New program brings poetry and stage into students' homes

If life gives you lemons, so they say, make lemonade. (Or, if preferred, lemon meringue pie.)

The Saskatchewan Drama Association (SDA) and the Saskatchewan Music Festival Association (SMFA) came up with "a tasty pie" this past year, in response to having to cancel festivals across the province due to the pandemic. “We didn’t switch to an e­program,” says Darlene Briere, executive director, SDA, “rather this was a brand new program.”

Last April, as the pandemic was taking hold in Saskatchewan, SDA approached the music festival group asking if it would be interested in partnering in a new e­program to provide students with a learning experience in drama. Carol Donhauser, executive director, SMFA, and her drama counterpart Darlene Briere “had discussed partnering in the past and this was the perfect opportunity to initiate it,” Briere recalls.

Both organizations are festival veterans and were feeling frustrated at the prospect of a year without any events.

The music festival people had experience with poetry, storytelling, and dramatic presentations, making for a good fit with the drama group, so both organizers felt “sure we could partner and devise a program,” Briere explains. It was also their intention to give e­programs a try to work out some of the ‘bugs’ of providing e­programs.

As Briere tells it, “We quickly put together a plan and a budget for the program, launched it, and really hoped for the best, as there wasn’t much time left until the end of the school year.” The virtual festival was held in June, with 20 students from all age groups, “and we learned a lot about programming.”

A second festival, planned for early 2021, didn’t have as good of a response this time around, and will be offered again later in the school year. “We are still testing the water with regards to when to offer the program and what the value of the program is for our members,” Briere says.

Among the many objectives of the e­festivals is the desire to build awareness of various forms of stage and poetic arts, enhancing acting and speaking skills, and developing confidence.

Donhauser notes that “the fear of public speaking has long been understood as the number one phobia among individuals across society, which can make it difficult for even the most skilled, talented, and innovative individuals to express themselves before an audience.”

Speech arts and spoken word studies “help students to channel and control that fear and give them the confidence that will make them stand out among academic, personal, and professional settings.”

So the spoken word festival was a natural.

Throughout the pandemic, the SDA has produced, and continues to produce, webinars that address various topics, including virtual theatre and playwriting. While many programs designed for young people have been put on hold due to the disruption in schools caused by COVID­19, SDA continues to provide library service and virtual workshops.

The SMFA, one of the oldest cultural organizations in Saskatchewan, has been in the forefront of musical development in the province for over 100 years. The pandemic, of course, has had a huge impact on its activities. In addition to the spoken word festival, its centrepiece Shurniak Concerto Competition has gone online, via YouTube.

The Saskatchewan Drama Association and the Saskatchewan Music Festival Association receive Annual Global Funding from Sask Lotteries.

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