High school drama festival returns to Stratford

Baby Blue Devil
By Galen Simmons, Stratford Beacon Herald  

Though it’s only been a few years since the former district Sears Drama Festival was held in Stratford, this upcoming weekend will mark the first time St. Michael Catholic Secondary School will act as host for the renowned high school theatre competition.

Divided into district, regional and provincial festivals, the competition, now known as the National Theatre School Drama Festival, sees drama students from schools across Ontario participate annually, where they receive professional adjudication of their schools’ productions and take part in workshops that encourage teamwork and skills development.

“All of the Huron-Perth schools are invited (to the district festival), and it’s hosted by a different school every year. We’ve just never (hosted) it before,” said St. Mike’s drama teacher Tina Robinson. “It’s a big deal for us. It’s probably one of the bigger arts events that we’ve done. It’s kind of like the OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) of theatre.”

With schools from St. Marys all the way to Goderich slated to compete in the Huron-Perth district festival from March 21-24, Robinson said her school’s drama department has developed an impressive schedule of workshops and events for the students to enjoy.

“There are 11 schools and 12 productions coming. Two-hundred and forty students from throughout the region will be here,” Robinson said. “Four schools perform (one-act plays) each evening over the course of Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then they come during the day and we have different workshops – the Stratford Festival is helping us out with that.”

Mitchell District High School (MDHS), under the direction of Cam Oates, will perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a comedic rendition about a troupe trying to put on all of Shakespeare’s plays. Eight actors are on stage including Mark Webber, Wendy Harper, Madi Hanson, Isaac Wheeler, Alex Clarke, Zoe Horton, Brittany Ulch and Lexi Morley, while others behind the scenes include Andrea Bird, stage manager; Heather Dearing, assistant stage manager/sound/props; Zach Ward and Kez Wolfkamp, lighting/sound and Jaina Elliott, costumes.

Their performance will take place Friday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.

In between scheduled daytime rehearsals on the first three days, the students will have the opportunity to learn from Stratford Festival workshop leaders about everything from writing grant proposals to acting and dancing. On Saturday, the final day of the district festival, the students will be invited back to St. Mike’s to take part in a post-secondary fair specifically designed for arts students.

“All of the schools that really pride themselves on their arts programs are coming for the post-secondary fair – and that’s open to everybody, not just the festival participants,” Robinson said. “And then a bunch of guest-speaker panels will be hosted with speakers from London theatre, tech, arts administration, audition preparation and community theatre – so just volunteers from the community are coming in to talk to the kids.”

The local festival will conclude Saturday evening with an awards banquet and a dance. From that point, the Huron-Perth schools’ most outstanding productions will be chosen to compete in the regional competition in April, and two outstanding productions from each regional festival will be selected to compete at the provincial showcase at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge in May.

The Trojan Women will be performed by the St. Mike’s drama class during the event.