Loss of drama festival sponsor saddening
features high school productions from across the province.
Kingston was one of the first cities to take part, and Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute has been taking part since 1949, said Kevin Fraser, a dramatic arts teacher at the school and longtime organizer of the event. KC usually hosts the district competition since it is the only school in the area with a separate auditorium and stage, he said.
“Sowewere one of the first schools, once it went outside of Toronto, to participate, and that was three years after its inception,” Fraser explained.
Fraser said he had heard about the funding’s withdrawal last week, and suspected it would happen for even longer after reading about the retailer’s financial woes.
“I knew they wouldn’t be funding a festival. It’s unfortunate, but thank goodness we had their sponsorship as long as we did,” he said. “That’s probably one of the longest corporate sponsorships of any that I know of, actually.”
It wasn’t just Sears’ withdrawal that endangered the festival in this area, Fraser said. The impending closure of KC meant the festival “was probably coming to an end anyway.”
“You need that week to be able to have a space dedicated to that,” Fraser said. “You can’t run it out of a classroom or a cafetorium.”
Fraser liked the way the festival offered his students a chance to see other students’ work.
“I do it so that students can see there’s a broader community,” he said. “I love it when they share in each other’s work, come out and appreciate each other’swork. By hosting it, our kids have access to all of the shows.”
KC has produced more performing artists than all of the other schools combined, Fraser said. He listed Chilina Kennedy, Jacob James and AlexMontagnese as three KC alumni who took part in the festival and went on to pursue a life in theatre.
“A lot of people in the industry got their start with Sears,” he suggested, “or definitely augmented their interest for it as a pathway.”
One of those people was James Hyett, who, as a Grade 9 student in 2012, acted in a production and then went, again as an actor, to the “provincial showcase” (the third and final round of the competition) in 2014 with David Ives’ Universal Language. In 2015, he was the co-ordinator of the regional competition and also directed his own play.
“I don’t know if it’s the thing that spurred me on, but, in high school, I only took a drama class in Grade 9, and all of the other experience I had in theatre, which is now a thing I want to pursue, was extracurricular, and Sears was a major part of that,” explainedHyett, who is entering his third year studying theatre and linguistics at the University of Toronto.
“It kind of buoyed me when I wasn’t able to take drama class for other reasons.”
One of the things he liked most about the festival was that it allowed students to try things theymight not get to try outside of the school setting, such as lighting or sound, because those technical aspects often fall to someone with more experience.
“It’s one of the first opportunities for many students who are interested in theatre to have a degree of agency,” saidHyett, who hopes to pursue dialect coaching upon graduation.
That is one of the aspects of the festival that appealed to teacher Steve Powell, who directed his first play at the Sears festival.
“It gives this opportunity to learn and growas a theatre artist and to have a chance just to do the work, and to try something, whether that’s writing a script or directing for the first time,” he said.
Like Fraser, he liked the atmosphere the festival provided.
“I’ve seen the way kids react to the festival, where they come together,” Powell said. “It’s a competition, but the competition has a very friendly nature, and kids interact with each other.”
Powell had taken part in 16 of the past 21 festivals, and went to his first provincial showcase in May with the play Come Away, Come Away, a month before the Regiopolis- Notre Dame CatholicHigh School teacher called it a career.
“It’s had a big influence on me for sure,” he said. “While it’s dismaying to hear that we’re in this situation, hopefully things turn around.”