History of the Festival of High School Musicals and Dramas

In the early fall of 2008, Past BMFA Chair Paul Channen (now deceased) and Steven Fielder (past Executive Director) were enjoying a beverage and discussing how they could expand the projects of the Association. In Steven’s high school days, he was in the pit band for his school’s production of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man — it was one of the highlights of the year! When Steven floated the idea of holding a Festival of High School Musicals, Paul was immediately receptive and the seed was planted. In a very short time the plan came together, and Paul had the project up and running.

At about the same time, Peggy Gemmell (past Administrative Assistant) happened on the scene with some great ideas for fundraising. When she told Steven that some support might be available for the Association from the Retired Teachers of Ontario, the penny dropped—what a perfect fit for the High School Musicals project!

RTO District 17 (Simcoe County) were on board in no time, and they took a chance in funding this new idea. They are the reason that this programme came alive. Without their help, it would have been just another idea joining the peanut shells on Moose Winooski’s floor!

The plan was coming together, but there was still a major hurdle — who was going to adjudicate the competition? Steven Thomas (Past Artistic Director of Theatre Collingwood) was contacted, and he immediately agreed to be the Adjudicator. The Adjudicator attends a performance from each registered school, provides a full written adjudication, plus positive and constructive feedback immediately following the performance. At the end, the Adjudicator compiles a list of Awards, which are handed out at our Final Awards Gala.

Steven Thomas’ support of the project has been invaluable. His adjudications are always interesting to read, and he has provided the twenty schools who have now participated to date with generous helpings of his many years of experience in live theatre. An especially important contribution has been his positive reinforcement and friendly advice immediately following the performances. He gives everyone involved excellent tips to be used in the coming performances, and instills a great confidence in what they are doing. Many of the schools take advantage of a full workshop with Mr. Thomas, which expands their learning in many areas.

In 2010, this Festival was expanded to include the Festival of High School Dramas, with four schools participating. These Festivals now run together under one banner, with the overall winning production being announced at our Final Gala.

And last but not least, there are highly dedicated teams of Directors of the musicals & dramas, teachers and staff at the schools who volunteer so much of their time and energy so that these young people can experience a whole new world of public performance. The students might not realize for years how much they learn from participating, or even what they’ve learned, but someday they will, and down the road they will be the supporters of the Arts in their communities. And for sure their fellow cast members will be friends for life!

The Festival of High School Musicals and Dramas is now entering its 7th year and we look forward to seeing what the students and teachers have to offer us all!