D Jeremy Smith

The Self Isolated Artist

Dahlia Katz

Joe Szekeres

Over the years I’ve learned, given a specific context, there’s nothing wrong in being selfish from time to time. I’m going to do just that for a few seconds and prayerfully hope that I might have had at least one iota of positive influence on Driftwood Theatre’s Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith – Jeremy to me – when he was a student at the high school in Oshawa where I taught for over thirty years.

Jeremy was one of those young people with whom I hoped not to lose contact after his graduation. Even some twenty-five plus years later, I can recall with clarity his charisma, his intelligence and astuteness in the arts, specifically in visual illustrations and designs and in the performing arts. When Jeremy told me he was attending Queen’s University to study Drama, I knew he had found his niche.

Fast forward again to 1994 when I did speak with Jeremy, and he let me know he was going to start a travelling summer Shakespeare theatrical company with the intention of turning it professional. In the first few years he would act, direct, design and produce. I was intrigued and wished him well; however, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, “Is he taking on too much?” and “What if this idea fails badly?”

Jeremy, I owe you the biggest apology for even thinking these thoughts. There are so many wonderful reviews of Driftwood being called “a touch of magic” and “a conversation changer about the world of Shakespeare” under your vision of “bringing theatre and engagement opportunities to audiences in Ontario who may not have access to professional performance.”

Driftwood Theatre and the summer Bard’s Bus Tour have been successfully in operation for twenty-five plus years. The company also holds its successful Trafalgar 24 every March and there are Christmas and spring celebrations. There is also an ongoing Playwrights Residency throughout the year.

I can’t even begin to imagine the gut-wrenching decision Jeremy had to make to pull this summer’s production of ‘King Henry V’ on account of COVID 19. The good news – it will be presented in the summer of 2022 so we will have to wait until next year.

I held an interview with Jeremy recently through a ZOOM call:

1. How have you and your family been faring during this crisis?

My family is in the process of a move. Like most people with young families, it’s certainly been a challenge to navigate what amounts to full time work, full time childcare, full time parenting, cooking and cleaning. We have a lot more on our plate all the time. We’re navigating and making space for each other with my wife, Tabitha, and the girls making sure we have the ability to care for two children who still require our focus and attention.

There are challenges in this navigation especially with the move while trying to understand our own sense of anxiety, fear and conflicting and confusing emotions surrounding all this. But we have food in the refrigerator. We have four walls. We’re doing alright.

2. What preshow preparation had you begun before making this difficult decision to pull this year’s summer show?

Oh, yeah. The tour was booked as 90% of our dates were confirmed with contracts signed. Design work had already begun with our designer, Julia Kim. Offers were out. Our rehearsal space was booked. We were pretty much ready to go. We had just begun to contract summer staff and in the beginning stages when everything was put on hold. The tangible stuff hadn’t started but the significant creative work was well underway since it was the adaptation of three plays: “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2” and “Henry V”.

3. What has been most difficult for you during this time and how have you been keeping busy?

The most difficult period for us were those three weeks of anxiety that came with not knowing what the future held were extraordinarily debilitating. It happened in two stages. We were following the news and getting reports and updates of many different variables as to how they affect the various sites where Driftwood performs. We were also following the recommendations of Health Canada where they were making decisions on a daily basis. Being caught up in this initial frenzy was very stressful.

We’ve been having weekly Town Hall meetings with PACT (Professional Association of Canadian Theatres) of which we are a member. Being part of this organization was helpful in providing a sense of community, as other major professional theatre companies from Stratford to Shaw were also going through similar emotions in pushing back their start dates. For us, we needed to make decisions now and what are the variables. Not knowing was the difficult part.

Since the decision has been made, the anxiety is no longer there as there’s no fear of the unknown. The feeling of numbness is now gone in knowing that we can begin to plan for ‘King Henry V’ for next summer. That’s how we’re keeping busy now.

We also have to figure out how we are going to stay connected to our audiences for the next 4-5 months. For a company like Driftwood who is highly visible for only two months of the year, the challenge now is remaining visible to the community since we’re not performing a production this summer. We’re taking a deep dive into how and what we are going to communicate over the next 4-5 months.

4. Any words of wisdom or sage advice to help lift the spirits of the artists who have been hit hard by this crisis?

I’ve been reading so much as there are so many varied opinions on how to make use of this time. There will be a great swell of creativity when we come out of this.

Take this opportunity to rest. Globally, there’s a message here for all of us and lessons to be learned. We need to take care of ourselves and the world we live in. Sometimes that means letting go. Once you’ve done all the reading, cleaned your house, binged watched Netflix and feel that itch, Driftwood will encourage people to play.

I encourage people to reach out to your networks. Try to reclaim yourself through this period.

5. What is it about performance that you still like after twenty-five plus seasons?

I’m a storyteller. I want the act of sharing stories. In all facets of my life, whether it’s literature, film and television, playing video games or theatre, I’m always been fascinated by the art and act of storytelling. Good story is a way in which we communicate thought, idea, values, history. It’s a way in which we share our collective hope for humanity.

I also love bringing people to bring people together to tell story, to watch story, to listen to story.

6. Are there any benefits to the streaming of performances or online presentations that some artists are already doing?

We will likely use social media to engage with some of our audiences. It’s dangerous to assume for example that ZOOM and live streaming are appropriate forums for sharing Driftwood’s work. Yes, this type of interaction might work for some artists and makes sense – comic book illustration is an example that works well in the digital universe.

Theatre and performing arts, in my opinion, rely on our ability to gather as social beings in a space. It’s a kind of gathering that cannot be achieved through technology. It lacks the immediacy and visceral quality of having people beside us, behind us and around us. I have no doubt people are feeling the effects of this lack of social connection at this time of the COVID crisis. We are social creatures. The concept of suggesting live streaming is appropriate devalues the impact of live theatre as we understand it.

I’m still struggling with decisions how we’re going to communicate to people. We will come through this crisis, but we will have changed on account of it. When we come through this, Driftwood will be there to provide a forum for people to gather.

As a nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interview:

Jeremy had great fun in answering these short questions; however, he makes it clear to me that his answers are reflective of this day, April 14 at 4:30 pm. His answers could or might change tomorrow.

1. What is your favourite word?

Hope

2. What is your least favourite word?

Mine

3. What turns you on?

“Not suitable for print” (Jeremy and I had a good laugh over this)

4. What turns you off?

Ego

5. What sound or noise do you love?

Right now, it’s the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.

6. What sound or noise bothers you?

Whining

7. What is your favourite curse word?

This one comes courtesy of Scottish comedian Billy Connolly who coined the phrase. It’s a rich sounding curse – “Jesus suffering fuck”.

8. Name another career, other than your own, you would have liked to attempt?

I don’t have any regrets, but I would have liked to be an illustrator and express myself through a visual medium if I didn’t choose the path I followed.

9. What other career would you have avoided at all costs?

Teaching and Accounting, man. You couldn’t pay me enough.

10. If Heaven exists, what would God say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?

“Are you sure you did enough?”

To learn more about Driftwood Theatre, visit their website: www.driftwoodtheatre.com.

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