WGO # 22 – November 1997
interview by Lotus Blossom
WGO: Two of your plays have been staged at UCCB?
McKay: Yes. The Interviews and Sector 8. The Interviews was four separate plays in one. It dealt with issues relevant to the nineties. The play involved this person going out interviewing four individuals. One was an AIDS patient, one was someone pregnant as a teen and another a drug abuser. Because these people are usually marginalized in our society, I was trying to show their perspectives and how they are no different from anyone else, they just happen to come up against hard times or bad situations. The fourth one was a little different; it involved a serial killer. It was about his religious background, how it corrupted him.
WGO:Was there a message to this play?
McKay:The message was that we have to start looking at these people; they shouldn’t be on margins of society, they should be a part of society. Just because a person has AIDS or is pregnant as a teen doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to society. The prisoner character was about how when you look at that all these sorts of people they are all essentially prisoners and society molded them and society lead them to their problems. Because of their problems they are rejected by society. So I think that the prisoner/serial killer emphasized that.
Sector 8 was another one-act play written the year after The Interviews, sometime in the ’90s. Sector 8 was set in North American urban landscape. I had in mind Washington, D.C. It was an elaboration on The Interviews in a sense. It was a more political story…it was also set in the future, sometime around 2020. And what the play involved was the situation with employment now and how everything is becoming techno – people are being replaced by machines. I took that to its extreme and made a situation where there was mass unemployment and mass homelessness. The government ended up forcing all these homeless people into what they called sectors so that they would be invisible to the outside world to anyone who would come in; out of sight, out of mind. What ended up happening, by putting them in these sectors they were put together and given a chance to bond together and start a rebellion against the power.
WGO: What plays have you acted in?
McKay: Well, I did some musicals in high school. I took a year off after high school and I went back to university and my first year out here I did Taming of the Shrew, Life of Galileo. That was the year I did The Interviews too.
WGO: What sparked your interest in theatre, particularly, why did you choose acting and directing as opposed to technical and crew work.
McKay: Actually, I like doing all aspects of theatre, when I was in junior high school, grade 9…I think I was interested in theatre all along but I didn’t realize it until I was in junior high school. In grade 9 I met some people who were involved in theatre and they told me what goes on and how much fun it is to do and sparked my interest in it. And then when I got into high school the next year they held auditions and I went and auditioned and I got a part, that’s how my interest started.
WGO: A lot of people just stay with acting. What made you become a writer & director?
McKay: Well, I’ve actually been writing pretty much my whole life; short stories, poetry. I never actually wrote plays until I became more involved in theatre. I had the interest in writing and once I started writing I felt that I wanted to direct what I was writing so I started directing. I’ve also been involved in music my whole life so I’m interested in sound and different things like that.
WGO: So, you thought that directing was a means of having control over how your plays were being presented?
McKay: As I was writing The Interviews or Sector 8 I had certain images or pictures in my mind of the way I saw it on stage, I guess I was kind of selfish, I didn’t want to give that over to someone else, I wanted to present the script in my own vision.
WGO:Who have been your major inspirations?
McKay: There was my high school drama teacher, Bruce Cathcart. He really helped me out a lot because he was the first person who directed me on stage, the first person who I did any theatre work with at all. Then when I got to university there was Rod Nichols, Harry Boardmore, Todd Hiscock, they’ve all been great, really helpful and they haven’t kept me from doing anything that I wanted to do.
WGO: What made you decide to tackle the play The Flies.
McKay: I wanted to direct a full length play this year and I was looking through all different things…I was looking at everything. I was taking an existentialism course. I read No Exit by Sartre and some other things by Sartre, never seen The Flies. I was doing a Nietzsche course the next term and I was doing a paper that involved Nietzsche & Sartre. It was a comparison of Nietzche’s concept of eternal recurrence with Sartre’s play No Exit. So I picked up a copy of No Exit at a second hand book store in Antigonish and it had No Exit and three other plays in it. So I was on the bus going to Antigonish going to visit my girlfriend one day and I had just finished doing my paper on No Exit so I had the book with me so I said, “Oh, maybe I’ll read this other play”. So I start reading The Flies and I was reading through it and reading through it, not really analyzing it, just letting the first impression come across and it really struck me – I could feel a lot of elements of life in Cape Breton in the play. Just in the fact that in Cape Breton, I think, we have to start taking control over our own lives, we’ve let outside forces, political forces dictate what happens here. That was my first impression of the play, knowing nothing about the background of the play of course. So I decided that I would do it then and that’s when I started talking about it and started researching it and finding out more about it.
WGO:Was that one of the deciding factors in choosing this play?
McKay: I think to go along with the idea that theatre is one way where we can use all our resources and it’s something that we’re doing ourselves, we’re putting it all together, we’re doing all the work and we’re not relying on any other means to do it. So, it goes along with the theme of working together as a community, we’re not being dictated to by a community outside of ourselves or a force outside ourselves.
WGO: What about the production? I remember talking to you at rehearsals and you told me that you had never directed a cast larger than nine people. This cast was…
McKay: Ummmm, fifty…I don’t even know. (laughs) I learned more from doing this than I probably learned from all my years in school. The rehearsals started in August with the leads, the large group came in around the middle of September and it was presented at the end of October. We had three hour rehearsals, sometimes extending to five or six or eight hours. The main thing that I came to realize that no matter how large a group of people, if they are working together towards a common goal they can really get a lot done so you realize that you have a lot more in yourself than you thought you did; you can do a lot more if you have to do it. Like for instance, I wanted to use projections in the play, I wanted to use slides..how am I going to do this? Well, I’ll get pictures, get slides made but all of a sudden that’s too much of a hassle so I’m going to do computer imaging and I’ve never done this before, there’s no one really to do it so I have to do it myself so I do it. And just bringing all the people together.
WGO:Everyone on the production is a volunteer – sound, lights, all the actors and production crew…
McKay: Volunteers are great. I think that makes it all the more amazing that it actually came together is the fact that no one is being paid for this and maybe that brings about a strong sense of community, the reward for everyone is the product itself. No one is doing this for monetary reasons, everyone is doing this because they want to do it and they want it to succeed.
WGO: Why do you think that theatre is good for people?
McKay: For the people who are doing it, especially for the first time, it really helps with community sharing skills, bringing people together, helping people to work in groups, helping people to be more self-confident, to express themselves better.
WGO: I guess as a Director you’ve seen people grow in their parts, over the years, or even within the time frame of a play.
McKay: It’s such satisfaction for people on stage, you start with scattered fragments of information…move over here.. move over there…here’s your script and here are the lines. You see your part, you don’t know where it fits in with everyone else, you don’t know how you are going to play it and at the end you have this finished product, everything blends together. So even in that sense it shows people that by working together you can bring something together, you can accomplish things together.
WGO: Do you think your ideas as a playwright influence people? Can they rattle people and make them more aware?
McKay: I like it when they do. When you go to the theatre and see a play, you might not talk during the play but what you’re seeing is live on the stage so there is an interaction and every show has its own dynamic from night to night, a totally dynamic situation.
WGO: Theatre too, allows people to discuss ideas.
McKay: I think when I wrote The Interviews it was more for myself because I had come to a new understanding about people who were marginalized in society and realized I guess in ways that I was marginalized because of poverty. I had some stereotypes even until I got to University and I’m sure I still do (everyone does) but I recognized some of my own biases and that was a way of getting them out of my system. I hope that maybe someone’s view was changed or maybe even if someone could identify with one of the characters maybe it gave someone an uplifting feeling. I really don’t know, I really can’t tell. Sometimes theatre hits me so deep that I change the way I see things.
WGO: Do you think that theatre has the potential to grow in this area?
McKay: I think that theatre has the potential to break stereotypes. There are a lot of brilliant and great people that came out of Cape Breton of all ethnic backgrounds. From researching Cape Breton history (I learned about) … J.B. McLaughlin (who was) a labour leader in the ’20s… he was a coal miner who was put in prison for almost 2 years for seditious libel by the provincial government. This man was a brilliant philosopher, social worker, teacher, writer and why aren’t we telling the stories of these people? I think we need growth in integrity; doing a basic canon of plays. We could be doing outdoor theatre in the summers, it doesn’t have to be Cape Breton related plays, there are plays that are universal. I think we have to do a combination of all; we don’t have enough native theatre around here. I think we have to be more welcoming to native actors.
WGO: Theatre is one of those areas where racial barriers are generally non-existent unless placed there. The stereotype of people is broken to start with in a theatrical environment.
McKay: Theatre should give us more pride in ourselves as an entire community. We also should be able to recognize what we have in common with other areas and other times so I think local theatre, international theatre, every type of theatre has a place here because every type of theatre broadens your mind in a different way. You can see within Cape Breton we need to be more supportive of each other as a community, we also need to recognize that other places should have the right to sustain their own community.