Tuesday, May 28, 2024
May 28, 2024

Registration open for new youth theatre festival

Christie Roome was a 17 year old who loved writing and theatre when she had a life-changing experience as a participant in an Alberta Theatre Projects playwriting festival in Calgary.

“It was the most amazing thing I had ever done in my life,” she said in a conversation with the Driftwood last week.

Roome imagines the script she wrote at the time was “horrible.” She remembers thinking, “’Oh, that didn’t work the way I thought it would.’ But that’s great, too . . . The adults around me took me seriously. They called me a playwright, and I was 17 years old. For me, the whole experience was just so incredibly empowering.”

Roome is a local author, creator and activist who recently charmed audiences in the role of nerdy scientist Candy Reeves in Dogs in the Moonlight at ArtSpring. She has teamed up with Christina Penhale of exitStageLeft Productions, in partnership with Graffiti Theatre and ArtSpring, to bring an opportunity like the one she had to youth aged 13 to 18 this summer. The Salt Spring Youth New Creatives (SSYNC) Festival runs Aug. 14-19 at ArtSpring, supported by a generous Salt Spring Island Foundation (SSIF) grant.

The SSYNC festival will showcase original plays and provide a mentorship opportunity for young writers and actors to create and receive feedback from professional playwrights, dramaturges, actors and directors in a workshop environment. Students will develop writing skills, build confidence, learn the elements of writing plays and character development, and explore topics, themes and issues that are important to them. At the end of the week-long experience, a showcase will occur at ArtSpring, where youth actors will bring the playwrights’ words to life in a public performance. Roome and Penhale stress that full plays will not be produced.

The festival is open to students who live on Salt Spring and beyond.

Penhale and Roome are thrilled with the mentors who have come on board for the week and the plan that has emerged.

Celebrated playwright and author Natalie Meisner will mentor the writers with support from Roome, while accomplished actor, director, teacher, clown and storyteller Jeffrey Renn will mentor the actors alongside Penhale. Karen Lee White, a prolific Indigenous author and playwright from Vancouver Island, will lead a workshop in Indigenous theatre.

Feedback from the mentors on the syllabus created by Roome and Penhale has been great so far.

“We’re working with all of them to expand the syllabus and ensure that what we’ve included is also what they’re really passionate about teaching as well,” said Penhale.

“I feel so incredibly grateful and honoured to be working with all of the people that I’m working with to bring this to fruition,” said Roome. “I actually, truthfully, honestly almost don’t believe it’s happening. I feel it’s a bit of a dream.”

The festival’s timing is significant, the organizers note, with young people severely impacted by the isolation that resulted from the COVID pandemic and social restrictions, and the loss of access to performing arts programs and collaborative creative work.

Youth interested in festival participation can access the registration link on the artspring.ca website. Eight playwrights and 16 actors can be accommodated. Organizers hope to fill those spots by June 30.

Participants don’t need to provide writing samples in order to participate. The application form is more of a “getting to know you” exercise, said Roome.

“There’s not really an application process, like with other programs, where you have to apply and get vetted,” added Penhale. “For this first year we wanted to make it accessible and not scary while we try to build a foundation for this to go forward.”

The festival aims to demystify the playwriting process.

“Anybody can do this if they have an idea that they want to explore . . . It’s really more about the creative exploration of ideas in the form of theatre,” said Penhale.

“We want it to be fun and accessible, and a really open, welcoming place where the youth can come and try something new that they may not have tried, or something that they thought ‘Oh, that may be interesting,’ but they haven’t had a space to do that in yet.”

Also on the topic of accessibility, Roome said they are grateful the SSIF grant has made the festival possible and kept the registration fee at a low $200. (A handful of bursaries are also available.)

Some funds are still needed to support the Indigenous component of the event. Anyone interested in contributing to that initiative can contact Roome or Penhale at ssyncfestival@gmail.com.

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