The Kiwanis Festival of the Performing Arts

In 1926, W.B. Rothwell, the Music Master at the Stratford Normal School, inspired the members of the Perth County Music Teacher’s Federation to establish the Stratford Musical Festival as a way to encourage interest in music. Rothwell served as the President and Director of Competitions from the first festival held in 1927 to 1930 and then returned to those positions from 1940 to 1957.

By 1951 the Music Teachers’ Federation was finding it difficult to run the festival and W.B. Rothwell, by this time a member of the Kiwanis Club of Stratford, convinced his fellow Kiwanians to “take as one of our major projects, the management of and complete responsibility for the Stratford Music Festival for 1952 and thereafter.” This proved to be a considerable challenge for the club members and their families who volunteered on this committee. The job of the Director of Competitions quickly became a full-time volunteer position beginning as soon as one Festival ended right through until the next one began. Isa Gould, wife of Kiwanian Duncan Gould, who was the Director of Competitions from 1957 – 1965, gave this description of the job:

“The summer months following one Festival is spent hiring adjudicators and booking halls in preparation for the following year. After the types and numbers of classes have been determined, the various test pieces must be selected, and the syllabus prepared.” Isa recalled working from early in the morning until late at night, typing the syllabus, taking it to the printer, checking the proofs and taking the proofs back to the printer. Another intensive period began when the entries started coming in: “We would have to go to the post office box with shopping bags to collect them.” Entries had to be acknowledged and the official program prepared. Then trophies had to be collected, repaired and readied for the upcoming competitions.

By 1987, amidst celebrations for the 60th Anniversary of the Music Festival, a ‘Strategic Plan’ developed by the Kiwanis Club revealed that some Kiwanians had serious reservations about their continuing association with the Festival:

“The Kiwanis Music Festival is at a crossroads in its development. Volunteer manpower shortages threaten to undermine the efficient operation of the festival…The role of Director of Competitions has traditionally been a volunteer position but places heavy responsiblities on the individual who assumes that role”. Steps were taken to alleviate this situation. Funds (from the Kiwanis Club) were allocated to provide a salary for the director and to rent office space with the hope that “an office and coordinator would lift the substantial burden from volunteers and their families of organizing the Festival”.

In 1991, the Club hired Margaret McCarroll as Director of Competitions. The office of the Kiwanis Music Festival was conveniently located in her home. There was enough funding provided to hire secretarial assistance to help with all of the entries as well as an assistant director during the two-week Festival period. Margaret felt that she was reasonably compensated for what she said was “the best job in the world”. Her creativity, enthusiasm and committment helped to make Stratford’s Music Festival one of the most successful of its kind in Canada. But there is still a considerable volunteer effort required to run it, much of that provided by members of the Kiwanis Club of Stratford and the Kiwanis Club of the Festival City and their partners.

With the resignation of Ms. McCarroll in 2003, Michele Boniface was hired by the Kiwanis Club of Stratford for the Director of Competitions position.

“When I started,” recalled Ms. Boniface, “I met with 40 local teachers to gather their ideas about the festival and syllabus. With their input, I have systematically upgraded the syllabus each year to adjust to new trends in the music, dance and drama worlds.”

Ms. Boniface has submitted two successful applications to the Trillium Foundation of Ontario and one to the Stratford and Perth County Community Foundation which provided the financing for the Festival to purchase and customize festival-management software, and develop a website that incorporates data directly from it.  The result is more timely and accurate information going out to teachers and students.  Another website improvement was implemented in 2008 that allows participants to register on-line for the Festival.

Externally, Ms Boniface has moved the festival into an active role in the Ontario Music Festivals Association by bringing the syllabus in line with OMFA rules, regulations and age limits and by encouraging a large and successful team of competitors to participate in the Ontario Music Festival Finals each spring.

Her creativity, enthusiasm and commitment have helped to make Stratford’s Music Festival one of the most successful of its kind in Canada. But there continues to be a considerable volunteer effort required to run it, much of that provided by members of the Kiwanis Club of Stratford and the Kiwanis Club of the Festival City and their partners.

Michele submitted her resignation as the KFPA Executive Director at the conclusion of the 2013 Festival, but generously volunteered to assist the new Executive Director adjust to the role.

Brian Reid, chair of the Kiwanis Festival of the Performing Arts Committee, was delighted to introduce the KFPA’s new Executive Director, Janis Auster.  Janis moved to Canada in 2012 from New York City where most recently she was the Innovations Program Manager for EmcArts, an arts service organization and consulting firm.  During her 18 years in New York Janis also held the positions of Professional Development Coordinator for the Queens Council on the Arts, the Program Manager for Camp Broadway, a theatre education company, and the Production Manager and Producer for Stick figure Productions, a documentary film company where she worked with HBO, PBS, and Bravo.  Janis holds a BFA in Technical Production: Stage Management from New York University and a Masters in Arts Administration from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Janis believes that the Festival is an opportunity for Stratford to welcome thousands of students engaged in the performing arts from a wide area throughout southwestern Ontario and beyond.  “This is an occasion when the entire community ‘comes together’ to mount a festival that provides participants with opportunities to showcase their talents, receive supportive feedback, and realize their dreams.  Arts celebrations such as the KFPA provide performers with a lifelong appreciation of the arts, and we know that arts change lives and communities.”

Interim Executive Director Pat McKinna came on board after Janis resigned at the end of the 2019 season.

Pat’s past experience includes eight years as the founding General Manager of RCM’s Performing Arts division at Toronto’s TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning.  She has considerable experience filling transitional positions, including stepping in on short notice as the Executive Director for Toronto Summer Music Festival 2018.  Pat is delighted to put that experience to work in support of Stratford’s Kiwanis Festival, and looks forward to celebrating the scope of performing arts talent in the region!

Unfortunately, the global pandemic of COVID-19 hit the world and our 2020 Festival was forced to cancel as were many other events including the Stratford Festival.

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