Brad Duffy loves a good story. He loves to watch a good story and he loves to create a good story for others to watch.

After 26 years teaching classes and directing plays as the communications and theater arts instructor for Grays Harbor College, Duffy retired in 2018.  He was now free to enjoy a life of leisure, spend more time with his two daughters and granddaughter, and play more racquetball, bridge and pinochle.

“It’s worked out well. I get to do all the things I want to do and none of the things I don’t want to do,” says Duffy, 71. Turns out – no surprise – what he likes to do is theater, to tell a good story. 

Not only is Duffy still the executive producer of the 7th Street Kids Theatre, a role he’s had since 2000, but he’s also the new president of Driftwood Players, Aberdeen’s all-volunteer community theater. He’s recently done some acting himself and he’s currently preparing to direct two more plays this 2021-2022 season for Driftwood! “Brad’s love for theater is immense,” says Debbie Scoones, who has acted in 20 productions directed by Duffy, as well as served in other roles, including musical director for 17 of his productions. “Brad has broadened my love for theater and I will always be grateful for that. I have acted for many directors, but no one can hold a candle to Brad,” she says.

Photo by Katie McGregor

Professional, prepared, kind and talented are the words often used by those who have worked with Duffy as he transforms words from a paper script to a live performance where actors embody their characters and audiences are drawn into the story.

Surprisingly, Duffy says, about half of his preparation time to stage a play occurs before the auditions to cast the production. During this time, he divides the play into what are termed “French scenes,” which are created every time an actor enters or exits the stage. For instance, in the play, “The Humans,” which will run in February at Driftwood, there are 83 French scenes.

“My job is to determine why the playwright included each one,” he explains. “So, for instance, it’s clear, that this one is all about introducing this character and his personality, and this one is about revealing the drama or problem, and maybe this one is about unveiling that there is a lie going on among some of the characters. I want to make sure that what the playwright wanted gets translated onto the stage.”

Photo courtesy The Driftwood Players

After the cast is selected, he encourages them to interpret what they think is going on in the scene, and makes a point to encourage his actors not to just parrot the words from the script but to listen each time to the other characters and react as their character would from what is actually said.

This mindset is crucial when something doesn’t go as expected, such as someone forgetting a line, accidentally saying a line too soon or even if a key prop is not where it should be. It’s in those situations where it’s especially important that the actors stay in character and move the story forward.

All that preparation pays off, says Scoones. “What makes Brad a good director is he knows the show forwards and backwards. He gets a tremendous response from his actors,” she says. “He asks actors what is going on in the scene, what are they feeling or experiencing.” He also requires his actors to have the lines memorized early on. “It’s only after they have their lines down that they can begin to act,” he says.

As a director, Duffy says that he likes to work with actors who aren’t afraid to be wrong. “I like it when they try something in rehearsal. If it doesn’t work, I will tell them, but having the courage to try something is important.”

With all the different genres of theater, Duffy says he especially loves to tackle a musical. “I love the idea that the songs help tell the story and help develop the characters,” he says. “And, I love the collaborative effort of a working as a team with the musical director, choreographer and others.”  

The last two years has been especially hard on live theater due to the coronavirus. But Driftwood was able to meet the challenge by offering three shows virtually. By choosing plays with small casts and streaming them, audience members could enjoy watching a live performance from the comfort of their own homes. In fact, Driftwood was one of very few theaters in the Pacific Northwest that took on that challenge, producing “Constellations,” “Daddy Long Legs,” and “Gin Game” that way.

Duffy experienced “that side of the stage again” by starring in “The Gin Game,” directed by Stacey Hopkins. “When everything was shut down during the pandemic, I was talking to a very good friend of mine, Pat Sibley, who is a professional actress in Seattle,” he recalls. “She normally goes all over the country doing stuff, but everything was shut down. I invited her to come live with me for six weeks and do ‘The Gin Game’ with me. So, she did. When we weren’t rehearsing at the theater, we were rehearsing at my house, and we had a such a great time doing that.”

As fun as the show was, it did feel weird to act without audience reaction, he says. “A big piece of theater is the relationship between the audience and the actors; that is what makes each performance unique within itself,” Duffy says. “Not having that audience reaction was odd, but I’m so glad we still were able to provide a performance experience.” 

Producing live theater during a pandemic wasn’t the only challenge Driftwood faced this past year. An arson fire damaged the building in May. Thankfully, Duffy and the cast and crew of “Daddy Long Legs” were there for a tech rehearsal and able to alert the police and fire department. However, the fire was able to get into the walls and ended up doing a bit of damage to the back of the building. Even the stage curtains were so smoke damaged they needed to be replaced.

“The good news is that the Aberdeen Fire Department saved the theater. I’m so grateful we were there.  If we hadn’t had tech rehearsal that day, we would have lost the theater,” he says.

For someone who has acted in, directed and attended hundreds of plays in various cities over the years, the obvious question arises: Which one is his favorite?

“It is always the one I’m working on,” he quickly answers.

Right now, that is “The Humans,” which will play at Driftwood Theatre in February. He is also slated to direct the next production at Driftwood, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in the spring.

Driftwood Theatre’s website, www.aberdeendriftwood.com  includes the latest information about the theater, year’s schedule, current show and upcoming auditions. It also has a catalog with pictures of every past show that Driftwood Players has performed in the last 60 years.

Driftwood Theatre

Upcoming Shows

“The Wedding Singer”
November 26, 27
December 3, 4,10, 11:
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
December 5, 12 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Directed by Alex Eddy

“The Humans”
Feb. 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
February 20, 27 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Directed by Brad Duffy

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
April 30, May 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
May 22 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Directed by Brad Duffy