Triumph at U of T Drama Fest

The U of T Drama Festival brought together a variety of drama groups for four nights of theatre written, directed, produced, and performed by students earlier this month at Hart House Theatre. With three different plays competing, the UTM Drama Club, which brought together students from the joint Sheridan-UTM theatre and drama studies program, was a strong presence at the festival, claiming many of the awards at the ceremony on the final night of the festival.

This year’s festival brought together 11 original plays by the UTM Drama Club, New Faces, St. Michael’s Art Commission, UC Follies, Hart House Players, Trinity College Drama Society, and Victoria College Drama Society. Each night was overseen by adjudicator Derek Boyes. Boyes serves as an associate artist of the Soulpepper Theatre and has appeared in productions of You Can’t Take it With You, The Crucible, Our Town, Hamlet, King Lear, and many more. Boyes conducted a public adjudication after the performances of each night. He celebrated the strong points of each play and offered critiques to the performers, writers, directors, and technical crew to help them improve their production.

On the final night of the festival, Boyes chose each of the winners for the five main awards, and gave out five of his own awards of merit. The audience choice awards (selected each night through a ballot vote) were also awarded at the ceremony.

“We desperately need these voices […] to keep the art of theatre alive in Canada,” said Boyes of the festival’s importance. He also complimented all of the participants for their work, adding that “the future looks bright”.

Though Boyes emphasized that achievement isn’t marked through awards alone and wished he had more to hand out, the UTM Drama Club’s three competing productions received many of the ones he did hand out.

Marianne, Are You Asleep? was the big winner of the festival, taking home both the President’s Award for Best Production and the Hart House Theatre Award for Best Performance. The play, written by Nicholas Potter, told the story of a woman seeking a connection with her deceased mother. The performance award was given to the play’s ensemble cast, which included Karyn McGibbon, Ben Hayward, Megan Janssen, Lauren Vesterdal, and Carolyn Nettleton. Boyes also presented an award of merit to director Jaime Hernandez Lujan. The crew  included Amanda Piron, Angelica Appelman, and Spencer Bennett.

Another UTM Drama Club entry, Bruised Porcelain, took home the Robert Gill Award for Best Direction. Director Eilish Waller balanced two actresses who portrayed different facets of the same character and often appeared on stage at the same time. The play, written by Kaitlyn Alexander, was a sombre and emotional look at a young woman suffering from leukemia. The young woman, Macy, was portrayed by both Rachelle Goebel and Colette Fitzgerald. The cast was rounded out by Chelsea Riesz, Brittany Miranda, Hannah Ehman, and Marryl Smith. Like many of the UTM Drama Club’s entries in the festival, this all-female cast was made up solely of first- and second-year drama students.

UTM Drama Club’s third submission, The Gully, closed the competition and won the audience choice award for Saturday night’s performances. With virtually no props or set decoration, the two actors (Hannah Vanden Boomen and Cameron Grant) had little to hide behind. Both of them delivered bold, captivating performances that received an award of merit from Boyes. The simple story of a young girl named Penny who befriends an old man may not sound particularly innovative, but Sara Peters’ script offered the actors plenty of rich material to work with. Watching the man help Penny learn multiplication and slowly reveal his tragic background felt authentic and captivating. This intricate character development made the plot turns of The Gully feel completely earned and all the more effective.

Many of the other participating groups also offered compelling and creative productions. The St. Michael’s Art Commission had the audience laughing out loud with their breezy, sharp comedy It Could Be Worse. The play centred around a man who becomes convinced that he’s dying after receiving an ambiguous comment at a doctor’s appointment. No doubt partly due to lead actor Steven Lyons’ natural comedic skill and offbeat charisma, It Could Be Worse took home the audience choice award for the first night of the festival.

Though very different in tone, New Faces also offered a memorable production on Wednesday night with their intimate post-apocalyptic drama, Earth: A Survivor’s Guide to All Things Natural. Revolving around two siblings wandering a barren landscape, the play often recalled Waiting for Godot in theme and scope and was certainly one of the most unconventional productions of the festival. At the awards ceremony, Boyes commented that he hadn’t been able to get the play out of his mind after reading all of the  scripts prior to the festival. He awarded the playwright, Christian Glas, the Robertson Davies Playwriting Award.

Boyes’ enthusiasm for the creativity was palpable, and the audience was supportive and cheered on these burgeoning theatre artists. The U of T Drama Festival is an annual event, and judging by the success of this round of plays, next year’s festival will be one not to miss.

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