Last year, the festival had its Vernon debut. This year, it’s bigger and better than ever.
The 18th annual Goodwill Shakespeare festival kicked off at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre Monday, drawing in more than 360 students from 20 schools across the Interior for professional workshops centred around theatre, film and TV.
“I think the magic of this festival is some of the kids only see each other once every year and look forward to making new friends every year,” said festival coordinator and Seaton Secondary drama instructor Lana O’Brien.
Now in it’s second year in Vernon, O’Brien and fellow organizer and Summerland drama instructor Linda Beaven said Vernon is the perfect town for the festival to flourish.
Beaven originally kickstarted the festival in 1999 in Summerland alongside fellow instructors Sandra Richardson and Mike Robinson to provide a hands-on program for Interior students interested in pursuing a career in the arts.
“I think in their own schools, art students tend to be outsiders,” Beaven said. “Here they think, ‘Other kids are just like me.'”
“There’s a fellowship. They kind of already all speak the same language,” O’Brien said. “There’s an understanding of how you work in a theatre.”
Unlike in the Lower Mainland, Beaven said, students in the Interior don’t have the same access to careers in the arts. To mitigate that shortfall, the Goodwill Shakespeare festival brings in industry professionals to teach the students the ropes. And, in that aspect, Beaven said the festival excels.
“It’s not just sitting at your desk. I think, at the end of it, they think, ‘I can do that,'” Beaven said.
“It kind of opens the world to them. That’s why this was started,” O’Brien added. “This is a way of bringing it to our rural kids. Any education in the arts is critical for the development of young humans.”
Students value the opportunity so much that they start banging on their doors as early as September, they said.
In addition to a growing crowd, this year’s festivities also offer two new intensives: photography and tech.
“We also put out opportunities for kids who don’t enjoy the performance aspect of theatre,” O’Brien said.
Separated into two groups – the drama groups and intensive groups — students in the drama strand rotate through a sampling of workshops in a variety of fields. Intensive students focus on workshops surrounding one specific sector and must have attended two previous festivals and/or have a strong interest in their chosen field.
“There’s just something magical about getting these art students together in one place,” O’Brien said.
After relocating from Summerland, the festival lost its primary sponsor and is searching for community support. O’Brien has started a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $10,000.
“It’s a very expensive endeavour,” O’Brien said. “We’d love to help keep the festival growing.”
Eight schools showcased performances from their schools Monday and Tuesday evening from 5-7 p.m., and on Wednesday from 1-3:30 p.m., the acting, choral, writing and photography students will be showcasing the work they have done over the three days of the festival at the Gala.
All of these performances are open to the public by donation, at the Performing Arts Centre, with donations going toward future festivals.