It’s an old story.
A bunch of young people see someone doing something and say, “Hell, why can’t I do that?”
It’s common in music – punk’s entire history from the Ramones and Sex Pistols onward was driven by the D.I.Y movement in popular music.
It was that same feeling that led a handful of actors in the late 90s to start putting on their own renegade theatre shows.
The Boneyard Man was the result – a comic book tale of Lepage Cranbrook, “a tuxedo wearing guy who’s a doofus vigilante ex-New York crimefighter.” Boneyard Man was a show within a show – the overarching premise being a 40s radio show with the actors quickly slipping from character to character at the change of a hat.
After a hiatus of sorts, the key players – scattered across the country – have come back to London to revisit and revive the legendary series of plays that defined London underground theatre since 1998.
It all started as a lark, something to do for a Halloween party Jayson McDonald and Dawn Penner were hosting in October of 1998.
McDonald pulled out some character ideas he had been playing with for a faux radio show of sorts. He was joined by Jeff Werkmeister, Jeff Culbert and Virginia Pratten.
Inspired by the response, the newly-formed cast put on a show a month later at above 123 King St.
“It was kind of like an apartment with a big stage,” Werkmeister recalls. “The roof leaked, pails were all over the place, there was a dog walking around, but it was fun, cozy. We jammed a hundred people in there and it was fun.”
A packed first gig set them off on a series of shows in that cozy, grotty space about every five or six weeks apart for the next four years.
“There was a point when we were doing three nights a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Werkmeister says. “Putting 120 people in each night.”
But Werkmeister points out that the real reason for Boneyard Man’s success was the zeitgeist of late 90s theatre in London.
“It was something completely different and very underground,” he explains. “You found out about this through friends. It had a really strange buzz and people liked it that way. It was their little show.”
“This was the beginning of underground theatre in london,” Werkmeister adds. ”It started off people thinking, hey these people are doing this, we should too.”
The appeal of Boneyard Man wasn’t restricted to London. They played gigs in other cities and Werkmeister also says that CBC Radio came calling, interested in getting them on air.
They did eventually get on air via CHRW and TV as well via Rogers.
But after about seven years, life intervened.
It wasn’t that The Boneyard Man came to an end. It just became less frequent.
“We were all doing different stuff,” says Werkmeister. “I think we just all had other things and we liked having the show every six weeks and getting a crowd and that was it.”
The Boneyard Man had many homes over the years, including the Bacchus Lounge on Talbot Street, London Music Club and the Black Box Theatre near what was the Galleria mall.
The shows became more sporadic until around 2013 when some cast members left the city.
Jayson McDonald, Boneyard’s brainchild moved to Vancouver, heralding the end of a long run.
But Werkmeister wasn’t going to let a few thousand miles get in the way of a good thing. He pitched the idea of the show to McDonald while on a trip about a year ago.
Having lured actress Rachel Jones back from Toronto and with fellow Londoner Jeff Culbert poised to go, The Boneyard Man has returned for a run at the Jack Richardson Ballroom.
The show will have all the fan favourites from their 120-episode catalogue. Each night, the Boneyard cast will perform two different episodes, so every night is different.
“We did a poll on Facebook asking the audience which ones they wanted to see,” Werkmeister says. “We have a theme night every night: a luxury cruise night, a self reflection night, all kinds of really funny shows that we’re doing.”
Werkmeister and company are looking forward to seeing their longtime fans as well as new ones. Live is the best way to experience the show, so get your tickets now.
The Boneyard Man is currently playing at the Jack Richardson Ballroom until Sunday, October 1. Click here for tickets and detailed show information.