Inspirer Talk – Jonathan McGrath

Words: Aimee Plumbley

In late January, the Unit X blog caught up with Jonathan McGrath who spoke as part of the Inspirer series. Jonathan is an actor, theatre director, facilitator and lecturer (to name a few of his creative guises), with a penchant for creating lo-fi pieces.

“When you have nothing at all you are at your freest… [money] can actually make art restrictive and constipated.”

His most recent piece ‘Smoke’ is a children’s show about dying, and the inevitability that we all turn into carbon. The main components of the show are a wet suit fitted with hosepipe, that he found lying around, and a catering skip fitted with a smoke machine- this all fit into the back of a transit van. Smoke has toured across the UK and across eight different locations in Europe.

“You don’t need to have a big institution or a gazillion pounds from Tate Modern, you can make something in your kitchen and tour all over the world with it.”

Jonathan is developing another piece called ‘Almighty Explosion’. The concept for ‘Almighty Explosion’ came about because of the imminent fact that Jonathan will be a father in a few weeks,  a “gorgeous creative project”.  ‘Almighty Explosion’ will be a very intimate performance, based in a café in Stratford-upon-Avon that has not been touched since the 1980’s. Throughout the show Jonathan will filter though both his and the audiences memories of childhood, and decide which will be injected into the child’s life- as if it were a blank canvas.

Another venture Jonathan is working on is the Fear Project. It’s in its very early developmental stage, but is going to tour from Manchester’s ‘Home’ and conclude in Berlin. It’s going to be very frightening. After all, fear governs everyone’s life to some degree, and it manifests in the human body in a very exciting way. The project will reflect Jonathan’s love of creating lo-fi pieces, as the special effects are going to be analog [see Pepper’s Ghost for reference]. Keep up to date with the progress of the Fear Project on Jonathan’s website.


In terms of what advice he would offer to Unit X Students, Jonathan said identify who is in your tribe:

  • Find a support network you can rely on just to make stuff or have an adventure with, often working through issues can turn into a creative project itself.
  • Making friends sounds so much less awkward than networking- but it’s essential. The friends you make at this stage in your life, especially at University, will likely propel you through the first few years of your career after graduation.
  • Sit around as many different creative tables as possible, go and see each other’s work- so that you can get as much work as possible. Be hungry for as much sh*t as possible.
  • Quite often artists try to magic themselves to the finished product, can’t see it, and are put off. If you just jump to the end, it doesn’t mean anything- but if the process itself is really, really rich, then the end product will mean something, and you will enjoy it so much more.

“Manchester is a really good place to start a career in the arts- it has a really good support network. Places like Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow are too.”

For more, checkout Jonathan’s website at

If you would like to contribute a memory to ‘Almighty Explosion’, get in touch on his website.

Jonathan is also looking for help with designing the set of the Fear project. Again, if you are interested, contact him via his website for more details.


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