Driftwood Theatre rolls into Kingston

The “bard’s bus tour” presents a musical rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Driftwood Theatre performing A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Credit: 
Supplied by Damien Nelson

Driftwood Theatre’s 25th annual Bard’s Bus Tour is stopping into Kingston to show audiences a new way of enjoying Shakespeare.

Queen’s alum Jeremy Smith, ArtSci ’96, is the creative director and founder of Driftwood Theatre, an outdoor summer touring Theatre Company. On August 6, Smith will return to Kingston with his troupe, stopping in at Battery Park where they’ll perform Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  

Smith’s travelling troupe puts on the bard’s plays the way they were originally performed—outdoors.

What Driftwood Theatre does differently, however, is add a contemporary flare to the pieces.

This year, Smith conceived a way to convey one of A Midsummer Night’s Dreams most prominent themes—communication—with the use of a modern prop. Specifically, he gave the characters cell phones.

Throughout the play, the characters are ineffective communicators. There’s constant confusion about who’s romantically interested in whom. Smith saw this as an opportunity to make a statement about communication in the world today.

Smith noticed that people in the world around him were relying on their devices to keep them connected to their friends and family, but they were getting worse at communicating with people face-to-face.

“I was interested in having conversations about community and conversation and the way we have less communication person-to-person in favour of electronic conversations,” Smith told The Journal.

“I think that inhibits our ability to make meaningful contact in relationships.”

This realization inspired his decision to give the characters cell phones that eventually stop working when they enter the forest—forcing them to re-learn how to communicate with one another.

Smith’s emphasis on the importance of human connection isn’t just present in his take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream—it’s a crucial component of Driftwood Theatre itself.

As a travelling theatre group, Driftwood relies on audiences welcoming the troupe into their communities and coming out to watch them perform.

“We literally drop into a park and say anyone is welcome,” Smith said of their touring style.

The outdoor setting allows the troupe to welcome all audiences. The parks are accessible for anyone who’s interested, and the shows are free to the public. Though they do sell reserved seating tickets for the front rows, it isn’t necessary to buy one to watch the show.

Smith’s love of drama and Shakespeare’s great works inspired him to start the troupe, but the experience of performing for people and telling stories keeps that love going.

During his time at Queen’s studying drama, Smith learned about Shakespeare’s outdoor performances in his theatre history class. He had also just attended various Shakespeare in the Park performances in both Toronto and Montreal.

He was intrigued by the idea of performing outdoors and couldn’t shake it.

Before the end of his third year, Smith sought out his dad’s blessing to try putting on his own outdoor Shakespeare show, as the creative idea wouldn’t make money.

The first year of the show, Smith, and his friends from Queen’s and his hometown Oshawa, along with his neighbor and other volunteers, put on their own production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They performed it in four parts of the Durham region: Oshawa, Whitby, Port Perry, and Bowmanville.

“We spent nothing on the show, everybody was volunteering their time—it was really in the spirit of … doing a special thing,” Smith explained.

Their shared love of the dramatic craft and reaching audiences across Ontario have helped Smith and the rest at Driftwood Theatre keep up their work over the past 25 years. According to Smith, they all feel it’s a very “special thing.”

For Kingston audiences, Smith hopes people will come out to Battery Park on Aug. 6 to “inhabit space together, put our phones down, and enjoy a story together.”

“I hope they come and they laugh and they take the light and the mischief and the misery of other people for a little bit, and they get their toes tapping,” he said.

 

 
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