71-year old youth theatre festival in jeopardy after Sears Canada ends funding – Business

Cash-strapped Sears Canada has pulled funding for an annual theatre festival that involves thousands of high school students in Ontario, B.C. and the Atlantic provinces. 

Known as the Sears Drama Festival, the program’s alumni include famous actors Keanu Reeves, Rachel McAdams and R.H. Thomson. 

News about the funding loss has sparked an outpouring of emotion on social media from many former students who worry about the festival’s future. 

Kevin Hanchard, left, was Det. Art Bell on the sci-fi series Orphan Black. (Space)

“My heart is broken,” tweeted Toronto actor Kevin Hanchard, who starred in the TV series Orphan Black.

He told CBC News that he participated in the festival when he was a student in the early 1990s. He excelled, winning an outstanding performance award which included a $3,000 university scholarship to study theatre.

Hanchard says the experience inspired him to pursue an acting career.

“There was no doubt once the Sears Festival said, ‘You’ve got something special and go for it,'” he says.

“It’s a wonderful experience. For that to be potentially lost, for me, is a tragedy.”

The Sears Drama Festival began in 1946 in Ontario. It spawned a sister program in B.C. in 2005 and in the Atlantic provinces in 2011.

Every year, more than 12,000 high school students perform plays at regional festivals, learn about the performing arts and compete for awards including post-secondary scholarships.

Sears Canada and its predecessor, Simpsons-Sears, sponsored the festival for decades. In December, Sears Canada sent a memo to participants stating, “I welcome you…

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