Driftwood Theatre is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019 and we headed to the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa to see their “Bard’s Bus Tour”:http://www.driftwoodtheatre.com/see/bardsbustour/ traveling production of A Musical Midsummer Night’s Dream. As long as the rain kept at bay (the performance was in the grounds) it promised to be an interesting evening. Everyone brings their own chairs or blankets to sit on to enjoy the show. We had seen one of their productions almost 20 years ago and were looking forward to it.
Driftwood is billed as “Ontario’s longest-running professional, not-for-profit, outdoor touring theatre company, … creating theatre for all people in Ontario”. The advertising for the event states that all Bard’s Bus productions are “pay what you can” or “free admission” or you could reserve a seat for $30. Given that they stress their role as providing a cultural experience for everyone “no matter how much money they have in their pockets” fund raising was a very strong focus that evening. When we arrived for the show we were directed to a ticket booth and the staff suggested we pay $20 each. Although the price wasn’t an issue for us it would have been awkward for anyone who arrived thinking it was “pay what you can” or “free”, as advertised, and did not have the suggested $20 each to pay for the play, especially families.
Outdoor productions are always a challenge because of the environment. Aside from the fact that the actors had to contend with speaking over the air conditioning unit on top of the hospital next door and the cicadas chirping very loudly in the garden they were let down by their own crew. Two of the performers in particular were difficult to hear because their microphones weren’t working at all. We had hoped that the problem would be fixed during intermission but it wasn’t. If it weren’t for the synopsis in the program people unfamiliar with the play would have had difficulty following along. We felt bad for the performers who had obviously put in a lot of work to prepare. They were giving it their all but unless you were sitting very near to the stage, you couldn’t hear them. After we went I checked out reviews of other productions on Facebook and they were written by people who had seats next to the stage, the microphone issue was resolved or the locations had less challenging sound issues to begin with.
Driftwood modernizes Shakespeare’s plays to make them more relatable to young and modern audiences and their imaginative use of props on their makeshift stage was interesting to see. However, an aspect of the production itself that I didn’t enjoy was the musicality. It wasn’t just the actors who were singing, there was a vocalist at the back of the stage singing notes throughout the play. Maybe because it was competing with the air conditioner and the cicadas but the continual a cappella notes were monotonous. As you can guess, it wasn’t the best night we’ve had at the theatre though others in the audience seemed to really enjoy it. Would I give the company another chance? Yes, but maybe not with a musical.
To add to the excitement we watched a lightning storm approach towards the end of the play. Thankfully we were safely in our vehicle and on the way home before the storm hit.
As a side note, the “Parkwood Estate”:https://www.parkwoodestate.com/ is worthy of a visit itself. It is a National Historic site in Oshawa – the home of the founder of General Motors of Canada, R.S. McLaughlin. The house and grounds are lovely and may look familiar as the list of television shows and movies filmed at the estate is extensive.