Keith Barker

Artistic Director Native Earth Performing Arts
2019 NTS DRAMAFEST Ontario Showcase Adjudicator

''I grew up in Northwestern Ontario. Hockey was the standard, and high school football was the measure of a man. The Arts was relegated to a classroom with no discernible real life application. All that changed when I went to the Sears Drama Festival. I went from thinking I would be a transport driver my whole life to discovering I wanted to be an actor. It was the beginning of my education in the arts, one that continues to this day. I owe my professional arts career to the Sears Drama Festival and my first drama teacher, Gail Sajo.''

Kanika Ambrose

Festival Alum

"The Sears Drama Festival (now the National Theatre School DRAMAFEST) gave me experience, community and confidence. Although I didn't go to an arts specific high school, my drama teachers are two of the most conscious and powerful women I have ever met. They empowered us to tell our stories our way; to stand together and speak our truth as young women through our art. Sears Drama Festival gave us the platform to tell our stories and to have them heard, recognized, awarded.  We received numerous awards, went to provincial showcase each year, were invited to present our work at SummerWorks Festival twice, and I was awarded the Ken and Ann Watts Scholarship in my graduating year. Sears helped make my first experiences in the arts community positive ones, helped me see that there was space for my stories, and that they were of value. The values that I developed during these formative years still, very much, inform my practice to this day."

Polly Phokeev

Toronto-based actor, playwright, and theatre-maker

"I had the privilege of participating in the Sears Drama Festival twice in my high school years, both tremendous experiences of productions crafted through the hard work and collaboration of peers. It was uniquely wonderful to have this opportunity to develop work independent from teachers' artistic input, to be adjudicated seriously, to be treated as professional artists while also supported by a school and festival framework. In grade 12 I played Sonya in a student-led production of Hannah Moscovitch's The Russian Play. The artistic choices our team made were bold, risky, terrifying to our parents. We went on to present the work through all the stages of the then-Sears Festival, culminating in Provincials in Kingston that year with a number of awards. At the time it was a totally delightful ego-boost, but over the years I have often looked back at that process, the journey of rehearsing and self-organizing and figuring out the team's collaboration techniques, material needs (read: set pieces, props, costumes) and collectively honing our artistic choices, as the genesis of how I strive to work today: listening, offering, risking, making scary choices. I am excited to see how the National Theatre School DRAMAFEST will continue to grow."

Bilal Baig

Festival Alumni

"Pursuing theatre as a career was never an option for me. I had never even considered it until grade 11, when my high school drama teacher, Wendie Gibbons, planted the seed in my mind after working quite intensely with me on my first play. That play ended up winning the Wayne Fairhead New Play Award at what was then known as the Sears Drama Festival. I know it may seem trivial, but the cash prize attached to the award and the subsequent validation of my artistic voice made theatre as a career viable for me - at the age of 17. That was the diving-in-heart-first point for me, which was so pivotal, as I've never really looked back."

Carmelo Iachelli

NTS DRAMAFEST District coordinator
Teacher, WestdaleSecondary School
Festival participant for the last 35 years.

"This drama festival has had a profound influence on my life, both as a student participant and educator. I have seen, first-hand, the positive impact on countless student participants. Therefore, when the National Theatre School stepped up to form a partnership with the festival I was both relieved and extremely grateful that this opportunity would continue."

Evan Weber

Theatre/ Performance Artist 
2019 Co Adjudicator for York District

"The festival was among my first contacts with professional artists, but it was the first time I received feedback as an artist myself: critical, generous, supportive feedback. The structure of the festival–the people, the work, the logistics–maintained the complex relations between competition and community, mentorship and not-giving-a-shit, that characterize living far more accurately and meaningfully than anything else I could have done with time in high school. The festival is pretty deep education. Everything changes your life, but not everything lets you know."

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