This year Jarvis participated in the 60th annual Sears Festival, a festival that celebrates theatrical achievement in more than 300 schools throughout Ontario. Generally, over 10,000 students and teachers from across the province participate in this high-spirited gala where awards are distributed to honour the hard work put into many of these these productions. Jarvis student matinees were viewed in the school auditorium March 1st and 2nd to great applause, and on March 3rd Jarvis hosted Contact Alternative School and Central Technical School for the Sears Festival Adjudication, and performed superbly.
Jarvis has been participating in the Festival since Ms. Burak, curriculum Leader of Arts, began her career here eleven years ago, and has won numerous awards for its productions.
This year the Grade 12 drama students and Ms. Burak entered The Day Billy Lived by Canadian playwright Chris Craddock, who received the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre for Young Audiences for The Day Billy Lived in 1996. Jarvis’s production of the play probed into teenage perspectives on the rising problem of depression and suicide.
“It was amazing, very well organized and rehearsed,” says Vikki Ing, a Grade 12 student at Jarvis who watched the March 2nd performance. “The storyline was a bit out there, but it made sense, and it was amusing to see how it turned out.”
The play dealt with the disturbing issue of teenage suicide,
Melissa Campbell, a Grade 12 drama student and festival participant, believes that “Sears gives a lot of young talent the opportunity to be seen and gain experience. I think the Festival is awesome.”
The Festival not only helps students in their school experience, but also influences their success outside the high school environment, giving them a chance to investigate and collaborate on a matter they care about and are truly interested in participating in, with others who feel the same way. “The rehearsal process was a really amazing journey for everyone, because we started with a script that of course went from the page to the stage, and the students all contributed ideas around bringing the script to life,” says Ms. Burak proudly. “We really felt that if was an ensemble piece at the end.”
New friendships with other drama students they may have never interacted with if not for the show, confidence and pride in their own skills and talents, improved organizational and creativity skills are developed from this experience. The hard work of everyone involved—whether playwrights, directors, set or costume designers, lighting or sound technicians, stage crew, actors, dancers or musicians—is rewarded with the satisfying reactions of the audience through laughter, applause or tears.
“[Sears] teaches co-operation and communication rather than competition, because it is impossible to do a show without the myriad talents, time and commitment of lots of people: it’s never a one-man show even if only one actor is on stage!” says Toronto Regional Coordinator Susan Daniel, who has been part of the Festival for twenty years. Although she has witnessed some production disasters—“sets two feet too high to fit onto the Hart House Stage, vans with sets in them which got lost somewhere en route, costumes which go missing, props which self-destruct, flats which fall over, lighting cues on CDs which jam, kids who get laryngitis”—Daniel believes that when a play goes right, it can be truly thrilling. “A performance [can] give you goose-bumps and you know that you will see that kid on a professional stage in the not-distant future, or a first play by a student amazes you by its depth, humour and sensitivity, or the audience rises to their feet not because the kids on stage are from their own school, but as tribute to excellence, often in shows which take some real risks and succeed. I’ve frequently seen better shows on stage at the Sears Festival than in theatres run by and for adults—community and professional.”
In addition to a great experience, awards are given for outstanding production, individual performances, stage management and technical achievement at the district and regional levels. The Day Billy Lived received a technical award for innovative sound and lighting this year. The award reflects the hard work and talent of the gifted stage crew, director, and stage manager of the production. Awards of Excellence and Awards of Merit are also presented to promising and talented student performers, writers, directors and technicians, to celebrate a job-well-done. Last year alone Jarvis won Awards of Merit for ensemble acting and sound design for The Laramie Project.
Every year about $12,000 worth of scholarships are given to students who want to study drama, dance, music or arts education in colleges or universities in Canada.
The Toronto Regionals are being performed at the Hart House Theatre on the University of Toronto campus from April 3rd to 8th. The Ontario Showcase is being presented from May 8th to 12th, and a vast Gala will be held May 13th to raise money for the Scholarship Fund. More information about the Sears Ontario Drama Festival can be found at www.searsdramafestival.com. If you are interested in other plays by Chris Craddock, you can find more of his work in Naked at School: Three Plays for Teens.