"Change is very hard and often painful but it is a good and natural thing."
‘Living With Shakespeare’ production marks new chapters for Artistic Director D. Jeremy Smith
When I learned this year that Driftwood Theatre would present its final Bard’s Bus Tour after nearly thirty years, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness.
I shared my thoughts with its Artistic Director, D. Jeremy Smith, over a recent Zoom call and how the summer tour became a rite of passage for me.
And now, future summer Bard’s Bus tours won’t be there.
I like to think that, along with Jeremy’s other teachers, I might have had some minor influence on his formative years. I taught him when he was in high school. I will never forget when he visited the school frequently after graduation and expressed his desire to start a new professional theatre company in Oshawa.
Initially, I thought he was crazy for taking on what I thought was an insurmountable goal in 1995, starting a new theatre company that would ultimately become professional.
He proved me wrong.
Driftwood Theatre has paved the way for quality professional theatre across the province and, most certainly, in its birthplace of Oshawa. According to its website, the company will carry on with a new mandate in 2024, but the void of ‘The Bard’s Bus Tour’ will be felt across the province in the cultural community and, most certainly, in Oshawa.
I look forward to seeing the future direction of the company. Nonetheless, I know there will be a significant hole in future summers in my life, as I'm sure there will be in the lives of other enthusiasts of outdoor summer theatre.
According to the Driftwood website, the company has performed for over 100,000 people in many venues across the province, from city parks, campus fields, schools, heritage museums, castles and private estates. Driftwood has supported the development of over 100 short and full-length plays by emerging Canadian playwrights since 2004. The company is Ontario’s leading outdoor summer touring theatre company.
A rather noble achievement.
Jeremy is also just one hell of a nice guy from a solid Oshawa family. He and his wife, Tabitha, moved to Prince Edward County with their two daughters to take on a new task – to run a Bed and Breakfast.
I’m almost positive it will be an emotional evening in Oshawa for me when the final production: ‘Living with Shakespeare’ comes to town this month.
Created by Smith and Director Steven Gallagher, Smith says ‘Living With Shakespeare’ is a fitting conclusion to this chapter in his professional life. The first real play Smith performed in was in high school in a one-person show called “One Beer Too Many.” At that time, he knew he wanted to make a career for himself as a performing artist. It seems serendipitous, natural and a propos that the tour concludes with a one-person performance.
Smith’s solo performance will be personal. It will allow him to say thank you not just to Shakespeare but to all of the people who have been part of this process, whether they be company members, volunteers or audiences. There is no one Shakespearean play that would allow Jeremy to do this. Under Gallagher’s direction, Smith will weave scenes, passages, and music from Shakespeare’s greatest plays interspersed with personal stories. This performance will be Jeremy’s story, and he will have to tell it.
He’s in the throes of final preparation for opening night in Kingston. There is a myriad of emotions artists experience internally before a show opens. The process of writing brings up emotions. The rehearsal process brings its unique emotional expectations different from the writing. Smith must now connect to the words he and director Steven Gallagher have written. The ultimate performance of the piece will also carry its emotional impact.
Smith was also doing Dad duty while on camera, and he had to be called away for a few moments to deal with something regarding his children.
I like that. Jeremy’s a fine artist, but he’s a parental figure first and foremost, and that’s an important role to fulfil.
Although he knows that all good things must come to an end, Jeremy says he feels very good about this change. As an artist, he says he’s terrified, but that had nothing to do with his decision to end the bus tour. This decision wasn’t simple, but it was the right one as it was a long time coming. The journeys he has taken in his life have been precipitated by a little nagging feeling he gets at the back of his brain. That feeling blossoms into a thought and:
“The thought ends up like peanut butter sticking to the side of the sandwich, and it won’t go away. Eventually, I have to honour that impulse and listen to it.”
That’s precisely what happened when he began to think about Driftwood Theatre. As an audience member over the years, we are the richer for the experience. Jeremy states that Driftwood is not his company. It is a company made up of the sum of the parts of all the people who have contributed to it. For example, Jeremy said a great deal of research was done to find the names of all those who were either performers, backstage, creative or audience members. All these names will appear in the printed programme for each audience member.
Theatre Critic Lynn Slotkin has called Driftwood: “a scrappy theatre company that continually allows me to look at Shakespeare in a new light.” Smith likes the word: ‘scrappy’ because one doesn’t go into the theatre thinking it will be an easy ride. Producing professional theatre in Canada is not easy, and producing touring Canadian theatre adds another layer of challenges. Then accessibility is essential, as Driftwood has always ensured its theatre productions are as accessible as possible during rising theatre prices. In Jeremy’s words, dealing with these issues requires scrappiness and confidence, and he’s okay with this.
As he concludes this part of his life with the tour, I asked him where he sees the professional Canadian Theatre industry headed over the next five years, given that we’ve experienced so much change in the last three years:
“We’re in such a strange time exacerbated by the pandemic and the struggles we’ve all experienced in the theatre. For me, in an increasingly digital age as people continue to be siloed, that live theatre and live events in shared and communal storytelling are absolutely vital in terms of helping us not only to maintain but collectively rebuild our empathy for other people after this profound pandemic impact. I believe in storytelling's power to show what better place the world can be.”
What’s next once ‘Living With Shakespeare’ concludes its provincial run?
Is Jeremy going to need a bit of re-energizing?
The preparation of ‘Living With Shakespeare’ has been energizing for him. He’s been active with it so long that he feels good health-wise. The production will be an active 75-minute performance with Jeremy on stage the whole time, and director Steven Gallagher has put Smith through his paces. Then there is the administrative work for Driftwood, plus continual work on the BNB. His most important goal is to be at home with his family.
All of this activity has built Smith’s energy, and yes, he will need a bit of a holiday after ‘Living’ is done. The BNB is booked until the end of September, so there won’t be time for too much respite.
He has a few artistic projects that are on the coal and that are exciting. He doesn’t want the momentum to slow down on them. But he was a tad coy as to what those projects are.
I can wait for the announcements, Jer.
The one thing he says he will do is take a ride on his motorcycle around Prince Edward County. If you’re in the area and hear a motorcycle, give a wave. It could be D. Jeremy Smith enjoying a few moments.
To learn more about Driftwood Theatre, visit driftwood theatre.com.
To learn more about the final Bard’s Bus Tour and performance of ‘Living with Shakespeare’, visit https://www.driftwoodtheatre.com/see/bardsbustour/