Mike Panian, left, teaches a group of students the art of stage fighting during the 17th annual Goodwill Shakespeare Festival Thursday. The festival draws more than 350 high school drama students from all over B.C. to attend three days of workshops with theatre, film and TV industry professionals. (Parker Crook/Morning Star)

Students recreate Shakespearian legends

The stage is quiet, occupied only by the Prince of Denmark, his hand bearing the weight of a skull

Parker Crook

Morning Star Staff

The stage is quiet, occupied only by the Prince of Denmark. He reaches out, his palm reaching to the sky while holding a human skull. He stares deep into its eyes.

“To be, or not to be. That is the question.”

The 17th annual Goodwill Shakespeare festival rolled through town last week, drawing in 320 students from 18 schools across B.C. to attend three days of industry-professional led workshops centred around theatre, film and TV. This year marks the festival’s first time in Vernon.

“The festival wasn’t sustainable in Summerland anymore, so we decided we wanted to take it here and keep it alive,” said Goodwill Shakespeare coordinator and Seaton Secondary drama teacher Lana O’Brien.

“I think we did a reasonably good job of transitioning here. We will continue to grow and adapt to Vernon.”

Now the largest multi-disciplinary student festival in Western Canada, the Goodwill Shakespeare festival was started 17 years ago by Summerland instructors Linda Beaven, Sandra Richardson, and Mike Robinson to provide previously unavailable opportunities to drama students.

“We discussed the fact that science (students) had science fairs, but there really wasn’t anything for us,” said Beaven.

“We said, ‘If we call it a Shakespeare festival, only the kids who are really keen on drama will come.”

The festival gives drama kids, who were sometimes thought of as those who don’t fit in, an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded individuals, said O’Brien.

The festival started off with only four schools and about 90 students. Last year, in 2016, the festival brought in 450 students from all across the province.

“As it’s grown, I become more and more convinced that it’s really important for kids, particularly those in the Interior,” said Beaven.

It gives students who wouldn’t normally leave Vernon the chance to connect with people from other walks of life, added O’Brien.

And it gives those who are interested in pursuing the arts as a career the chance to meet industry professionals.

“We begin and end each day at the Performing Arts Centre, and the students breakout to workshops in five different venues around town,” said O’Brien.

The festival is separated into two different strands: a general drama strand, comprised of a rotation of nine workshops in acting, vocals, art, writing, and make-up; and an intensive strand with one instructor in their choice field, and a showcase of their achievements at the end of Festival gala Saturday, where each group presented a 20 minute bit from Shakespeare that they had only three days to prepare.

The general strand is for those who are in it for the fun, said Beaven.

“(The intensive is) if they figured out they’re going to be artists.”

Although the festival just had its first year at the Performing Arts Centre, both Beaven and O’Brien are happy with the new venue.

“The nice thing about the Performing Arts Centre is we have more stands than delegates,” said O’Brien.

“In Summerland, only the students got to see. Now we can show off the amazing things they’re creating.”

And the students relish the opportunity.

“It’s really a big draw for students,” said O’Brien. “They love it. It’s the highlight of the year.”

Beaven agrees, adding that for some students, the festival is a lifeline.

It’s an expensive endeavour though, O’Brien said, citing the roughly $35,000 required to operate, all paid for by the students.

In Summerland, the Rotary club was a primary sponsor for the event, but by moving to Vernon they lost their Summerland sponsors, said O’Brien.

“What we really need are sponsors.”

The 17th annual Goodwill Shakespeare Festival took place from April 6-8. For more information or to contact the organizers, visit www.goodwillshakespeare.ca.

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