A seasoned artist, administrator, educator and self-described Alberta boy, James MacDonald stepped up to the lectern Friday as Western Canada Theatre’s new artistic director.
MacDonald was chosen from 22 candidates across the country who wanted to come to Kamloops to lead the company after Daryl Cloran announced this spring his plans to move on after six years.
“Boy, did we get talent,” said Tim Rodgers, who headed the selection committee. They pared the 22 down to six shortlisted candidates. “We were just amazed at the talent that wanted to come to Kamloops.”
MacDonald — who most recently served as artistic associate with Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and program director of the Citadel/Banff Centre professional theatre program — expressed excitement about the job and the city.
“There was always something about coming into this valley from the north, or seeing those grasslands and rolling hills from the west, that gave me a special feeling,” he said. “This is a magical place to live.”
Rodgers said it was MacDonald’s breadth of experience, artistic excellence and vision that stood out.
The Citadel, coincidentally, is Cloran’s next career destination, and the two know one another.
“James is a great fit for WCT,” Cloran said, currently with a co-production of In a Blue Moon in Gananoque, Ont. “He’s a smart, visionary director, and a really great guy.”
“I’ll put it very simply: To me, theatre is about the business of changing lives,” MacDonald said by way of introduction.
“Theatre is about community — who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going. There are so many exciting stories we can share together, and I am so excited to have the opportunity to live and work in this vibrant city.”
MacDonald is married to the theatre in a sense. His wife, Tracey Power, is a choreographer and actor who played in Les Miserables and Ubuntu (The Capetown Project).
He steps into his new role Sept. 1 with a 10-day transition before Cloran heads to Edmonton.
James MacDonald was born in Montreal, and raised in Edmonton. After graduating with honours from Strathcona High School in Edmonton, he studied history at the University of Alberta, before transferring to the BFA Acting Program. Since graduating from the U of A, he has spent 25 years working across Canada as a director, actor, and educator.
MacDonald has directed for many of Canada’s major theatres, including the Stratford Festival (Julius Caesar), the Shaw Festival (The Old Ladies), Canadian Stage (Fire, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It), the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, A Few Good Men) and 14 productions at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Venus in Fur, Clybourne Park, God of Carnage, Billy Bishop Goes to War, andStones in his Pockets. As an actor he has performed across the country, from Victoria to Halifax. From 2011 – 2015, he played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Citadel Theatre’s acclaimed production of A Christmas Carol.
He has been involved in the development of more than 30 new Canadian plays, including directing the world premieres of Miss Shakespeare (Musical TheatreWorks – Jessie Award for Outstanding Production), Vimy (Citadel Theatre – Sterling Award for Outstanding Production), With a Twist (Lunchbox Theatre – Betty Mitchell Award for Outstanding Production), and The Myth of Summer (Alberta Theatre Projects). He also served as dramaturge for the Firehall Arts Centre production of Chelsea Hotel, which has toured across Canada for the past three years.
MacDonald was the founding artistic director of Edmonton’s Freewill Shakespeare Festival, a position he held for five years, from 1996-2001. While at Freewill, he directed seven productions, including King Lear, Macbeth, and The Winter’s Tale. He also performed for the company for several years, including the title roles in Henry V and Macbeth.
For the past six years he has been the Program Director of the Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program, and an Artistic Associate at the Citadel Theatre. Prior to that, from 2006 – 2010, he was the Associate Artistic Director at the Citadel, where he oversaw programs in play development, education, and audience outreach.
As a director and actor, he is the recipient of five Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards, and a Dora Mavor Moore Award. He has also been inducted into the Wall of Fame at his alma mater, Strathcona High School in Edmonton.
He teaches workshops in Shakespearean text and the audition process for professionals, theatre students, teachers, and high school students. He is also a corporate consultant in voice and public speaking. James has served as a National Councillor for the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association, and is a former Secretary of the Edmonton Performers’ Branch of ACTRA.