The show will go on: Canada's oldest youth theatre festival saved after losing Sears sponsorship

The curtain will rise at the 71-year-old Ontario Drama Festival after a pair of sponsors announced a new funding agreement. The festival had been put in jeopardy after Sears Canada pulled its sponsorship in the midst of major restructuring.

The 71-year-old festival was nearly a casualty of Sears Canada's restructuring process

Thousands of students attend the festivals in Ontario, B.C. and the Atlantic provinces every year. (Sears Drama Festival)

A pair of new sponsors have stepped in to revive a decades-old youth theatre festival, Ontario Drama Festival, that was facing a final curtain call after Sears Canada withdrew its sponsorship.

IATSE, the North American union representing theatre technicians and the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS) say their joint sponsorship ensures the show will go on at the 2018 Ontario Drama Festival, and its equivalents in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada.

The festivals are attended by more than 12,000 high school drama students across the three locations.

"For so many young people passionate about theatre, the drama festivals are where they meet kindred spirits and develop new artistic bonds and skills, especially in areas where there is limited access to education in the arts," said festival alumna Alisa Palmer, now an artistic director for the NTS.

The original Ontario version was launched in 1946, making it Canada's oldest theatre festival. It boasts alumni including actors Margot Kidder and Rachel McAdams and director David Cronenberg.

"It's touched almost all of the big talent in the country," said NTS director Gideon Arthurs. More importantly, the festival introduces theatre to thousands of students who wouldn't experience it otherwise. "It trains future audiences," he said.

Sears pulls funding

Sears Canada said it had no choice but to withdraw its sponsorship while it undergoes a major restructuring process. Since June, the company has announced it would close 70 stores and lay off at least 2,900 employees amid declining revenues.

Sears Canada said it could not continue funding the festival during its restructuring process. (CBC)

"Funding sponsorships is, unfortunately, not something that it can consider while operating under [creditor] protection," Sears Canada spokesperson Peter Block said in an e-mail to CBC News at the time.

IATSE and the NTS said their sponsorship will fund around half of the festival's $100,000 budget, which had been entirely covered by Sears.

Additional crowdfunding and a naming rights sponsorship is also in the works, according to Arthurs, along with plans to ensure the festival runs beyond 2018.