Welcome to The Onion Cellar

Welcome to The Onion Cellar, a unique nightclub of particular significance. Here you will find no bar, no waiter, no menu. Only onions, cutting boards, and kitchen knives. And music, always live music.

This is the setting for German novelist Günter Grass’ The Onion Cellar, a chapter from his celebrated 1959 novel, The Tin Drum.

To understand why Ahmed Moneka, a 29-year old refugee from Baghdad living in Canada since 2015 might have an interest in this particular story, you need learn something about this extraordinary theatre artist and musician.

Ahmed’s first home in Toronto was in Kensington Market in the heart of Toronto. It was here that he ‘grew up’ in Canada after being forced to remain here when militias in Baghdad threatened his life in 2015. For Ahmed, the Kensington community is rooted in diversity.

People from all over the world gather in this small section of the Toronto and make it their home: Brazilian, Ukranian, Cuban, Chinese, Algerian, Greek, Jewish, Spanish, Argentenian, and more. Their sounds are the sounds of the street. They are the sounds which welcomed, inspired and healed Ahmed when he was alone, didn’t speak English and felt a deep sense of hopelessness.

Ahmed’s experiences in Kensington taught him how to be close with people once again. That vibrancy and sense of union of many peoples is what drew him to the story of The Onion Cellar.

In The Onion Cellar, those who have experience trauma, who feel alone, who are suffering in their inability to share their stories or emotions, visit this celebrated nightclub. There, through the process of cutting and peeling their onions, guests shed tears as they share their deeply personal stories. They peel their suffering away and purge themselves of the pain of the world. This sharing is closely tied to music being played by the bar’s band. The stories lead the music and the music leads the journey, melodies mirroring emotions. Music fills the space, allowing everyone to feel comfortable, open and ready to share their stories.

I first met Ahmed in 2017. He’d been here for two years and was looking to reconnect with his roots in live theatre. With thanks to the Toronto Arts Council’s Newcomer and Refugee Mentorship Program, Ahmed and I were able to spend a year exploring theatre in Toronto, meeting other artists and helping Ahmed to discover his place within the theatre community. Together we developed a project exploring Multilingual Shakespeare. Ahmed became an Artist in Residence during that summer’s production of Othello and ended up touring with the company. Almost immediately, we knew that our journey together would be long-lived.

When Ahmed approached me with his ideas for The Onion Cellar, I knew that I had to support him however I could.

Always a great collaborator, Ahmed’s vision for The Onion Cellar is a piece of theatre created by a group of artists, with everyone contributing to the story being told. This devised theatre process invites us to welcome multiple voices to the process and, after a selection process earlier this year, we’ve assembled an extraordinary group of individuals to help us craft this story including Dillan Mieghan Chiblow, Nehassaiu deGannes, Richard Lam, Alison Porter, Shaina Silver-Baird and Ravyn Ariah Wngz. You can read more about each of these fabulous artists here.

Over the course of the next two months, between October and December 2022, we’ll be meeting twice with each artist over Zoom, gathering their stories and perspectives. Once the interviews are complete, Ahmed will spend some time writing, taking inspiration from and building these varied stories into the foundation which will become The Onion Cellar.

This phase of development will wrap up in the new year with a one-day workshop to bring everyone together, in person, to read through and discuss the play. Future phases will include more writing time, the incorporation and exploration of music and lyrics, and further workshops to develop and shape the play.

We’re pretty sure that the process of bringing this ambitious work to the stage will take years, but we’ll certainly be updating you as we progress.

We’re deeply indebted to Brian Quirt and everyone at Nightswimming Theatre for putting their faith in Ahmed’s vision and providing the seed funding to embark up this extraordinary adventure.

If you are curious and would like to support the development of a new piece of theatre, feel free to reach out to us at contactus@driftwoodtheatre.com or make a donation directly right here.

$77,500 OTF Grant Gets Driftwood Theatre Back On The Road

Ontario, Canada – In 2021, Driftwood Theatre Company received a $77,500 Resilient Communities Fund from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to assist in Driftwood’s ability to adapt to the many challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fund has supported the research, creation and implementation of safety procedures and community-based programs as Driftwood continued to plan for a return to live performance and touring. The project was completed in April 2022 and thanks to the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Driftwood is eagerly anticipating the return of The Bard’s Bus Tour for the first time since 2019. 

“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines Driftwood Theatre, a company that enlightens and entertains audiences across rural Ontario by touring its energetic renditions of Shakespeare,” said Todd Smith, MPP for Bay of Quinte. “I’m pleased to hear the $77,500 from the Resilient Communities Fund has been well directed to ensure the safe staging of the Bard’s Bus Tour and other forms of theatrical engagement in 2022 and beyond.”

In addition to the adaptive measures created by Driftwood to ensure audience safety at all events, the Resilient Communities Fund helped Driftwood assess and increase community impact through new community-based programming. Driftwood is now piloting new programs to help further engage individuals who might otherwise not have access to professional theatre. 

“We are so thankful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their support as we’ve weathered the storm of the past few years,” said D. Jeremy Smith, Artistic Director of Driftwood Theatre. “The resilient Communities Fund support has helped to ensure that, as we return to live performance, our audiences, artists, staff and volunteers are safe and that Driftwood is able to move forward with fresh perspectives and new ideas for reaching out to underserved members of our communities.”

The Bard’s Bus Tour is Driftwood’s signature event, touring professional theatre across Ontario since 1995. The tour returns July 14, 2022 and runs until August 21, 2022 with stops in over 20 communities across Southern and Eastern Ontario. For more information about Driftwood Theatre, including the complete Bard’s Bus Tour schedule, please visit www.driftwoodtheatre.com

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) mission is to build healthy and vibrant communities across Ontario. As an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations, last year, OTF invested nearly $209M into 2,042 community projects and partnerships, which included funding for the Government of Ontario’s Community Building Fund. Since 2020, OTF has supported Ontario’s economic recovery by helping non-profit organizations rebuild and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Visit otf.ca to learn more.  


For Media Inquiries: 

Michael Sheppard, Communications and Development Manager

Driftwood Theatre Company



Call For Volunteers!

With the 2022 Bard’s Bus Tour less than a month away, Driftwood is looking for volunteers to help us out with greeting and ushering our audiences this summer!

Volunteers get to see our production of King Henry Five for free, and are an integral part of making the Bard’s Bus Tour happen. And because Driftwood is a registered charity, high school students can put volunteer work with us toward their community service hours.

If you’d like to volunteer for us this summer, please fill out this google form.

You’ll notice that we’re asking volunteers to sign up for an online orientation session in July to make sure everyone is filled in on how things will be working this year. The two date options are Wednesday, July 6th at 7pm, and Saturday, July 9th at 2pm. The sessions most likely won’t be more than 30 minutes long. If you would like to volunteer but cannot make it to one of these sessions, please indicate this on the sign-up form.

If you have any questions, please send an email to producer Ella Kohlmann at ekohlmann@driftwoodtheatre.com

What the heck is Shakespeare D&D?

(or, I once was a shy kid from a small town)

So, you want to know what Shakespeare D&D is about? The easy answer is that it’s a fantasy world where the characters and settings of Shakespeare’s plays co-exist with creatures, gods and peoples of Dungeons and Dragons a tabletop roleplaying game. The trickier bit? D&D is a game rooted in improvisational play. Though I’ve got a framework built, the story is created in real time when we gather on May 15.

But I can tell you another story about how I become a theatrical storyteller because of Dungeons and Dragons.

It begins in the early 80s, when two very good friends of my family – Andy and Scott Nagy – arrived at our house for a visit. Andy and Scott were like older brothers to me and had been partying at our table since I was a baby. On this visit they brought something unexpected. “We have this really great new game,” they told us with glee, “It’s called Dungeons and Dragons.”

Andy once fed me the nectar of life. Years later he’d poison me with the bite of a green dragon.

During that fateful visit, Andy and Scott led my entire family through our first module (or game/adventure) titled The Keep on the Borderlands by Dungeons and Dragons’ creator, Gary Gygax. And it blew my mind.

For a shy, chubby eight-year old kid there was simply nothing like it. Suddenly, I was a brave and fearless hero roaming the land, fighting dragons and delving deep into crypts, castles, and dungeons. The game sparked my imagination, increased my confidence, encouraged creative thinking and collaborative play. Over the years, I would continue to play this game with friends – in grade school, high school, university, adulthood. Heck, I just finished a game with a group of friends that lasted over fifteen years.

Scott taught me to swim. Later, he’d maroon me on the Isle of Dread.

More often than not, I took the role of Dungeon Master, the individual responsible for guiding the players through their adventures. The Dungeon Master (DM) envisions and describes the world that the players explore, populates it with people, monsters and creatures, and sets goals and challenges for the players. In addition, the DM plays every other person, creature, monster, animal and/or sentient plant (yes, yes you read that correctly) that the players meet. Silly voices, ridiculous props, theatricality and a love of improv are the tools of the trade.

During the pandemic, D&D has been one of the only ways that I’ve been able to create and share stories with others. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to gather with friends at a virtual table over the internet where we could continue to explore the depths of our imaginations.

At its core, D&D is an exercise in collaborative storytelling, very much like theatre in many respects. The countless hours I’ve spent creating adventures, diving into characters and developing narratives with a group of like-minded individuals has informed and enriched my professional life as a director of live theatre, and vice versa.

And so, as Driftwood began to imagine how we might work our way back towards sharing stories with people in live settings, it only felt natural to invite everyone to join us at the table and experience this strange, wonderful, wacky, and powerful game (but with a Driftwood twist).

Shakespeare’s plays are filled with traditional elements of fantasy roleplaying games: monsters, dragons, witches, magic, interfering gods, epic battles, ghosts, wandering bards. His plays are an embarrassment of riches for anyone looking for adventure hooks and ideas for D&D. And like the best Shakespeare, I’m taking ideas and tweaking them a little. Events and conflicts in Shakespeare’s plays might not occur exactly how he wrote them. This provides us with a rich backdrop upon which to set our own adventures and puts a bit of the unexpected back into these stories we’ve known and retold for over 400 years.

Each of the six players of Shakespeare D&D have been asked to draw inspiration for their character from Shakespeare’s tertiary characters, and imagine why those individuals might have taken up a life of adventuring. What they’ve come up with is marvelous and playful, a truly fascinating group to embark upon the adventure that I have in store for them.

Being an audience for Shakespeare D&D will be a lot like being in the audience for a play. It’s just that this story is entirely improvised on the spot and the imagery, setting, and conflicts which take place will live only in our collective imaginations. And that’s another beauty of D&D: everyone’s experience – the DM, the players, each audience member – will be just a little different, coloured by the visions they create in their own minds based on the description of what’s happening in the story.

I can’t imagine a more theatrical and unique way to welcome people back to Driftwood and set the stage for our new vision of good people sharing great stories. For people who love Shakespeare, Shakespeare D&D will hold a treasure of characters and elements from his plays but with wonderful and unexpected surprises. For me, it’s a chance to play a ridiculously fun game with some fabulous people as we embark upon an adventure together into the unknown. What could possibly be more exciting than that?


Artistic Director/Dungeon Master.

PS: Andy and Scott, on my next birthday we’re playing again!

My dad and brother also made it through those early adventures (and apparently drank some Ent water along the way). And we still gather when we can with dear friends Andy and Scott.