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Life & death and everything in between

If life is what you make it, shouldn’t that be true of the other side of the coin? Even if death is what you make it doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way?

Really, who wants to dwell on that subject? Students in the drama department at Elmira District Secondary School, apparently.

Death, specifically how we come to terms with it once we’re there, is the focal point of Dreaming of Life, the school’s entry into the Sears Drama Festival. Written by department head DJ Carroll as a collaborative effort with his students, the one-act play will be performed for a preview audience next week.

A dozen or so spirits/souls/call-them-what-you-wills find themselves in purgatory, waiting to see who’ll go on and who’ll go back for another crack at life on Earth.

“It’s about these people coming to terms with death,” said Carroll. “The point is that people will see there are many interpretations of death.”

Three of the 15 cast members play Death: one is a kindly figure, the second is pragmatic – it is what it is – and the third is a cold Death. That reflects some of the varied cultural takes on dying, said Carroll, noting some people mourn, some celebrate and others simply accept it as a part of life.

The story evolved from the students themselves as Carroll began discussing preparations for the annual Sears Drama competition. Rather than going with a classic play or other commercial script, the students opted to go with something home-grown, as has been the case in the past. A brainstorming exercise laid the foundation for the script put together by the teacher.

“I let them decide what kind of show we would do. They were very excited by the idea, and got right into the process,” he explained. “We brainstormed ideas, and had probably 30 of them on the board … including the topic of death and how people deal with it.”

THE GREAT HEREAFTER EDSS students will be tackling the subject of death for this year’s entry in the Sears Drama Festival. The cast includes Nathan Jagger (back left), Candace Kuepfer, Tyler Kehl, Kristen Kaster, Brett Schinkman, Caleb Fahey, Ben Lubberts, Sonya Bauman and Sam Lanesmith.

Obviously, they wanted to tackle a fairly serious subject. And that’s the case with their characters dealing with death and the transition from life to what comes after. Accordingly, the centerpiece of the staging is a giant tree, drawing on the tree-of-life analogy and the tree as symbol of growth and change.

“The students are really getting into character with the play. It’s really coming together.”

Dreaming of Life will be performed for the Sears Drama Festival judges Mar. 1 at Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener. Carroll expects some steep competition – “practically every high school in the region will be there” – from the 17 entrants that will be staging productions through the week.

Prior to that, there’ll be one public performance next Saturday, a chance to stage the show for a local audience.

The show for the judges is the first of three levels in the Sears Drama Festival. The district competition will be followed by regional contests and then the provincial showcase to be held at the University of Toronto in May.

Now in its 65th year, the drama festival involves some 10,000 students and teachers from more than 300 secondary schools. What started as a small Toronto drama presentation in 1946 has evolved into one of the largest student festivals in the world.

At this point, however, it’s one hurdle at a time for the EDSS entry.

The drama department’s production of Dreaming of Life will be staged Feb. 26 in the high school gym.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8, but just $5 for students and seniors. Due to the mature theme, the play is not recommended for very young children.

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