'Living with Shakespeare' by Jeremy Smith and Steven Gallagher. Presented by Driftwood Theatre
Now onstage at various park locales until August 27.
Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Jeremy Smith
A fitting and dignified conclusion to Driftwood Theatre’s Bard’s Bus Tour. But I’m going to miss this annual summer tradition tremendously.
‘Living with Shakespeare,’ The Final Bard’s Bus Tour marks the closing annual summer tradition of a thirty-five-year friendship with the Bard and thirty years of touring.
For thirty years, Driftwood Theatre Artistic Director Jeremy Smith has worked unceasingly to bring the highest quality of Shakespeare productions, notably and sometimes on a shoestring budget and with great creativity and imagination. There were a couple of exceptions. In 2020, when the world changed due to Covid, Driftwood did not schedule any summer shows. Instead, Jeremy spent that downtime with his two daughters while his wife, Tabitha, worked. The following summer, 2021, he presented the ‘Motorcycle Monologues,’ where Shakespeare still figured but was not the central focus of the production.
‘Living with Shakespeare’ celebrates Driftwood’s place in the Ontario theatrical canon for over a quarter of a century. Driftwood isn’t going anywhere, but audiences have come to a change for the theatre company as we advance into 2023.
As Director Steven Gallagher states in his programme note: ‘Living with Shakespeare’ is the culmination of [Jeremy’s] amazing legacy, and with it, [he] reveals the joys and challenges he has faced over these thirty years. It’s a very personal project and Jeremy has poured his heart and soul into it.”
And he does so in a graceful, classy, and witty manner.
At the top of the show, Jeremy motors onto the stage wearing the same costume he wore when he played ‘Puck’ in Driftwood’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ When he removes that clothing, he sports red sneakers, jeans, a white t-shirt with a hand-drawn picture of Yoda (with the words JUST DO underneath) and a short-sleeved checked t-shirt.
He looks comfortable and unpretentious as he shares his story with us.
Smith’s elementary school education was in the French language, not French immersion. When he started Grade 9 at an English high school in his hometown of Oshawa, his English language skills were probably at a Grade 5 level. A first encounter with ‘The Merchant of Venice’ did not bode well either. At that time, his teacher showed the class how to draw a large circle on the blackboard by standing beside it and extending his arm. The study of the play seemed to be secondary.
It was a high school trip to the Ontario Shakespeare Mecca to see a production of ‘Hamlet’ with Stratford actor Colm Feore in the title role when Jeremy finally saw how the words of Shakespeare can genuinely live and flourish in modern times. Smith hilariously mimics Feore's entrance first and then the moment he stops the student matinee performance. Pennies were being thrown on the stage, a hazard for everyone involved. (I wonder where the teachers were, but that’s something else).
Thus began Jeremy’s journey with the Bard. He enrolled in the Drama program at Queen’s University. In his third year of undergraduate, he thought of the idea of a touring Shakespeare summer production that would begin in Oshawa. He telephoned his father and told him what he wanted to do. It was another humourous moment when he told his father that he wouldn’t be earning money that summer but would probably spend much of it to get his dream going.
Jeremy has a solid and loving relationship with his parents. His father, a chartered accountant, dove into his son’s idea. Jeremy’s mother also became part of the process. His parents have stood by their son and his dream.
The basis for the friendship began when Smith was in high school but was solidified during his undergraduate years. The show’s programme contains the names of all those connected with the tour and summer shows for thirty years. Make sure you go through it carefully because it’s enlightening to see the names of many who now grace the stages of regional Canadian theatres and festivals.
Smith and Steven Gallagher’s tautly written script becomes a fitting and dignified conclusion to the Bard’s Bus Tour. Gallagher directs the production with tremendous care. As the French say, Jeremy remains 'un raconteur vivant' (a lively storyteller). He shares personal details of his life and how Shakespeare has influenced him. He delivers heartfelt and meaningful monologues from several of Shakespeare’s famous plays. Smith doesn’t just recite them. He understands what he says and conveys the moment's meaning with deliberate refinement and clear purpose.
He then connects some of these texts to moments from his personal life. For example, he recounts tenderly his marriage proposal to his wife, Tabitha, who was an actor in one of the summer shows. He proudly tells when his daughters finally saw him perform one summer.
Tom Lillington provides lovely musical accompaniment throughout the 80-minute interval-less show. He also periodically becomes a silent comical partner to Smith, and their timing is seamless.
Attention has also been paid to detail in Production Designer Carlyn Rahusaar Routledge’s design. In her programme bio, she writes that she has always admired personal storytelling as it is a peek into how someone’s brain works. She captures finely the workings of how Jeremy’s brain works. There is a sense of orderliness amid the piles and piles of books and reference materials around the stage.
A comfortable-looking green easy chair (probably in the Smith family for years) sits centre stage atop a large copy of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ text that aficionados of the Bard know. The book’s title on the spine is not entirely written, but the connection is obvious. Various props are discreetly hidden among the set pieces. I don’t want to give away any spoilers as to where some of them are, as this also becomes part of the enjoyment of the play.
Final Comments: It has been an honour and treat to see many of the Bard’s Bus Tours over the last thirty years. When Jeremy told me he wanted to start a professional Shakespeare summer touring company years ago, I didn’t think it would work.
Did he prove me wrong!
And I will continue to admit it.
Please go and see ‘Living with Shakespeare.’ A memorable evening at the theatre and fittingly performed with dignity.
Yet I’m going to miss ‘The Bard’s Bus Tour.’
Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no interval.
‘Living with Shakespeare’ THE FINAL BARD’S BUS TOUR runs until August 27 at various locales throughout Ontario. Check driftwoodtheatre.com for information on where the tour stops.
‘LIVING WITH SHAKESPEARE’ THE FINAL BARD’S BUS TOUR by Jeremy Smith and Steven Gallagher
Directed by Steven Gallagher and Featuring Jeremy Smith
Dramaturg: Caitie Graham
Musical Director: Tom Lillington
Production Designer: Carlyn Rahusaar Routledge
Lighting Designer: Connor Price-Kelleher
Stage Manager: Sandi Becker