25 years in, the course of true love has run smooth for Driftwood Theatre

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

As it turns out, and contrary to Shakespeare’s maxim, the course of true love has run smooth for Driftwood Theatre . . . for a full 25 years!

Ahmed Salah Moneka (foreground) and ensemble; photo by Dahlia Katz

Yes, Driftwood Theatre is celebrating its silver anniversary. The company continues to thrive under the artistic direction of founder D. Jeremy Smith, and, in what has become a summer tradition, Driftwood’s Bard’s Bus Tour is once again bringing contemporary Canadian takes on Shakespeare to a growing audience. Over its quarter century, this plucky company has solidified a reputation for creating high-quality, barrier-free theatre, and increasing access through performances in local, outdoor venues across Southern Ontario. And rather than charging a fixed ticket price, Driftwood favours passing the hat, so to speak, so that audiences can pay what they can afford. 

This year’s show is a company and audience favourite: A (musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream, first performed by Driftwood in 2004 and revived in 2012. The musical adaptation by Kevin Fox, Tom Lillington and Smith puts an a cappella spin on the text, which is sung through. The beloved comic fantasy by Shakespeare (1596) centers on four young lovers. On Midsummer night, they find themselves in an enchanted forest, the domain of imperious fairies and impish sprites. While Fairy King Oberon and his Queen Titania feud over the custody of Titania’s foundling boy, a quintet of “mechanicals” (tradespeople) prepare to perform a play in honour of Duke Egeus’ upcoming marriage to Hippolyta. The four lovers and the overzealous amateur actor Bottom are bewitched by the impish sprite Puck’s spell, resulting in confusion, mayhem and hilarity. Although order is restored in the end, the play presents a timeless commentary on appearance and reality, jealousy and marriage, and above all, love. Set in a magical realm, there is perhaps no place more conducive to experience the magic of A (musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream than among the rustle of trees and under the stars on a summer evening. 

We spoke with Smith, who is both the director of the play and the founding artistic director of Driftwood, about the musical ingredients in this production, live performance as a shared experience, and the company’s milestone 25th anniversary.

SesayArts: Why sing A Midsummer Night’s Dream? How does the musical aspect further the themes of the play and also add to the overall experience?

JS: Music, and specifically a capella music, demands that all participants really make a connection and listen actively to each other during performance. There’s an immediate sense of community whenever a group of people perform a capella. It’s a powerful reflection of some of the themes running through Shakespeare’s play: the way in which we communicate with each other; our ability to form meaningful connections with others. Also, watching and listening to people create music with only their voices is a magical thing, and we use that magical, visceral quality of the music to support the magical elements of Shakespeare’s play. 

Siobhan Richardson and James Dallas Smith; photo by Dahlia Katz

SesayArts: Other than the musical element, what else would you like us to know about this interpretation of A (musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream? Is there any aspect of the staging you would like us to pay particular attention to?

JS: In celebration of Driftwood’s 25th season, this production of A (musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream is an ode to theatre, to the idea that theatrical storytelling requires that an audience and performers commune and share space together. Everything is on the table; everything is in view of the audience. Further to the themes of connection and community, Shakespeare’s play is also incredibly relevant and we’re using our design and setting to further make a case for putting down your phones and devices in order to build meaningful relationships with others.

SesayArts: How will Driftwood’s musical interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream be relevant and appeal to young, contemporary audiences? (Many are daunted by Elizabethan English and often view Shakespeare as a fossil fixed in the school curriculum, not something alive and real).

JS: Our Dream is set in a fictional present day. It has been created in order to feel very present, fresh and contemporary. The music is a delicious blend of rock, pop, funk, jazz and blues. The design is bright, colourful and lively. The characters inhabiting our production of Shakespeare’s play feel like they could be pulled right from the streets of any Ontario city or town.

SesayArts: This production is listed in your bio as a directorial highlight. What makes it a special production special for you, personally and professionally?

JS: I’ve been in love with this particular text for a long time. What makes it particularly special for me this time is my connection to the performer playing Puck, Ahmed Moneka, a refugee artist from Iraq whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since 2017. Despite having been brought up in entirely different circumstances and climates, we both look at this play and this character (whom I started Driftwood in order to play, 25 years ago) from a very similar perspective. There is joy, love and a little mischief.

SesayArts: What does the 25th anniversary of your company make you think about? 

JS: How old I am. 25 years makes me think of how long I’ve been doing this, and how I could not have imagined, when I was 20, that I would still be on this journey with Driftwood today. It’s a great privilege and gift. It reminds me of how much I love theatre and why I started this company in the first place: by giving back to my community by making sure that anyone and everyone has access to these great stories, no matter where they live or how much money they have in their pocket.

Steven Burley, Nathaniel Hanula-James, Nick Dolan, Marissa Orjalo and Kelsi James; photo by Dahlia Katz

News You Can Use

What: A (musical) Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, adapted by Kevin Fox, Tom Lillington and D. Jeremy Smith; Presented by Driftwood Theatre; Musical Direction by Tom Lillington; Production Design by Julia Kim; Dramaturgy by Myekah Payne; Directed by D. Jeremy Smith
Performed by Steven Burley (Bottome), Nick Dolan (Demetrius), Nathaniel Hanula-James (Lysander), Kelsi James (Helena), Ahmed Moneka (Puck), Marissa Orjalo (Hermia), Siobhan Richardson (Titania/Hippolyta), James Dallas Smith (Oberon/Theseus)

Who: Audiences of all ages

When and Where: On tour in 27 cities across Southern Ontario until Aug 18, 2019

Info and Tickets: driftwoodtheatre.com

© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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