly some trying times, he seems comfortable with his place in the world. "It's a lot of hard work," he says. "I live it. It's my work and my hobby, so it's always there. If I get sick of my work, there's no real hobby to turn to. I guess I should start bowling or something," he laughs.

All joking aside, The Boneyard Man is perhaps the ultimate salute to radio noir. Regardless of its popularity, many fans would be surprised to discover he did not actually set out to create such a cult hit. Instead, he was looking for a small project to undertake, in order to generate the funds required to produce a larger project. Because The Boneyard Man requires little overhead capital, McDonald went with his instincts and performed the first episode in front of a sparse audience of 25.

That was two years ago. Since then, the series' popularity has skyrocketed, brilliantly tapping a virtually untouched market. The Boneyard Man sold out completely at London's inaugural Fringe Theatre Festival this past August, leaving many would-be audience members waiting in long lines to buy whatever standby tickets remained.

There were even rumours of ticket scalping, but McDonald laughs at this thought. "It's gratifying to achieve that popularity. I can't really account for it. I think we just had the right idea at the right time with the right people," he suggests, adding the audience's demographics are quite diverse.

In November, McDonald will unveil his new play, The Analysis. Written on the heels of an incredibly busy summer, he claims the writing of this play felt like therapy.

It's a play about a young man coming to terms with his asexuality, told through a number of encounters with an array of interesting characters. Despite the comic overtones, McDonald is well aware the play's content could stir up some controversy in a conservative city like London.

"I felt nervous about staging it at first. When I sat back, I realized there are things about it that may offend some. I don't want anybody to come see it, who has very strong religious convictions or who has difficulty with sexuality. It's the same kind of stuff that you see on television every night, you just don't see it in plays in London all that often," he explains.

Although he is well-versed in writing, directing and acting, if forced to choose one, McDonald would pick writing because it comes most naturally.

"I'm not sure what inspires me as a writer. I guess the deadline inspires me. I set a date, then I come up with the titles and then I write the episode. The titles come first because I do all of my press releases and posters before I do the actual writing. Sometimes I'm writing at the last minute before the read-through. I'm getting it done because I have absolutely no choice."

McDonald feels most comfortable writing plays, but this preference has more to do with his personality than his writing abilities. "I don't have much of an attention span. I find working with dialogue the most interesting thing for me. Occasionally, I write down stories but that's just to get them out. If they're good, then they'll probably become a dramatic piece at some point."

As anyone familiar with McDonald's work would tell you, there is always an element of humour present, even though the author claims this is not always intentional. "It happens anyway. No matter what I'm writing, the comedy always comes out. If I try to be very serious, it never comes off. There's always something funny about it."

One should not be surprised to learn McDonald also directs a fair number of the plays he pens. "I am a bit of a control freak," he confesses. "I end up doing a lot more than I should on any given production. I have to learn to let go."

However, the direction of these shows is something McDonald would argue is constantly evolving.

"I still don't know if I direct very well. It's so subjective. I guess you could go to school and learn these things, but I never did. I know I'm getting better, I don't know if I'm at a peak yet."

As far as acting goes, McDonald finds it a more tiresome, aggravating experience. "I find my greatest frustration is when I'm acting in somebody else's show. I've been horrible to work with lately because I just find it really frustrating to be an actor," he says. "Acting is a strange thing to do for a living – I don't know why anyone would want to do it."

Throughout his tenure in London, McDonald has noticed a significant change in the city's art scene. New theatre space has allowed a number of new theatre companies to form, including Theatre Nemesis, Theatre Soup and McDonald's own, Three Black Ring.

Without question, McDonald feels heavily involved in these recent developments. "As far as my role is concerned, I think I have been a major contributor. I hope artists and performers are encouraged by our success to do their own thing," McDonald says, adding with great excitement that The Boneyard Man will appear at the Grand Theatre later this year.

As the conversation comes to a close, it becomes clear the most refreshing quality about McDonald is his lack of pretense. He's a candid, authentic artist who approaches projects with considerable enthusiasm. His colourful nature exudes a sense of honesty, determination and openmindedness – qualities that guide him as he works to build a prominent theatrical subculture.

For those who wonder whether this developing culture is for them, McDonald offers a challenge: "You have to expose yourself to new ideas, even ugly ideas. You really have to have the willingness to learn, to be different, to want to be different."

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Copyright The Gazette 2000