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Students and supporters bring MAD high school theatre relocation petition to legislature

The group is asking that the high school class to be moved to a more suitable location
Guild Hall president Mary Sloan poses with Grade 10 MAD students Michael Gwynne-Thompson and Lucas Taggart-Cox. A group of supporters attended the Yukon Legislature on Oct. 7 to hear a petition to relocate the program introduced in the Yukon Legislature. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Students in the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) experiential learning program and their supporters have filed a petition to the legislature asking the high school class to be moved to a more suitable location.

The program normally takes place at Wood Street Centre School, but was moved to Porter Creek Secondary School in order to allow room for other classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move was ill-considered, say petition signers, and didn’t take into account the unique needs of the program.

“Any person who’s done it can say that it is a life-changing program. It is transcendently amazing. And it has now been stifled to the point where it is a mildly glorified drama class,” said Michael Gwynne-Thompson, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student who is currently enrolled in the program.

The theatre space at Wood Street is a custom-designed facility — with a 150 seat black box theatre with state of the art sound and light, space for costume and set design, storage and an isolated environment that allows the program to become a tight-knit community.

Since moving to Porter Creek Secondary School students have complained of smaller classroom facilities, bells that interrupt learning and bullying from students outside the program.

The program is generally open to Grade 10, 11 and 12 students from all Yukon secondary schools and prepares students for a post-secondary theatre program. Students are chosen based on parent and student interviews and auditions.

On Oct. 7 the petition — signed by 469 people — was introduced by NDP leader Kate White.

Gwynne-Thompson attended the petition reading, along with a group of supporters that included fellow students, concerned parents and retired teachers.

“Students from across the Yukon have been attending this program for over 25 years … Students, parents, and staff are feeling like none of their concerns have been heard and their program is being subject to death by 1,000 cuts,” White said.

During question period, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said that experiential programs like MAD are “the future of education” but difficult decisions had to be made in order to return 5,700 students to class.

“Were the consultations and engagements that took place during that period of time speaking to everybody possible? Absolutely not,” she said.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, Mr. Speaker, we have all had to adapt to the greater good. … Decisions have had to be made in an emergency situation quickly,” she said.

Mary Sloan, president of Guild Hall theatre, said the performing arts community is tightly-knit and is coming together to support the 28-student program.

Sloan said the Guild Hall – and other theatre locations in town – had been in communication with the government early and offered their space for use, but saw no action.

“The Guild has space for them, they’ve got the theatre. They’ve been going there for workshops. If it’s safe enough for them to go for workshops, why can’t they go all day?” she said.

McPhee told reporters the government will respond to the petition and is in the process of examining options, including the proposal from Guild Hall.

“It’s a very big puzzle,” she said, referencing the decisions that were made to accommodate COVID-19 precautions.

Vanier Catholic Secondary School is currently using a nearby church as a study hall, but McPhee said “there has to be a consideration for other adults that have access to those places” when classes are taught at non-school buildings.

McPhee said she couldn’t provide an answer to whether the program would ever return to Wood Street or not.

In addition to the petition, attendees on Oct. 7 raised concern that the contents of special storage space at Wood Street with years of archived materials and teaching supplies had recently been relocated in order to make space for a classroom.

“Has there been an error, perhaps, yesterday with some equipment? Possibly — we will look into this,” McPhee said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at