Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

Driftwood Theatre Group celebrates 20 years

Driftwood Theatre Group celebrates 20 years

The Driftwood Theatre Group probably shouldn’t still exist. Yet exist it does, rising from a tiny student passion project to become an Ontarian institution over twenty years of urban and rural touring. Driftwood has outlasted dozens of similarly-mandated companies to lead a new renaissance of fledgling companies modelled on its success. A professional group replete with awards, a devoted fan-base, and critical success, the Driftwood story traces its inception back to a Theological Hall classroom, twenty years ago.

It was in a 1994 Queen’s Drama theatre history classroom, led by Professor Natalie Rewa, that the idea was born. D. Jeremy Smith, Artsci’96, then a third-year drama student, was inspired by the devotion to commitment and persistence engendered at Queen”s Drama, solidified in Professor Rewa’s encouragement of independent thought in minds alive with enquiry. From this fecund environment, Driftwood helped Smith explore plays, learn the craft, and analyse truth and humanity through dramatic texts. Since 1995, the company has tested plays from Shakespeare’s canon (fourteen individual plays and several remounts) and beyond (including a burgeoning New Play Development program), to reinforce those early lesson of enquiry. Driftwood has performed to tens of thousands of Ontarians. After twenty touring seasons, it is one of the province’s most beloved summer fixtures and is the longest-running outdoor touring professional theatre company in Ontario.

Key to this success is accessibility and strength in communication. Driftwood performs on a portable island stage that draws its audiences in with focus on textual clarity and storytelling. The bonds between the company and its audiences recalls the strength of community fostered at Theological Hall, in the tight-knit Queen’s drama program. Smith believes Driftwood’s tour – which now extends to 25 communities -- from London in the west to Bobcaygeon in the north, to Westport in the east – only truly came of age when the company had its first opportunity to perform in Kingston, at City Park. The Kingston area is a spiritual home of sorts for Driftwood: in addition to Jeremy Smith’s drama degree, under the tutelage of such beloved figures as Gary Wagner, Judith Fisher, Anne Hardcastle, and Tim Fort, the Smith family cottage is located in nearby Prince Edward County, a much-anticipated furlough on the Driftwood tour. The Driftwood location at City Park is a highlight of every touring season: things were really “brought home” during a 2002 performance of As You Like It when rain forced the production inside Convocation Hall, to neatly unify the past and present of the company in a single, very hot room!

The future for the Driftwood Theatre Group is bright: twenty years of touring has eroded none of the enterprise that Natalie Rewa’s theatre history class highlighted for Jeremy Smith, and the company’s careful cultivation of a family mentality means the artistic vision of enquiry is safe for years to come. In addition, the company has expanded its reach, with forays into play development, 24-hour playwriting contests, cultural festivals, youth artist training and community outreach.

For more, visit the Driftwood Theatre website.

Toby Malone is an Australian theatre artist and educator who has worked as actor and dramaturg at major theatres in Canada, the US, Scotland, and Australia. He first arrived in Canada in September 1999 as a foreign exchange student from the University of Western Australia. During his year at Queen’s, he appeared in Queen’s Drama productions including Uncle Vanya and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and met Meg Logue, Mus’00. Meg and Toby were married in 2001 and live in Toronto with their two children, Cormac and Bridie. Toby attained his PhD in drama from the University of Toronto in 2009, and currently teaches at the University of Waterloo.

Do you have memories of Driftwood productions? Let us know at review@queensu.ca