Wednesday, June 25, 2008

David Dewar: What these spaces can foster

Last week I took the opportunity to come home to Penticton to say a fond farewell to “Old Pen Hi”. As I walked through the gym and sat in the auditorium I recognized that since graduation in 1970 a major portion of the arc of my life had begun in those two spaces. And so I feel it is important to write to you in support of saving the auditorium and gymnasium complex from being terribly wasted.

When I went to UBC I intended to be a teacher and I began a degree in Physical Education and History. My years at Pen Hi were filled with sports, particularly basketball as I played for the Lakers in grade 11 and 12 so choosing Phys Ed was a cinch. But after my first year at the University I realized I needed a new minor subject. I remembered the fun of my drama classes and the production of “The Music Man” and promptly dropped History in favour of Theatre. I’ve never looked back. I completed my degree and have worked in the theatre, film and television ever since. And without the confidence that those high school shows gave me I might never have considered a career in entertainment. One of my classmates at theatre school was Nicola Cavendish who spoke so wonderfully at the farewell event and its with some pride that I recall that we started together on that auditorium stage at Pen Hi. I have now spent more that 30 years in the entertainment industry first as an actor and dancer and later as a producer and director in film and television all over the world and it all grew out of those two spaces at Pen Hi.

I know that a new gym is part of the new school and I’m sure that it will give great service. But in any school, and always in a busy community there is never enough space to provide for all of the groups that need a place to play. I understand also that the new school will have classrooms of some sort for drama. But there is no substitute for a real theatre as a place to perform, to build sets, to learn lighting and to inspire an audience. The real thing happens in a theatre and once the theatre you have is gone you may never get it back. So these two spaces are not just important to the school but to the whole community. These buildings exist and they can galvanize community support for their restoration just as they have done for their defense. You have a real opportunity to retain a significant resource for the school and for the city and I urge you to seize it.

At the event on Tuesday there was a lot of pride expressed about the accomplishments of the school over its many years. The fine students it produced, their credit to the community and the achievement of the teachers, administrators and parents who supported each student year by year, encouraging them to stay in school and do their best. Look at the guests who were invited to speak, Cameron Phillips, Nicola Cavendish and Nikos Theodosakis. Its no surprise that each of them spoke well, and no surprise that each of them recognized their time on the auditorium stage as the starting point of their careers. Every school has its unusual characters, sometimes they are students who just don’t fit the usual mold. In my experience, and I have taught in universities and colleges across the country, sports and the arts are the only activities some kids have that keep them in school long enough to graduate.

In the final analysis why should these types of spaces be so important to the development of our young people and the enrichment of our community. Because today more than ever our world needs what these kinds of spaces can foster. A gymnasium and a theatre are exactly the places where kids learn some of life’s most important lessons. They learn to work together, they communicate, they struggle, they share their feelings and their ideas, they learn that no one on a stage or a gym floor will be successful alone and that its only as a team that they will achieve the triumph they seek.

So I urge you to find a way to save these spaces for future generations, to make them a continuing resource to the students and the community. This is an opportunity, please don’t waste it.

David Dewar
Class of 1970

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