District arts festival set to go

Ken Kellar

With March coming to a close, the Rainy River District Festival of the Performing Arts is getting ready to take the stage.
The Festival is set to begin its 79th year this Monday (April 1), with chair Cynthia Donald noting registration numbers are staying on track with previous years.
“Our French has gone up a bit, the instrumental has gone down a bit,” she remarked.
“It fluctuates every year,” she added. “I think it’s sort of up and down so it’s pretty close to last year.”
Registrants were able to choose the categories they wished to perform in, with Donald saying this year included a few options that had been absent for some time.
“It’s mostly in the Anishinaabemowin category,” she noted. “We’ve had it before but now we have an actual section with their own division.
Donald said the Anishinaabemowin categories only are being offered through school groups at this point but hopes to expand the offerings for the future.
“Next year, we’re hoping to get it out there so if someone’s interested in encouraging their son or daughter to go in, they can,” she remarked.
Participants aren’t limited to the instruments or categories that have gone before. Donald said part of organizing the Festival is searching out new performing arts to include.
“We keep saying, ‘Somebody do a rap or do a rant,'” Donald noted, the latter referring to Rick Mercer and his popular segments from “The Mercer Report” on CBC.
“If you want to invent a performing arts category, we’re good for it.”
But Donald did note the Festival isn’t able to accommodate dance as a category at this time, although it has been included in the past.
“It’s just too hard,” she said.
With the inclusion of new categories like Anishinaabemowin comes the addition of new awards to celebrate participants’ achievements–even if the Festival committee still is ironing out the final details.
“We’re working that out just because we’re not sure with the categories, who’s in it, and sponsorship, too,” she explained, adding the cost of engraving trophies and plaques can run around $4000.
“We try to parallel some of the other ones, like beginner or best stage presence, with the possible advice of the adjudicator,” Donald said.
As noted, the Festival gets underway this Monday (April 1) at 9 a.m. with the piano division at the Townshend Theatre and will run throughout most of the month at various locations.
“We have some at the Townshend Theatre [and] Knox United Church,” Donald noted. “And this year, the French [division] will take place at St. Michael’s.”
The Piano Festival runs April 1-4, followed by the Vocal Festival (April 8-10), the Drama & Speech Arts (French) Festival (April 11), the Drama & Speech Arts (English) Festival (April 15-16), and the Drama & Speech Arts (Anishinaabemowin) Festival (April 18).
It will conclude with the Instrumental Festival on April 25.
The annual highlights concert then is planned for Tuesday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Townshend Theatre.
As in past years, it will feature a selection of the top entrants from the different categories perform their pieces.
Donald noted that with the rising cost of busing in the district, an executive decision is made to try to hold the school events at the school with the most entrants in an attempt to save some money.
The lifeblood of community events like the Festival, meanwhile, are the volunteers who donate their time to helping out. Donald said for an event of this size, it really does take an army.
“It takes a lot of people,” she stressed.
“If you look at the program or the website, there’s “Helping Hands” and those are the volunteers that might do two hours, might do 20 hours, so they help the adjudicators, sit at the door, announce,” Donald noted.
“There’s probably about a hundred helping hands.”
For those who may not have the time to volunteer, but still wish to help the Festival in some way, Donald said there are plenty of trophies and plaques to sponsor.
“We have some generous people who have been donating $50 for 25-30 years,” she noted.
“If you have somebody you would like an ‘In Memory Of,’ we would love to hear from you.”
Donald also is asking any winners from last year to drop off their trophies and plaques at the Safeway pharmacy.
Although registration has closed for this year’s Festival, Donald said she is hoping the future will see more adults sign up to perform as that number has dropped.
“There used to be a lot more adult entertainers,” she noted.
“I keep teasing the Festival committee that we’re going to grab an instrument soon and do a number,” Donald added.
“We’d welcome some adult entertainers. It would be nice for the kids to see.”
The Festival once again is shaping up to be another exciting year for organizers and participants alike. Donald extended her thanks to the local performers, teachers, and organizers who help to make each year so worthwhile.
She also noted the Festival is open to ideas from the community on how to celebrate its 80th year in 2020.
“If anyone has any suggestions on how to celebrate it, we don’t need a make-work project but that would be wonderful,” Donald enthused.

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