20 Questions

Jacinta Mackey-Graham’s musical roots run deep

Published on January 18, 2016
Jacinta Mackey-Graham may have retired from teaching, but she’s filling her days with theatre, music and volunteering with her church.

If you’re going to interview Jacinta Mackey-Graham, you should keep in mind that you’ve probably only got one shot.

Try to call her for a followup question, and you’ll be lucky to reach her, that’s how busy she is.

Mackey-Graham is deep in rehearsals for “Sister Act,” running at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Feb. 2 to 7. It’s a production of Atlantic Light Theatre, of which Mackey-Graham is co-artistic director alongside Douglas Vaughan. Since the theatre company’s inception a few years ago, they have produced “Les Misérables” and “Spamalot.”

“Sister Act,” starring Dana Parsons, Julia Halfyard, Vicki Harnett, Kiersten Noel, Melanie Jardine, John Williams, Calvin Powell and real-life priest Father Paul Lundrigan as Monsignor O’Hara, is being directed by Mackey-Graham, who has a reputation as being open, enthusiastic but — by her own admission — persnickety as a director.

Mackey-Graham has a degree in music and music education from MUN, as well as a master in theatre from Eastern Michigan University. She spent 31 years teaching music and theatre for the Eastern School District until retiring in 2010 and turning her attention to community theatre, serving as an adjudicator for various music and theatre festivals, and volunteering.

She is a dedicated volunteer in the Catholic church, where she also is a cantor — she loves funerals, she says; especially since her role in the service allows her to bring comfort to families.

As an actress and singer, Mackey-Graham has appeared in productions with the Beothuck Street Players, St. John’s Players, and Spirit of Newfoundland, as well as in Peter MacDonald Productions’ version of “Hairspray” in 2010. Her directing credits include “Guys and Dolls,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Music Man” and more.

The Saturday, Feb. 6 showing of “Sister Act” is sold out, but tickets for all other shows in the run are available at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, and online at All seats are $60, HST and service charge included.

1. What is your full name?

Jacinta Mary Catherine Mackey-Graham

2. Where and when were you born?

I was born at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, St. John’s, in May 1958.

3.Where is home today?

Home is St. John’s, but I love to spend time at our country home in Cupids.

4.What are you reading at the moment?

 Well, when I am not directing “ Sister Act,” I am re-reading “In the Field” by Joan Sullivan. It’s the story of Lieut. Stephen Norris of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. I am doing research for our next production, “A Call to Arms,” which will hit the stage in September 2016.

5. What music are you listening to at the moment?

I am an eclectic when it comes to music. When I need quiet time to focus, I listen to Ed Kavanagh’s “Weaving the Wind” or Lloyd Bartlett’s guitar music. When I am driving I like to listen to John Denver or ABBA. but then I start to drive fast so I listen to James Taylor or Andrea Bocelli.

6. Who would play you in a film about your life?

 Hmmm, that’s a challenging question! I could say Meryl Streep, but the person that I would love to portray me would be Petrina Bromley. She is an incredible and passionate actress whom I admire as an artist and a friend, and she is from Newfoundland. What more could one ask?

7.What do you do to relax?

I like to go on hikes through the Norder Cove and Greenland trails in Cupids. I have been visiting those trails since I was a child. When I take my friends there I make them run down the hills with me singing “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music.” It’s corny and we laugh a lot!

8. What do you like to cook?

I do some cooking and I like it but my husband, Tom, is better than me. He makes the best pan-fried cod you could imagine!

9. What was your most vivid dream?

I can’t say I have one dream that is memorable, but I dream a lot when I am in the middle of directing a production and those dreams are wild!

10. What was one act of rebellion you committed as a teen?

I wasn’t a rebellious kid, but once, when I was seven, my friend and I bought cigarettes and smoked one so we would appear very grown up. My brother Michael told my parents and I got punished. I quit smoking after that!

11. What was your most embarrassing moment?

Oh, my. There have been lots of those! I would say that falling down on the rink while roller skating at Memorial Stadium and having my pants split open was probably right up there with the most embarrassing!

12. What is your most treasured possession?

I have a keepsake box of letters and cards that my students have given me over the years. I cherish that! I have a newspaper clipping of my mom and dad when they were tuberculosis patients at the sanitorium. I can see myself in my mother’s features and that is so special, because she passed away when I was a teenager.

13. What is your biggest regret?

I don’t believe in regret. I believe in destiny.

14. What is your personal motto?

I have two that many of my students would quote: “ Focus, people!” and “ Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.” That’s my favourite quote.

15. If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?

I won’t win the lottery because I keep forgetting to buy tickets, but if I did win money I would donate significantly to animal rescue.

16. Who is one person, living or dead, that you would love to have lunch with and why?

That’s easy: Gene Kelly, because he is Gene Kelly!

17. How did you choose your career?

My career chose me. I was so blessed to have had wonderful music and drama experiences at St. Patrick’s Girls’ School under the direction of Sr. Brendan Lynch, and later at Holy Heart with Sr. Margaret O’Keefe. I knew from a very young age that I was meant to teach.

18. What are your hidden talents?

I like to bake. I think I make pretty good chocolate-chip cookies, gingerbread and date squares.

19. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

I am a very determined individual. When I say I am going to do something, I do it despite any obstacles that may come my way. My weakness is that I expect people to work as hard as I do at a project and when that doesn’t happen, I get frustrated. I need to be more patient! I am hoping that will come with age.

20. If you were premier of the province, what’s one thing you would do?

If I were premier, I would ensure there that was significant funding for the arts. We have a rich culture of arts in this province and it defines us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. The amount of talent, refined talent, in this province is astounding, and we need to support that, not just in word but in actions.