My Academy's Us and Them debuted Saturday, April 14, at the Stratford Festival Studio Theatre. My Academy is a partnership between the
Avon Maitland District School Board and Stratford Festival. It provided seventeen students from grades 7 to 12, from Stratford Central SS, Stratford Northwestern SS and South Huron District HS in Exeter, the opportunity to work with talented Festival artisans under the direction of the Festival's Edward Daranyi.
The three-month commitment provided students the ability to experience many aspects of the stage. Daranyi said, "It has been my pleasure to work with students, to watch them grow as artists, discover new talents and interests, and to see them gain confidence." Central student, Brent Sylvester participated in the first My Academy two years ago in grade 8. He wanted the role of stage manager and Daranyi and his staff helped Sylvester learn the tools required. Currently in grade 10, Sylvester assumed the role of stage manager for Us and Them, a cautionary tale written by David Campton and adapted with input from the students. Sylvester said, "These productions have brought a lot of opportunity into my life and allowed me to have a passion for theatre and stage managing." He plans to pursue post-secondary education in stage management and he will be highly recommended by Daranyi, who praised Sylvester's professional work.
Participants spoke to the audience after their performance about the conflict in the play, the result of two factions confronted with each other and the common territory desired by both. Students believed there were lessons to be learned about judging others, and the suspicion and groupthink that influences people to act differently than they might as individuals.
Superintendent Jodie Baker expressed her gratitude to Daranyi and teacher Paul Finkelstein for their commitment and the work to organize the program. While My Academy was open to students in all Avon Maitland schools, only 22 made the significant commitment, which included many rehearsals and production work. A couple of students withdrew along the way, but most students committed to the end, and were able to participate in costume selection, set design, lighting, and script writing. Baker stated, "Director Walsh and the senior team feel strongly about supporting students with a range of engaging experiential opportunities. We are fortunate to have amazing theatres within our district and it is our goal to collaborate with these theatre companies to promote student opportunities in the arts. Our thanks are extended to the Festival staff and artisans who willingly shared their talent with our students."
My Academy 2018 participants included South Huron's Rebekah Pfaff, Stratford Northwestern's Natalie Costa-Stokman, Kendall Lemire, Anthony Millar, Ciara Peicheff Kirkwood, Alison Doupe, Carmondy Gidge, and Sierra Pitts, and Stratford Central's Jonah Gribble, Drew Johnson, Brooke Tessmer, Raidyn Brodhagen, Ian Elliot, Felix Kropf-Untucht, Felicity Sibold, Jac Veenstra and Brent Sylvester.