Matthew McDonald is an actor with a number of stage credits to his stage including Titanic the Musical, Death Takes a Holiday, The Braille Legacy and Little Miss Sunshine. Since going into Lockdown, Matthew has set up PanelProof with fellow performer Jaye Elster, helping arts students in these difficult times. I was fortunate enough to talk to Matthew about how he is adjusting to this new way of life and his hopes for the industry looking forwards.
First of all, how are you feeling about the whole situation?
I have felt all of the emotions. It is obviously something that no one has ever experienced before so who knows how are are ‘supposed’ to feel. Initially, I was gutted as I was about to start rehearsals for HMS Pinafore which has been postponed to next year, starting a job is always exciting and we were days away. I am doing my best to stay positive in this time and spread some love and joy wherever I can. I am lucky that I am surrounded by people and not on my own as I can only imagine how tough that would be. So if you are on your own and want come company, call me.
How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown?
I have been going quite a bit of decorating and DIY. I completely redecorated my bedroom, having recently moved back to my childhood home it didn’t quite feel like my space anymore so I have made it much more homely. I also made my Nana a picnic bench for squirrels haha. She saw a picture online so had to have one. I have also done quite a few puzzles. Keeping busy with bits and bobs is important to me. I have also set up PanelProof with my friend Jaye Elster to offer some comfort and support to current graduating students (more on this later). I have also started working for Tesco so that is taking up some time and it gets me out of the house. As I am doing the online shops I like to imagine what they are cooking with all of the stuff they are buying. ROCK AND ROLL BEBE
What are you most looking forward to doing once Lockdown is over?
Seeing the people that I can only see through a screen. Obviously, it is a troubled time we are living through at the moment, however there are so many positives to take from the situation. Communities are pulling together, strangers are being kinder to each other than ever before. I have reconnected with people I haven’t been about to because we are living to completely different schedules. So in a sense, it has been nice to be able to dedicate my time to people that I don’t often see but I cannot wait to do it in person.
Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times?
I think that the main thing is to stay supportive, positive and pro-active. There are so many nice things happening in the arts to keep people active, shout out to my main man Bobby Windebank (@bobalus) doing unreal daily workouts at 11am on instagram, that we just have to support each other. Join in a class, shout out your favs on twitter, watch/rewatch everything you can. Keep the love alive and then when everything reopens support again as much as we can.
What is your favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole?
I love meeting new people. I have been lucky enough to meet people on jobs that have changed my life and their love and generosity means so much to me. I also love that you never really know what is going to happen tomorrow which is super exciting and terrifying all in the same breath.
With the theatres closed and so much being moved online, do you think we are seeing a big change in how the industry works?
I think it is so wonderful that shows/ classes are being made available online and accessible in this time and I think it is something that should continue to make theatre more accessible up and down the country. However can you beat the feeling of live theatre, as the first few bars of the overture ring out or the first actor enters the space can’t be compared through a screen.
How have you been managing day to day life in quarantine? Do you have a routine, or do you just go with the flow?
Luckily with me working at Tesco now it sort of shapes my week and gives me routine, but before this I was trying to still schedule out a day. Having breakfast at a sensible time and doing a workout and setting things to do in the day but also allowing myself days where I do nothing but sit in comfies and watch disney+
Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown hard to manage?
Reach out to friends and family and talk about it. Don’t be comparing yourself to others online. Everyone’s stories are different so make your happiness the main goal without living by someone else standards.
Can you tell us some more about panel proof and how you are helping arts students?
So, I was driving in my car the day after I found out about HMS Pinafore being postponed and I was feeling urges of sadness about that when it dawned on me about all of the current drama school students in their final years of study having their training pulled for whoever knows how long. So I spoke to my lovely friend Jaye Elster about it who agreed whole heartedly that we wanted to try and create some opportunity and support for those affected. And that is when PanelProof was born. We pull together three amazing industry coaches, which have included Carrie Hope Fletcher, Andrew Wright, Sarah Jane Price and Laura Pitt Pulford to name to few, and allow students to come in to an online meeting and sing for us. The students then get verbal feedback from the coaches followed by all of the feedback in a document so that they can continue to work during this time. In our eyes, and the students that have visited us so far, it is a great way to stay positive and proactive during this period of time. They are meeting new faces from the industry, getting a range of opinions of their audition rep and feeling what audition anxiety can feel like. We have just tried to create a friendly atmosphere where students can prepare material and perform in a constructive and supportive environment. All of it is FREE and completely powered by volunteers, so thank you to all of our coaches that have been so generous with their time. @PanelProof is our twitter and instagram handles where we announce all of our new sessions and coaches.
This is from our website :
‘Students, it’s a tough time. Many of you will have lost performance opportunities and have had showcases cancelled. So here at PanelProof HQ, it’s our aim to fill that void, not only keep you on the road to success but accelerate your development! We know how important deadlines are in order to help motivate us to achieve our goals and so we are inviting you to prepare and sing for our PanelProof coaches made possible by web conferencing. In your 6-minute meet, you will be listened to, applauded and receive feedback by some of the most respected voices working in theatre today! Follow us for full details and we’ll look forward to meeting you and helping you to take your next steps towards becoming #PanelProof!’
Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these challenging times?
I think that it is always important to talk about mental health. Mental health issues is something that I grew up around so I know the importance of talking first hand. I was someone who felt that talking about it made you weak, I can’t put in to words how wrong I was and how much of a better person I have become by embracing and talking about the scary/negative thoughts that some times can cloud your brain. Never feel ashamed. Just be open and honest with how you are feeling and reach out to the people you trust who I guarantee will be there to support you. So take care of yourselves, use this time to recharge and set new goals etc so when we are finally back to business we are ready to rumble. I’m excited to see what is next for us all. I imagine an exciting new chapter is just around the corner.
I would like to thank Matthew for his time and his fantastic answers to this interview, as well as wish him the very best for the future. Stay safe x