By Jessica Lovell
Ramona Barckert expects it will be a tough decision for those who choose the winners for the Canadian Screen Awards. But win or lose, the Guelph native plans to enjoy the celebration.
Barckert has been nominated for Best Writing in a Children’s or Youth Program or Series for an episode of Degrassi that aired last year. It’s a little different from some of the shows it’s up against, which include two animated series.
“It was the first episode that dealt with a teen suicide since Degrassi High,” Barckert says, referring to one of Degrassi’s predecessors from the early 1990s.
“It was very heavy and emotional. It was very dramatic,” she says of the episode.The episode is called Bittersweet Symphony and it aired in two parts. Barckert is nominated for Part 2, and actor Dylan Everett – who plays the teen who commits suicide in the episode – is also nominated for an award for his performance in Part 1, she says.
“It’s very exciting. I’m very happy,” she says. The awards ceremony that includes the awards for children’s programming takes place in Toronto on March 5, in advance of the televised awards.
It’s not unusual for Degrassi – a series with a 30-year-plus history – to get recognition. “They usually get nominated for best show,” notes Barckert.
What makes it stand out is its authenticity. “That’s why it has lasted as long as it has,” says Barckert.
The show deals with a variety of serious issues, from eating disorders and mental illness to abuse, and all “in amongst the fun stuff of high school,” she says.
It gains a strong fan following because “it’s so relatable to a lot of kids in high school,” says Barckert, who is a John F. Ross grad.
But Barckert admits that she wasn’t a fan, so to speak, when she first began writing for the show. She had watched Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi high in her elementary school days, but when the show was revived in 2001 her focus was on university.
“I actually didn’t click in with it when they brought it back,” she says.
Barckert had to do some catching up when she started writing for the Degrassi series in season 11.
Before Degrassi, Barckert wrote for a series called the Smart Woman Survival Guide. She also wrote for Wingin’ It, a teen sitcom airing on the Family Channel.
Barckert, who studied English at York University, began her writing career when a friend who was studying film at Ryerson approached her and asked her to write a script for his school project.
The short film was shown at various venues and the writing caught the attention of an agent, Barckert says.
The agent worked with her to hone her craft and find her work, and the rest is history.
Barckert worked on Degrassi for two seasons as a full-time staff writer before deciding to write on a freelance basis instead.
“Degrassi’s a very long job,” she says, explaining that a season is 40 episodes – much more than a typical TV show.
She still enjoys working with the Degrassi team and hopes they keep on hiring her.
“I love the creative process,” she says.
While the stories are not new, somehow the show is always fresh, Barckert says.
“The interesting thing about teenagers is they’re always changing,” she says.
For example, the way writers 10 years ago might have tackled bullying – before the prevalence of social media – is different from the way today’s writers tackle it, she says.
And she says fans needn’t worry that they’ll run out of material. “There is no sign of it ending any time soon,” she says.
That’s good for Barckert, because she enjoys the work.
She also enjoys her life in Guelph and has no plans to leave it for the warmer climes of L.A. anytime soon.
“I don’t necessarily feel that I’m missing out on something,” Barckert says.
She got the chance to fly out to L.A. a couple of years ago when she was nominated for an Emmy for Degrassi. “A whole bunch of us went down to L.A.,” she says. “It was very fancy and it was really fun.”
The nomination goes to show that her work is reaching American markets already. The shows she works on “get exposed to those audiences, and I can stay home,” she says.
And the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else, she says.
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By Jessica Lovell