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Stayin’ alive: A budding playwright at age 93, Surrey’s Don Smith isn’t done living yet

‘When you’re very old you can still do things that are fulfilling,’ says the inspiring nonagenarian
Don Smith with a copy of his short play “Tattoo Adieu,” one of three to be read during Pivot Theatre’s afternoon event Saturday, March 23 at Newton Cultural Centre in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

When the Surrey-based Pivot Theatre Company emailed a poster for an event they call “3 Plays By an Amazing Old Codger,” I was intrigued.

Who was this codger?

Why is he amazing?

What’s with these plays?

With questions aplenty, I went looking for Don Smith, a budding playwright at the wise age of 93, and found him in a South Surrey condo where he lives with his wife and son.

Over the past three years Smith has written 17 short plays, three of which will be read on stage at Newton Cultural Centre (13530 72 Ave.) on the afternoon of Saturday, March 23, starting at 2 p.m.

“I wrote one play when I was at San Diego State College many, many, many years ago, and it was quite a success, a highlight for me in my life,” Smith recalled.

“When I retired, I wanted to keep busy, so one of the things that I used to keep busy was sort of dabbling in playwriting, and here I am,” he added. “These stories just sort of came out of me pretty quickly, 17 of them.”


Poster for the staged reading at Newton Cultural Centre. (Image: Pivot Theatre)

The native Californian studied acting and theatre in Washington State before finding a job at UBC in Vancouver.

“I liked Canada so much I stayed here,” explained Smith, who later worked in the advertising agency world, “Mad Men” style. “Very similar,” he said, “and a lot of the stories on that show parallel mine.”

Recently, a friend introduced him to Pivot Theatre people, who deemed Smith’s plays worthy of the staged-reading event, which will finish with a Q&A hosted by artistic director Margaret Shearman. Tickets start at $15 on

“Because of their nature, you know, the plays are so short and everything, I think they (Pivot) just wanted to do kind of a plain reading as opposed to a full-fledged production,” Smith noted.

His stories are diverse.

“‘The Bag’ stems from when my mother was living in San Francisco and had her handbag stolen while she was coming home from work,” Smith outlined. “That bothered me so much, I got so damned mad that this had happened to my mother, that I just kept thinking about it, and I decided that might be an interesting subject for a play, a purse-snatching.”

The second play is called “Tattoo Adieu,” which may have something to do with the spider Smith had tattooed on his leg at age 14, maybe not. “The basic idea of the play is that this guy proposes to a woman but she won’t marry him unless he has this tattoo removed, which has a girl’s name.”

A third story is “Bud,” a bit longer than the others. “It has to do with a political candidate who is absolutely perfect, but the one thing he insists on wearing is flowered suits – suits with flowers on them, so the political gurus say they can’t have a candidate who insists on wearing something like that.”


Don Smith’s self-portrait.
Titles of recent plays written by Surrey resident Don Smith, listed in his own handwriting. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Trying not to sound too morbid, Smith said he hopes he lives long enough to see his plays read on stage, for him to hear the audience react to his work.

“Long ago I decided that my hobby when I retired was to stay alive, so I did a lot of different things like playing golf and things, and I even tackled my old high-school nemesis, algebra, and failed at it again, incidentally,” he explained.

“In particular, I think this is kind of a message to older people, to people in their 80s and 90s,” Smith added. “I think back to when I was 20 or 30, I’d think of somebody 90 years old as so terribly out of it, you know. I’m sort of amazed that I’m here now at this age and I’m having my plays produced. It’s a message that, you know, when you’re very old you can still do things that are fulfilling.”

In a final anecdote about his birth and life, Smith emailed this:

“I’m 93 years old. I know that’s my age because that’s exactly how old Clint Eastwood is. The famous actor/director and I were both born in San Francisco in 1930 only days apart at the same hospital, The Saint Francis Memorial Hospital.

“I like to think you could look through a big window in the maternity ward and see the two of us in our cribs side-by-side and tell us apart because Clint was the baby that was squinting. ‘Make my day and change my diaper.’”

“Kind of corny, Tom, but true except for the last paragraph.”

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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