Jonathan Bruce is happy to be back in Rosebud reprising the role of Sam in 'Tent Meeting'. Graduating with a BFA in Theatre from the University of Mississippi, JB moved to Canada in 1987 and has spent the last 30 years working in theatre, film, and television. Favorite roles include Sam in 'Tent Meeting' (Pacific Theatre, Blinding Light Productions, Brookstone Theatre, Rosebud Theatre), Nicely Nicely in 'Guys and Dolls' (Chemainus Theatre), and Lazar Wolfe in 'Fiddler on the Roof' (Royal City Musical Theatre). TV and Film credits include Supernatural, Miranda Sings, Smallville, Two for the Money, The Hole, and the Christmas classic, Elf. As a tenor, JB performs in groups ranging from duets to mass choirs. A featured soloist for the Universal Gospel Choir, he also lends his voice to fundraise for the Cancer Society in Saskatchewan.
Where do you call home?
I’m originally from Mississippi, but I’ve been living in Vancouver since ’87 (minus a jaunt to Los Angeles).
What’s your “must-have” morning ritual?
Toast and peanut butter… and a shower.
Favorite gospel song?
The first solo I remember hearing in church is His Eye is on the Sparrow. It has always been my favorite, possibly because [the lyric] “I sing because I’m happy”.
What’s your “go-to” shower song?
Really varies based on the last thing I listen to. Usually some Top 40’s fluff, or classic rock.
This is your 5th production as Sam in ‘Tent Meeting’. Can you tell us how it started and why you stay involved?
This is all Doug MacArthur’s fault (head of drama - Lethbridge University). In the 80’s I was quite busy with television work, and wasn’t really planning on doing any theatre. Doug had auditioned for Morris on another project and heard about Tent Meeting. He knew I had experience with quartet singing. (In my high-school it was an everyday extracurricular class). Doug talked me into going in-between a couple of other auditions that day.
I met with Morris, without accompanist, sang a few old tunes and walked out thinking I was done. Morris called later, and I met Ron Reed later that afternoon. It was just like every other audition [except] with a 20 year pay off.
I stay with the production because it honors the music [as well as] the characters that helped form the man I’ve become.
Sam is a composite of men I knew when growing up in Mississippi. In a time when you spoke your mind, and did what you said. My father talked loud, knew his worth, and never had a problem he couldn’t wrestle to its knees with hard work and persistence. My father’s friend, Frank Black, [is a man] who has never yet met a stranger: a merchant who could put anyone at ease with a quick joke or honest advice. Mr. Frank always had a cigar in his mouth, although I don’t ever remember him lighting it.
The camaraderie between the guys in the [Tent Meeting] quartet, is straight out of the streets of Ackerman, Mississippi. Born of a culture where you’ve known everyone forever. These men have been through so much together as a group, that every street corner becomes a locker room… there are no secrets.
In every production there must be something new that speaks to you. What’s striking this time around?
It has always amazed me that the four part harmony has been so proficient. It takes quartets months to get the sound that we have only a week to accomplish. This particular quartet, with input from Bill Hamm, has an impressive sound. It is a pleasure to sing this music, especially with this cast.
Do you have a favorite “on-stage” moment from a previous production?
We were doing the show at Brookstone Theatre in Toronto… [during one particular song] the audience likes to clap along. And while they always start on tempo, quite often they get behind as they listen to the song. All of a sudden there was a loud clap from the back, precisely on tempo, which picked up the audience and held them till the end. It was Tenor Ben Heppner, who was a patron of Brookstone.
What’s currently inspiring you?
I recently left a 15 year office job in order to be free to chase the performance dream. So I guess what is inspiring me is possibility… and second chances.
It’s been almost 20 years of your collaboration with Morris Ertman and this show. You’ve been instrumental in its development. What’s the essential ingredient(s) to maintaining that kind of relationship, personally and professionally?
Morris and I have in a lot of ways lived a parallel creative journey. He had “Tent Meeting”, I had “Camp Meeting”. He loved the Blackwood Brothers, and I come from Blackwood Brothers territory. We have the same spiritual questions… and largely come up with the same answers. We were obviously meant to be working together…and I don’t think we’re done with Tent Meeting yet!
Lastly, ‘Tent Meeting’ uncovers relational harmony while celebrating a diversity of voices. How do you keep in tune with people you love?
Like any musical group: listen to each other, breathe together, and try try to blend in!