Each year across Ontario, thousands of high school students gather from February through May to display their theatrical talents.
The occasion is the Sears Ontario Drama Festival, the largest festival of its kind in North America and quite possibly the world. By the time the final showcase of 15 plays takes place, May 5 to 9 at Toronto's legendary Hart House Theatre, more than 7,000 students and teachers will have presented more than 300 productions.
And the quality of those productions is inevitably a suprise to audiences attending for the first time. Begun in 1946 by model and singer Ken Watts, the 90s version of this high school drama festival includes everything from Canadian plays and original scripts, to the classics, and this year, even an opera.
The awards include scholarships to post-secondary school studies, and an original play competition offers the winning student a workshop of their script with a professional director. Students present everything from French-language plays to dance dramas and Oscar Wilde.
Many of our theatre professionals began here, including film director David Cronenberg, actors Margot Kidder, Yanna McIntosh, Helen Shaver and R.H. Thomson, playwright Jason Sherman, director Des McAnuff, children's entertainer Bram Morrison, and Playbill On-Line's Canadian Correspondent. The Festival is divided into three stages: From the 300 shows at the district level, outstanding productions go on to five regional festivals across the province. Of those, the top 15 end up in May at Hart House.
The Toronto Regional takes place at Hart House as well, from March 31 to April 4. Call Hart House Theatre for more information and tickets at: 416-978-8668.
Other regionals: Northwest (Barrie) 705-728-3120: Northern (Englehart) 705-544-2337: Southwest (Chatham) 519-676-5485; Eastern (Peterborough) 705-745-1358.
By Mira Friedlander