By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Quincy – Entertainment and event producer John F. McDonald Jr. of Quincy is accustomed to planning logistics year-round to accommodate attendees at venues of varying capacities.
Now, he and his colleagues are challenged with unprecedented pandemic restrictions.
“Do we start planning for the summer now, or will the summer be a bust?” he wondered aloud. “I think outdoor performances are doable, but the governor might not lift restrictions on gatherings. Everything is unknown.”
McDonald founded his company JM Productions while a junior at North Quincy High School, where he graduated in 1978. His current part-time job is events coordinator for the city of Quincy.
Working alongside celebrities and budding performers
As a producer, he draws on experience working in various positions at theaters on and off Broadway in New York City and in Boston. While in NYC, he also worked as a personal assistant for several celebrities. Some contacts from those gigs have ultimately worked in his productions.
The last major event McDonald produced pre-pandemic was a finale concert for the daylong Fair Saturday Quincy presented Nov. 30, 2019. Created in Spain in 2014 and now held internationally, Fair Saturday is an arts and culture festival with a social impact.
“Quincy was chosen to be the first city in the United States to hold this event,” McDonald noted.
He worked double-duty as concert producer and the city’s events coordinator.
The concert featured Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress-singer Lillias White and SiriusXM radio host Seth Rudetsky of “Seth Speaks” and “On Broadway.” Also featured were middle and high school singers of JM Productions’ Rising Stars program.
“It was cool for the Rising Stars kids to be able to show their talent while the Broadway performers watched them,” McDonald recalled.
Fair Saturday’s return in 2020 with a finale concert featuring Broadway singer-actress Liz Callaway got canceled, as did other events that Quincy typically hosts during Thanksgiving weekend culminating with a Christmas parade. 2020 would have marked the parade’s 68th year.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been attending the Christmas parade over the years,” McDonald relayed.
Counteracting cancellations with a new online contest
For McDonald’s company, his first 2020 cancelation was an annual spring concert series beginning in March at Common Market Restaurants for which he brings NYC entertainers to Quincy.
For Quincy, McDonald was planning the city’s inaugural Plant & Flower Festival. In preparation, he and his team wanted to network with vendors at 2020’s Boston Flower & Garden Show, which was held only three of its five scheduled days last March.
“We went to talk to vendors and they said, ‘We’re packing up,’” McDonald recounted. “They canceled the rest of the show’s weekend the day we were there. That was an eye-opener!”
2020 cancelations continued for JM Productions with its two ongoing summertime projects: Showboat Cruises from Squantum Point Park in Quincy and the Rising Stars summer camp. The camp is an opportunity for Broadway or touring performers to coach young singers to present a public concert.
“A lot of kids who’ve done the Rising Stars program went on to do Broadway and national tours,” McDonald noted.
Now, JM Productions’ Rising Stars is launching an online singing contest. Sixth- to 12th-graders (not necessarily from Quincy) can submit a video of themselves singing, which will be uploaded on Facebook for public viewing. The public’s “like” and “love” reactions will be added to a panel of judges’ scores.
“We wanted to do the contest in the winter because winter blues could set in – and COVID-19 blues could really set in,” McDonald explained. “We’ll announce the winners in the spring.”
Prizes will be awarded to the top three winners.
Hope for 2021
McDonald is looking toward 2021 with mixed feelings of uncertainty and hope.
“It’s difficult when the ways of bringing income into your life dry up and you’re dependent on only a part-time status,” he acknowledged. “I think I’ll find a way to stay in the business because I’ve been doing this for so long. It may not look like it did during the successful years, but the business is in my blood. It’s part of who I am.”