Future of the Sears Drama Festival in flux

High school students in Durham Region are feeling the loss of the Sears Drama Festival after returning in September. Many are concerned about the future of the event, wondering if it will secure new funding to continue.

The Sears Drama Festival is searching for new sponsorship after announcing its funding was pulled this past July. Sears Canada filed for bankruptcy in June and quickly pulled all funding for its sponsored events.

The festival was a popular theatre competition for high school students across Ontario. It gave young actors the chance to share their plays with other schools and communities across the province.

Canadian actors Keanu Reeves and Rachel McAdams are notable alumni of the festival.

Shera Eales, a teacher and the Durham Region coordinator for the festival, says losing the event means students will lose the opportunity to perform outside of a typical high school environment.

“It will kill a lot of the networking students do, not just across Durham, but the regional competition [across Ontario] as well. There’s a lot of learning in theatre, because you get the chance to see different things done,” Eales says.

“Often, you don’t just go and perform your show, you go and watch other schools perform too. You get to look at all different examples of theatre and see what kids are capable of.”

The Sears Drama Festival was founded in 1946, and celebrated its 70th anniversary last year before coming to a close. It was regarded as one of the oldest theatre competitions for youth in the world.

High school students from across Durham Region participated annually at the Oshawa Little Theatre every February.

The festival was a four-day event with plays from different high schools every night. At the end of the event, outstanding actors and productions were granted awards, scholarships, and bursaries of up to $3,000.

Sue Hathaway, Sinclair faculty member and theatre director, says she’s frustrated. She’s not surprised no one has stepped up to fund the event.

“At the end of the day, if this was a high school sporting event, it would be funded already by someone new. But we’re in the arts department, and it’s still not [funded],” Hathaway says.

She says the festival gave students the chance to perform in front of professional judges while receiving critique from real-world industry members. Losing this event will take that valuable opportunity away from young actors.

Despite the frustration, students and faculty are hopeful the festival will eventually resume.

Dennis Xoz, a Sinclair Secondary School alumnus, participated in the festival for four years and says it impacted his life greatly.

“Theatre was my life. I lived and breathed it, spent hours at rehearsals and it gave me confidence. I hope it continues, or if not, something is organized to replace it,” he says. “I really hope they get people together in order for the festival to continue, it was such a huge part of high school for me and my friends,” he says.

Plans are being discussed for a Durham Region festival, and many hope that a generous sponsor will step up to continue the festival’s legacy.