Loss of drama fes­ti­val spon­sor sad­den­ing

The Gananoque Reporter - - COMMENT -

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.”

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