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Sears cancels funding for 71-year-old drama festival

Last Updated Jan 23, 2019 at 7:36 pm EDT

The future of the long-running Sears Drama Festival is in flux after title sponsor Sears Canada confirmed it’s pulling funding.

“We informed the organizing team of our decision at the end of June so that the schools and teachers could be informed in a timely fashion,” the ailing retailer said in a statement.

“The festival is considered an after-school program, not a direct impact on drama education being able to continue in schools.”

Founded in 1946, the festival has grown into an annual event in Ontario, B.C. and the Atlantic provinces, where thousands of students and their teachers create theatre. Awards include scholarship money for students attending performance arts schools, and many grads have gone on to pursue careers in acting.

Keanu Reeves and Rachel McAdams are among the program’s most famous alumni.

Now, organizers say it’s uncertain what will become of the festival, and the theatre community is devastated.

“I feel that if we lose this festival, kids lose this incredible opportunity — It’s that important to them,” said executive director Wayne Fairhead.

Sears Canada has been under court protection since June 22, and plans to close 59 locations and cut about 2,900 positions. Under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), it’s looking for a buyer or investor while negotiating with lenders, landlords and other creditors.

“Funding sponsorships is, unfortunately, not something that we can consider while under operating under CCAA protection,” the company said.

“Cash constraints at Sears Canada have resulted in challenges for a number of valued stakeholders. The company previously announced it is not able to make payments it would normally make under these circumstances.

“We hope the festival itself can continue at some future time with alternative support.”

Related stories:

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Former Sears employee calls losing severance ‘a slap in the face’

Sears Canada to seek court approval to suspend benefits for retirees

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