“Lily was always the girl who kissed the stars, who danced in the flames, whose eyes were big enough to swallow the entire night sky.”
The past few months have been a blur of stage lights and rehearsals. I can’t accurately recount the time and effort, the blood sweat and tears that went into this show. There have been roadblocks and difficult points, but we’ve been lucky to have been able to pull through to put on the best show we could. I’m so blessed to have been able to put myself out there in such a raw and honest way, and I’m so happy that our show has been recognized for all it has. For those of you who don’t know, the NTS Ontario Drama Festival, formerly Sears Drama Festival, is a high school theatre festival comprised of three levels of competition, districts, regionals, and provincials. All participating schools compete in the district competition. From there, depending on the number of participating shows, a select few are chosen to move on to the regional festival. There are 6 regional festivals, and from there two shows move on to the provincial level. It’s the largest drama festival of its kind in the world, with approximately 400 shows a year. It’s a fantastic learning and growing experience, and I am so thankful.
Two years ago, when I first knew I wanted to write a play, I had no idea where it would take me. It was my second year participating in the Sears Drama Festival, and I knew I was in love. I knew I loved the stage after having performed in three productions; Skin, The Orphan Train, and Still Life With Iris. I had found a home in theatre, and I was slowly becoming aware of the impact it could have on an audience. So slowly, over the next year, I began to write. Every few weeks I’d have an idea, and I’d quickly jot it down on my phone. I would write a chunk of text and leave it alone for another month. I really began writing in early 2017. I had the idea of a girl who loses her older sister suicide. I grew up familiar with suicide and the valuable lives it takes, and after experiencing the lack of knowledge and education on indigenous issues in our country, I knew I wanted to bring light to these issues in a manner where people would listen. In a manner that would speak to people. I have always loved writing and with my newfound love of theatre, I thought this would be the perfect medium to tell this story.
After a few months working on it, I finished the first draft. It was around this time our 2017 Sears show was finishing up, and all of us were deciding what play we were going to produce the next year. All the students who wanted to be involved in the show came together and pitched some ideas. We read excerpts of various scripts, including my own, and anonymously voted on what show we wanted to be a part of. A week later, it was announced that my show was picked! I was so excited and honoured to even have my play chosen, I couldn’t imagine what was in store for us. We chose the directors and stage managers, and about two weeks later, we held auditions to cast our leads. Over the summer, I worked more on the script. As the playwright and artistic director, I began brainstorming ideas for the set, costumes, blocking, and other aspects of the show. It was also during that time that we found out that Sears would be pulling all funding from the festival since it’s closure in Canada. We were all devastated because we thought this meant no more Sears. Fortunately, over the next while, funding came through and some phenomenal sponsors stepped up to save a festival that has been running for over 70 years! It was renamed to the National Theatre School Drama Festival, which many of us are still getting used to, I admit.
We all came back to school in September ready to begin. We finished casting and worked for a few weeks on the production side of things. In October, we started with actors, rehearsing hours on end. Since we had a majority non-indigenous cast, something that was important to me from the beginning was that they understood the story they were telling. We had rehearsals where we would dedicate our time to sitting and discussing various indigenous issues, focusing mostly on suicide and intergenerational trauma. I often gave the cast “homework”, which meant a number of articles, movies, videos, and poems. I encouraged them to not only look to me for information, as I am only one person and do not represent every native person’s experience but to also make an effort to educate themselves. I explained how looking to people of colour to educate them is harmful, and not everyone has the time or mental energy to dedicate to teaching those who are unfamiliar with these problems. With this group, I let them know that their time and dedication, and willingness to learn is why I spent my time teaching them. With many ignorant voices in today’s society, it is inspiring and refreshing to see people want to understand.
After I won Miss Teenage Ontario, things really began rolling. I tried to get the word out about the show any chance I could. We all were so excited when we heard we would be on APTN National News. When it came time for it to air, we all sat down in the auditorium with the projector showing the news live. It currently has over 600 shares on Facebook, and it was such a great way to spread our message! The district competition was also quickly approaching, and seeing the show come together was such a reward for everyone’s hard work. We successfully completed our scheduled public performances, and it was time for districts. The moment the girls stepped on that stage, my breath was taken away. I can’t describe how odd and amazing it was to see the words I wrote on my cell phone on a Greyhound bus a year earlier come to fruition in front of an audience. They blew me away and received a standing ovation, I felt like a proud mom! At the awards the next night, we all held our breath as we received awards for Best Student-Written Production, Original Music, Technical Innovation, and Technical Proficiency. Finally, it came down to the two Outstanding Production awards. I held hands with Abbie, one of our leads, and to my genuine surprise, they called our show! Many of us were crying, and we were all looking forward to going returning to regionals!
Over the next weeks, we prepared for the next level of competition. We spoke a lot about the potential of moving on, and why we were doing the show. We all agreed that our sole focus was telling a story that needed to be heard, everything else came second. So when it came time for regionals, we felt ready. Of course, there were the customary pre-show nerves, especially with the pressure of provincials. We all were so passionate about the story, and we all wanted to see it be successful, not to mention it would be the first BCI show in over 30 years to make it to provincials. However, the nerves didn’t show as they all got onstage and gave it their all. The next night was awards, and I think everyone was anxious. That night, the crew earned an Award of Excellence in design for production aspects, our stage manager received the Stage Managers Award, and I received an Award of Excellence for playwrighting. Finally, the time came for what we were all waiting for. Outstanding Production. Only two shows at each regional festival have the honour of being presented with this award, and out of 11 productions, we were hoping for the best, but also knew that there were so many shows performed that week. The first show was announced, and we all cheered. It was a deserving production, and we all loved watching it. I held hands with Abbie yet again, and hearing “And She Split The Sky In Two” was a literal dream come true. We were all in total shock, and nearly all of us were in tears as we went onstage to collect our award.
There was only a week between the regional festival, and the provincial festival, so the next morning everyone was in high gear. Hotels, registration, permission forms, lists, lists, and more lists. We had two rehearsals and a fundraiser performance before we left on the 9th of May. Fortunately, everything ran fairly smooth with minimal bumps, which is a big deal if you know any of us. A week before the festival, I got an email saying that I was shortlisted for the New Play Award! I had sent in my play to the NTS Drama Festival committee for the New Play Award, which is given to a student playwright who’s show was entered into the current year’s drama festival. This year had 23 entries, and out of that, 4 scripts were shortlisted. I had also received another email, saying that I would be given an interview for the Ken & Ann Watts Memorial Foundation Scholarship awards, which are scholarships and bursaries given to students entering any form of the arts for post-secondary. It would be a nerve-wracking 4 days, but nonetheless unforgettable.
We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Cambridge for provincials. The days were filled with workshops, and the nights were spent at social activities with the other students from participating schools. Unfortunately, I caught the flu while we were there, so that was a bit of a damper on my experience, and I was not able to attend workshops. However, I still managed to attend the social events during the evenings, which included a talent show on Thursday, and a neon-themed dance on Friday! Both were organized by this year’s Miss Teenage Waterloo Region, Avery! It was so great to be able to reunite and catch up with her and, of course, chat about pageant stuff! We meant to grab a photo together, but the week was busy for the both of us and we never got a chance.
We were the last show on the first night of the festival. I was nervous, as I usually am, but everyone brought the audience to their feet. I was so so proud of everyone for bringing us this far. Prior to the show, many people were in tears, as we knew it would be our last performance. For a number of us as well, it would be our last performance of our high school careers. Everyone was crying, and there were hugs all around. I was so thankful that everyone embraced this story the way they did and brought my heart to that stage. I worked so hard not only writing the show but directing it as well. I knew everyone had worked incredibly hard and put their all in as well. They showed me that hard work pays off, and I am so inspired by everyone involved in our show.
The next few days, we watched a number of fantastic shows! There were 2 shows from each regional competition, so 12 in total for the week. To close off the festival was the awards ceremony. There were a number of different awards for not only provincial participants, but participants for the entire festival. I had had an interview for the Ken & Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship the day before, so I had my fingers crossed. There were 2 Stratford Summer Program Scholarships awarded, one of which was given to a BCI student! After that, there were 4 $1000 bursaries awarded, one of which was given to our wonderful puppet maker/puppeteer, Jessica! Who coincidentally is my roommate for university next year! I was extremely nervous as they began to announce the scholarship winners. Before I knew it, they were calling my name as a winner of one of 4 $3000 scholarships! I didn’t win the New Play Award, but it went to a show from another region which I am sure was very deserving! After those awards, the festival awards were given. The cast received an Outstanding Achievement Award, which was incredibly deserved. Last, the Mira’s were awarded, which are for individual achievement. Jessica was awarded one for puppet creation, and our show’s director and I received one together for collaboration in direction and playwrighting. Normally they are for individuals, however, the adjudicator felt that 3 of the awards belonged to two people each, and I completely agree. The other two went to two puppeteers from The Twoman by Grimsby Secondary School, and to the playwrights of Play Rights by Loretto College School.
I can’t thank this festival enough for everything it has given me. This has been such a great way to end my four years of the Sears Drama Festival, now NTS Drama Festival. Having this opportunity to tell not only my story, but the story of those around me has been such an honour. It’s because of this festival I am able to do the things I am doing, and I couldn’t imagine life without it. Theatre has taught me so many lessons and I’ll hold these memories close for the rest of my life.
Til Next Time