Skip to content

For theatre school, footlights at end of pandemic tunnel

Driftwood Theatre School returns to in-person programming and training for kids and adults
A. Driftwood Theatre_D
Driftwood Theatre School students perform in a pre-COVID production at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse

The education arm of the non-profit Driftwood Theatre collective is resuming in-person training, according to co-founders who will teach upcoming classes for youth and adults alongside faculty members that include a recent alumnus.

Sandi McGinnis and Ingrid Bilton founded the Driftwood Theatre School in 2010. Before the COVID-19 interruption, its programs routinely attracted between 40 and 50 young performers each semester. Along with collaborator Shannon Rody, the group was forced to alter course when the pandemic brought programming to a dramatic halt.

“We were anticipating [in 2020] a big celebration for the 10th year of Driftwood Theatre School,” said Rody. “We were going to have it at the Heritage Playhouse with cake and put up a big slideshow of all the years and all the kids that have come through this school. So, the pandemic really pulled that out from under us in an upsetting way.”

Some classes moved online. McGinnis discovered that accent and dialect instruction could take place over video conferencing. A former student-turned-instructor, Gabriel Leonard Ditmars, recruited first-time actors from among Sunshine Coast youth who felt at home in a virtual setting.

A handful of showcase performances were scheduled for limited audiences. “Parents were hungry to see what their kids had been doing,” said Bilton. “With those showcases, students got that wonderful little perk — and now they’re percolating again.”

The prospect of regular classes has enlivened school staff, said Bilton. “I can feel the old energy, not just in the kids that I meet around town, but I can feel it in myself. That’s the most exciting thing because I didn’t know whether I was beaten down for good. It’s just been so challenging.”

McGinnis personally coached one of the Driftwood students, Doris Garner, to ready her for the 2022 Sunshine Coast Festival of the Performing Arts. Garner earned three awards in the Speech and Dramatic Arts competition before competing at the provincial festival. “She did marvellously,” said McGinnis, “and was well-recognized for her strong work. I’m very proud of her.”

McGinnis’s coaching experience is the basis of a forthcoming 14-week preparatory program that will support festival competitors. “It will probably be the same amount of hours that Doris and I worked, although we did it in a much shorter period of time,” added McGinnis.

Other upcoming classes will include instruction by Bilton in the fundamentals of drama. Ditmars will lead two classes, while long-time dance and drama teacher Sally Williams will focus on music education for teens and adults.

One of the most pressing challenges, said Bilton, is restoration of the school’s enrolment. “We have been fortunate in the past to be able to take students from a young age, like six or seven years old, and they come back year after year. That’s been the joy of it, but we have found after COVID that a huge proportion of our student body has graduated this year. We really need to rebuild the student body now and get to work.”

The school’s parent company, Driftwood Players, has been “utterly supportive,” said McGinnis. “We envision students going on to be part of Driftwood Players shows, being part of a big community where everybody is learning from one another.”

Registration for Driftwood Theatre School programs is available online at