Jonathon Young: The Man Behind the Spark

Chalchiuhtecolotl May 12, 2011 1 Comment »

“Jonathon Young is a Canadian actor best known for his role of Nikola Tesla on the SyFy show Sanctuary. Appearances include The Fog, Eureka, and Stargate Atlantis. Jonathon is a well respected stage actor. He is the co-founder of the Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver, Canada in which he is also the artistic director, playwright and an actor.” This is the entry on Jonathon Young in the Internet Movie Database.  Usually, this site is a wellspring of information on the actors we all know and love- of course, the accuracy of said data can always be disputed, but at least there is info to dispute.  This tiny little entry gives us next to nothing on the actor that brought Sanctuary’s Nikola Tesla to life.  What prompted Young to take the role?  Tesla isn’t the type of character one would play on a whim; the man is simply too complicated.  This SpaceGypsy decided to dig a bit to find some answers and Young playing Sanctuary’s Tesla is only the tip of the iceberg.

From Wikipedia and IMDB, we know that Young is the co-founder of the Electric Company Theatre.  The company was formed as a collective in 1996 by Kim Collier, David Hudgins, Jonathon Young, and Kevin Kerr- all having studied at Studio 58 in Vancouver.  Collier, Hudgins, and Kerr were in the same year, while Young was a year behind.   Young’s inclusion into the group came via his sweetheart, Collier.  The Electric Company’s mission can be summed up into four major parts:

  1. The creation of original works/ adaptation of existing texts with an emphasis on physical and visual imagery
  2. Create a constructive/ rewarding environment for artists and encouraging each member to think outside their traditional roles in the process of making a play
  3. Providing opportunities for emerging artist to work in large scale projects with established artists
  4. Defy audience expectations.

The company is now largely guided by Collier and Young, but still adheres to these principles.

It can also be said that The Electric Company was formed around their first production.  One of the company’s founders came upon a rather twisted anecdote involving two of history’s greatest inventors: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.  Edison was well known to the company, but none of the founders had heard of Tesla.  Both made significant leaps in the transmission of electricity to the general public, but were on opposite sides of the fence in regards to their theories.  Edison favored direct current, while Tesla favored alternating current.  In an attempt to discredit Tesla, Edison  conducted a series of experiments where he used Tesla’s alternating current generators to electrocute stray animals.  According to Young, “Edison realized the tide was beginning to turn towards this new system and he had this monopoly on direct current and was hoping to be the one and only dude, so he started electrocuting animals to show how dangerous alternating current was. It was a low point for Edison, I think.”

This anecdote inspired the then unformed Electric Company to do more research on the enigmatic engineer.  The more they learned about Tesla, the more they became fascinated by the man.  A man whose inventions brought forth the 20th century, but whose eccentricities and tall tales later in life caused him to be perpetually labeled as a mad scientist.  His unrivaled contributions to the fields of electricity and wireless communication were forgotten amongst the insanity of his more… outrageous… claims.

In an interview for The Electric Company, Young states,  “I think part of the initial thing that really grabbed us was this man, who was at the height of popularity in his day, could become so forgotten, and that his work is so ubiquitous and pervasive and yet his legacy went into these strange conspiracies and science-fiction stuff,  So many of the people that still knew him clung to his legacy because of his more bizarre proclamations, like that he was in contact with a civilization on Mars. By the ’90s, he was attracting a completely different kind of people—not what you would call the intelligentsia.”

In the end, the fascination with Nikola Tesla turned into their first production: ‘Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla,’ and The Electric Company- named in honor- was born.  To this day- over 13 years later- Brilliant! remains the company’s most popular production!  The play attracts all sorts- scientists, casual theatre goers, and the list goes on.

“There’s a sense of pride and protectiveness, too, about who he is and his legacy because so much harm has been done to Tesla’s reputation,” Young says in the same interview. “In so many circles, he’s considered a freak and a madman, so many people are coming out to see if we’re doing the story justice.  We ride a fine line. The play is not about his craziness, it’s not about his more bombastic characteristics, it’s about his journey to an idea that was too big for his time. It was his devotion to that idea that brought him down. The world wasn’t quite ready for it.”

Young’s portrayal of Nikola Tesla gave his theatre career an electrified jump start.  Over a decade after Young first took up the responsibility of playing the eccentric scientist, he took up the role once more, but in a different capacity:  the electricity wielding, arrogant vampire interpretation cooked up by Damian Kindler in the Canadian science fiction TV series, Sanctuary.

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One Comment

  1. PlayItGrandNo Gravatar May 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Excellent job, Chal! I’m so excited to have you aboard our wagon!

    I think it’s facinating that Jonathon Young has pretty much based his career on playing Tesla, and he’s SO good at it! I’m so excited to see Monday’s episode of Sanctuary! I wonder what trouble Tesla will drag eveyone into this time! 😛

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