After a successful run at the district Sears Ontario Drama Festival, Elmira students will be taking their production to the big stage at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener.

Elmira District Secondary School drama teacher DJ Carroll explains their performance of The Chasm earlier this month at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School was so well-received that they’ll be putting it on for the public later this spring.

The Chasm was written by Alan Haehnel, who is a playwright, as well as a high school teacher, actor and director in New Hampshire.

“Originally it was a Viking-era story and it was based on a tribe from a village that was wiped out by an evil king with his army and the story’s about the survivors of that village,” Carroll explained.

As they’re fleeing this evil king, they arrive at a chasm and they realize only the young and fit are going to be able to make it across. This means they’re going to have to leave the old and sick behind. So they’re left with this choice of do they leave the old and sick behind, all stay together and die, or all try to go across the chasm.

“It’s a very powerful story that’s reflecting a lot of the stuff that’s going on in the world today. And what we did is we actually modernized it, made it very relevant to what we’re seeing happening in Europe and the Middle East,” Carroll said.

They started working on the play in December. The cast and crew is made of 28 students. They’ll also perform the show for the school during Arts Week, which runs Apr. 18-20.

While they weren’t selected to move on to the next round of the drama festival, he says the judges were impressed and the school came away with three awards.

Erin Shoemaker won an acting award. The cast and crew won an award of excellence for their ensemble work, as well as the spirit of the festival award.

“And because the story is so powerful and people have been talking about it, we are working on being able to mount it at The Registry Theatre in Kitchener. Right now we’re just negotiating a date, which will either be at the end of April or in May sometime. And that means the kids are going to be performing it there and putting it on for the public, but also we’re inviting a bunch of delegates out to see it as well,” Carroll said.

EDSS drama students came away with three awards from the district Sears Ontario Drama Festival earlier this month. They hope to put the play, The Chasm, on at The Registry Theatre. Some of the students stopped for a photo before March Break. From left, Krista Quinn, Garret Tracy, Autumn Rose Fielding, Brevin Leis, Megan Kurtz, Jared Wallace, Nolan Cortez and Aidan Michenfelder. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Sam Varteniuk, The Registry Theatre’s general manager, says he’s presented high school drama groups at The Registry in the past, such as Resurrection Catholic Secondary School and Eastwood Collegiate Institute, and is still interested in continuing that.

“Obviously there is a lot of great energy around high school productions. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more enthusiastic and appreciative crowd and that really is the fuel that runs our engines here at The Registry,” Varteniuk said.

It also happens to coincide nicely with their mission to encourage and support the development of the arts in Waterloo Region.

“I have a lot of friends that went through the Elmira system. I know they have a fantastic drama program. I’ve heard great things about Gord Davis, who was a drama teacher there for years, and I know DJ Carroll is really continuing that tradition,” Varteniuk said.

The spirit of the festival award that EDSS won is based on a few factors. First, they look to see which schools have students coming out every night to see the other schools’ plays. Carroll says the Elmira students spent a lot of evenings at the festival from Feb. 27 to Mar. 4. Second, they notice which students are the most helpful during the festival.

“Our guys were always helping out, involved, lending a hand wherever it was needed. And then they look at the positive attitude that the cast and crew have during the show, but also during the workshop day. So we kind of blew everybody away,” Carroll said.

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