Another Hamlet

The true story about the first Hamlet produced by Driftwood

Long-time Driftwood supporters may recall that although 2015 marks the first time Driftwood is producing Shakespeare’s most celebrated play as part of the Bard’s Bus Tour, it isn’t the first time we’ve delved into the world of Denmark.

Back in 2002, before the days of our annual Trafalgar 24 festival, I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the beautiful Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, and immediately began planning an event to take place in and around the 19th century castle standing on its grounds.

That project became our first fundraising event at the castle—Trafalgar Hamlet, featuring (now award-winning director of Stratford, Soulpepper, Tarragon and theatres across Canada) Alan Dilworth in the pivotal title role.

It was unique not only for using the castle and grounds to create a site-specific theatre experience, but because the audience was also divided into five groups, each following a different set of characters. The entire play was then presented simultaneously. Audience members were only privy to the scenes featuring their characters. They traveled in, around and outside of the castle on what I recall were two suitably cool and wintry nights in March of 2003.

Guests were invited to dine on a fine meal during intermission, and the dining hall became the setting for the famous ‘mousetrap’ scene of Act 3, Scene 3—where a troupe of players perform the play which convinces Hamlet of Claudius’ role in his father’s murder.

Further adding to the drama of Trafalgar Hamlet was a massive power-outage affecting half of the town of Whitby, where the castle is located, on the evening of our first performance. From the time audience began arriving until about 30 minutes after the performance was set to begin, the castle interiors were pitch black. Safety regulations forbade us from conducting the event in the dark, and so audience members were confined to dining lounge by candlelight at a pre-show wine reception until the power came back on.

I’ll never forget it—I was on my way to the dining hall to announce that we’d be cancelling the evening’s performance when the power suddenly came back on. The entire cast breathed a sigh of relief and we quickly got things underway.

The ghost appeared down by the front gate, Hamlet delivered his famous soliloquy on the main hall staircase, Claudius knelt to pray in the chapel, and Ophelia drowned in the indoor swimming pool.

I have always loved this incredible play and look forward to the challenges of directing it for the outdoor summer stage, but I will never forget that first Driftwood Hamlet experience.

– Jeremy.


It is not in the stars to hold our destiny…

…but in ourselves

Starting your journey with the Creative Roots Theatre Training Intensive

Driftwood isn’t an institution. We don’t have a physical building to call home, we don’t keep a warehouse full of sets and props and costumes (more like a locker), even our producing staff work “in the cloud” collaborating through the internet from offices across the province. In a way, Driftwood is as ephemeral as theatre itself; the legacy we are building is not tangible, but it is a legacy nonetheless.

In the absence of any physical structure to leave behind, I decided a long time ago that Driftwood’s legacy would be about fostering a strong future of theatre in Canada, nurturing the creative energy of the next generation of actors, artists and technicians. These are our Creative Roots.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve offered emerging actors their first professional gig, provided paid apprenticeships to early career directors, designers and technicians, and two years ago, we launched our Creative Roots Theatre Training Program for Young Actors.

As we’re currently accepting applications from teens who would like to participate in this two-week summer theatre intensive, I thought it would be an apt time to reflect on the origin and philosophy of the program.

When we made the decision to include young actor training as part of our outreach activities, I knew exactly who I would approach to develop the program: Peter van Gestel.

Peter is a long-time friend. We bonded during my third year at Queen’s University (about 20 years ago) when, as fate would have it, I ended up both designing scenery and playing Horatio to Peter’s Hamlet in a local theatre company’s production that great play. From that time on Peter has been one of my best and most trusted friends.

Peter van Gestel and Jeremy Smith in 'Hamlet', 1995 (yes, the hair was flowing).

Peter van Gestel and Jeremy Smith in ‘Hamlet’, 1995 (yes, the hair was flowing).

No, being my friend doesn’t exactly make Peter qualified to develop and lead a training program for young actors. But his extraordinary credentials most certainly do.

Peter has trained at some of the best institutions in the country (Queen’s University, B.A., M.Ed.; the National Theatre School of Canada; Stratford Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre), has worked for some of its finest theatres (Stratford, Mirvish, Factory, Grand Theatre), and has been teaching performance in Canada for many years.

Moreover, we share the same ideology when it comes to the work of William Shakespeare. When I spoke with him recently about why he felt it was important to lead the Creative Roots program, he offered:

“After a performance during one of the Driftwood tours I was on as an actor, I spoke with a friend who studied the play in high school and her comments to me about the performance and how it deepened her understanding and connection to the play impacted her. She spoke of being afraid to come to the performance that evening because of a fear of Shakespeare. I am glad and proud that we helped with her fear of the language but I was also frustrated because nobody should be afraid of Shakespeare: looked at through the lens of human behaviour instead of the lens of literature makes Shakespeare so much more accessible.”

For Peter, as for me, the value of Shakespeare doesn’t lie in his language, but in his ability to reflect upon us the rhythms and secrets of our own hearts. Shakespeare helps us to understand who we are and what our place in the world might be. And if we can teach that, well then getting through any perceived ‘language’ barrier is a relatively simple process.

In addition to exploring classical theatre, our Creative Roots participants learn from our performers and creators to stretch their theatrical limits.  It is a rigorous, full and intensive program. And it is also richly rewarding.

Creative Roots participants during their final performance, 2013.

Creative Roots participants during their final performance, 2013.

A day in the life of Creative Roots could include hands-on theatre workshops exploring sound, movement and text, observing a Driftwood rehearsal or performance, attending other professional shows happening around town or preparing their final performance to be shown to friends and family.

Throughout the program, the students are paired with a mentor from the Driftwood company. Peter cites the first connection between student and mentor as one of his favourite moments in the Creative Roots program:

“This moment is memorable for me because it allows the student to make a one on one connection with a working actor. It is an opportunity for the student to see theory put into practice…seeing their mentor “at work” and seeing the production come together from the early stages of rehearsal to show readiness gives them a framework and perspective that the average theatre goer does not usually get.”

The most incredible part about the whole thing is that thanks to the generosity of our partner TD Bank Group the Creative Roots Theatre Training Intensive is offered at no charge to the participants.

So if you are, or if you know a young person with career aspirations in acting, check out the application information on our website. We’re accepting applications until May 15th and we’d love to hear from you!


Though this be madness…

…yet there is method in’t.

Assembling a 26-Stop Ontario Tour with Driftwood’s Artistic Director, D. Jeremy Smith

With the temperatures finally above zero on a regular basis, it feels like summer might actually be around the corner. And for Driftwood, that means the Bard’s Bus Tour is coming up fast. Luckily for us, planning for this season’s tour began almost a year ago. This summer, Driftwood will visit 26 communities in Ontario (we’ll officially announce the full season and company on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23).

Company Members of Driftwood's 20th season, including author Dr. Toby Malone (2nd from right).

Company Members of Driftwood’s 20th season, including author Dr. Toby Malone (2nd from right).

Structuring a six week, 26 venue tour across a great swath of South Ontario might seem like a tall order, but we’ve had a lot of practice. In fact, Driftwood began with only four locations in the Durham Region (where I grew up) and performed only eight shows over two weeks. There was no bus back then – we borrowed a neighbour’s trailer to transport the big stuff and threw the rest in the back of a few cars.

Expansion happened gradually over time, growing to include more of East Ontario and the GTA before heading to points further West. First it was a few dates in Peterborough and Cobourg, then Toronto (in four different locations before we eventually settled in the East end’s Todmorden Mills and Withrow Park). Along the way we’ve performed in parking lots, on farms, at private residences, and even under a beer tent. Driftwood now tours to points between London, Westport and Bobcaygeon. And yes, there are plans to expand even further. But always one step at a time.

In 2015, we’re planning for a great mix of die-hard Driftwood locations with a few new and renewed sites and communities – places we’ve never been or just haven’t been in a while – to share our unpredictable, unsettling and downright dangerous adaptation of Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet.

The Bard's Bus, circa 2011

The Bard’s Bus, circa 2011

None of this tremendous growth would have been possible without our Touring Partners – dedicated and passionate organizations and individuals across the province who work with Driftwood to provide venues, resources and marketing support.

We currently have 20 Touring Partners across the province, ranging in size from voluntary organizations like the Friends of the Library in Marmora, to municipal bodies such as the City of Pickering (who are hosting Driftwood this year as part of the Durham Festival, celebrating the diversity of that region in tandem with the PanAm and Para PanAm games). Being a Touring Partner is a tall order, and each of our 20 partners is a unique and vital part of our success.

When I founded Driftwood 21 years ago, it was to share my passion for classic theatre with the community that helped raise me. I never expected that it would grow to encompass an annual summer adventure across this great province. This does have its benefits however – I’m an avid motorcyclist and look forward to the summer season not only for Driftwood, but also because it’s riding season.

Jeremy and the Bolt.

Jeremy and the Bolt.

So this year, as with most summers since I first started riding in 2004, I’ll make sure all of our 15 company members are comfortably loaded up on the Bard’s Bus and our other four-wheeled support vehicles before packing my bike, gearing up and getting onto the open road for another kind of adventure.

Driftwood provides me with an opportunity to get out there on my 2014 Yamaha Bolt and explore some of Ontario’s great roads while simultaneously bringing the magic of live theatre home to so many wonderful communities.

As far as I can tell, it’s a win, win.

– Jeremy.

Sign up to Driftwood’s e-newsletter to receive the full tour announcement hot off the presses on April 23.


Play in a Pub: the saga continueth…in a pub

On October 27, the saga continueth…in a pub

Driftwood Theatre’s Play in a Pub returns for a second year!

The stars of Stratford, Soulpepper and the Toronto stage come together in a pub very, very nearby for an evening of theatrical and cinematic mash-up of Shakespearean proportions in support of Driftwood Theatre!

Building on the sold-out success of last year’s Play in a Pub: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Driftwood Theatre reunites some of the finest performers of the stage for another epic reading! GET IN ON THE ACTION by participating in the Play in a Pub Live Auction, and bid on one of three walk-on character tracks – rebels, imperials, or droid n’ creatures. GET A GREAT DEAL on some swank merchandise with a rebel-worthy selection of boutique baskets during our Market Auction.

Grab your lightsabers and a pint and join Driftwood Theatre for an evening that is certain to be out of this world.

Readers confirmed so far include: Canadian theatre legend R.H. Thomson (Obi Wan Kenobi), Soulpepper founding member Michael Hanrahan (Darth Vader), Michael Therriault (C3P0), Sarah Wilson (Princess Leia), Peter van Gestel (Luke Skywalker), Steven Gallagher (Boba Fett), Richard Alan Campbell (Chorus), Karl Ang (Lando Calrissian), Melissa D’Agostino (R2D2), Helen King (Chewbacca), Jacquelyn Pijper (Ugnaught #1) and, recreating all sound and music cues using only his voice, Steven Burley.

Tickets: $25, on sale NOW. Click here or by phone at 647-381-6537. A service charge will apply to all orders.

Tickets are limited, so book early! Book online and ‘share’ or ‘tweet’ about Play in a Pub for a 10% discount on your tickets!

Play in a Pub: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back | October 27, 2014. 7:30pm | Clinton’s Tavern, 693 Bloor St W, Toronto