Harry Pering, Madison Fisher and Halia star in Surrey Little Theatre’s production of the drama “Homechild,” staged at the Clayton-area theatre until Saturday and again on Monday, May 22 as part of a theatre festival at White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse. (submitted photo)

MINTY: Theatre companies converge for one big festival at White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse

Theatre BC’s regional event starts on Sunday afternoon and continues for six days

SURREY — This is a big week for community theatre. Surrey Little Theatre hosts Theatre BC’s Fraser Valley Zone Festival at White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse from Sunday, May 21 through Saturday, May 27.

The word “festival” is such a frivolous designation for “competition.” Whether dance, music or theatre, these festivals do provide performance opportunities, but the theme is competition.

For the Fraser Valley Zone, eight amateur theatre companies each have a time slot for performance of their Canadian play. It is a week-long festival featuring a play every night and sometimes two in one day. That is the festival. The public is invited, and there are plenty of seats to fill.

I know the real theatre junkies will get a pass, either a three-day one or week-long. They will see every play, and sit in on every critique. It is a way to learn more about their craft, and share in the larger community. Each club has four hours to set up their production – “load in” – and one hour to remove everything – “strike” – at the end of their show. Gosh, that sounds so easy – but it’s not. The group must all work together, at a pretty frantic pace, to get everything set and ready. It is a team effort, and the teams are talented. And volunteer. Imagine that. Using all your free time and talent and energies to put on a play, and you do not get any financial reward. That is the amazing world of community theatre.

The winning productions from each of the 10 zone festivals in the province will compete at Theatre BC’s MainStage event, held in Vernon from June 30 to July 8. Theatre BC is celebrating 75 years this year, and the theme is “Canadian,” to match the 150th anniversary celebrations of the country.

Last year, Surrey Little Theatre was the Fraser Valley Zone Festival winner, and went to the MainStage competition. They won. Elation, of course. But the bottom line is, it is costly to send a full production to MainStage.

This is where the rest of us come in. Pick a play or two and go show your support for community theatre. Ticket receipts will help defray the costs of going to MainStage.

At Coast Capital Playhouse, the festival’s three-show pass is $54, plus a $6 fee, and is valid from May 21 to 26; it will grant you access to three shows of your choosing. The week-long pass is $128 plus an $8 fee, is valid from May 21 to 26 and will grant you access to any of the shows. This is festival seating – no reserved seats. Individual show tickets are $20 each. For tickets, phone 604-536-7535, or visit whiterockplayers.ca.

The festival kicks off on Sunday, May 21 with The Life History of the African Elephant, performed by Offtopic Theatre of Abbotsford, 12:30 p.m. start time. Sunday’s evening performance, at 8 p.m., is Kevin Kerr’s Unity 1918, performed by Chilliwack School of Performing Arts.

On Monday (May 22), Surrey Little Theatre presents Joan MacLeod’s Homechild at 12:30 p.m. This play runs at the company’s own theatre, located in the Clayton area, until Saturday (May 20), then the company members strike the set, pack the truck, trundle off to the competition on Monday for an 8 a.m. load-in time. Then they get a break, then put on the performance. Whew. That’s dedication. Since this is a competition, the regular method of mounting a show does not apply. It is the cast and crew actually involved in this production that do all the work. Crazy.

During the fest, the evening show on Monday, May 22 is The Little Years, written by John Mighton and performed by Emerald Pig Theatrical Society (based in Maple Ridge) at 8 p.m. The rest of the week are all 8 p.m. performances. On Tuesday, May 23, it’s Bingo, presented by Coquitlam’s Stage 43. Wednesday features The Romeo Initiative by Chilliwack Players Guild. Thursday the 25th is How It Works, performed by Mission’s Opening Nite Theatre, and Langley Players close out the festival next Friday (May 26) with The Grandkid, a play written by John Lazarus. The festival-closing gala is set for Saturday, May 27.

Remember, all these plays are Canadian, and represent thousands of hours of volunteer time and talent.

This zone festival is a very big deal for community theatre. Take the time to go see just one play, at least. The ticket prices are affordable because no one is paid – but that doesn’t mean there are no costs involved. Community theatre has a direct impact on our local economy, and it gives local residents live theatre at an affordable price. For more details, visit theatrebc.org/fraser-valley-zone.

Oh yes, and by the way, many thanks go to White Rock Players for making the Coast Capital Playhouse available to Surrey Little Theatre for this festival. White Rock Players belong to the Vancouver zone, so that’s why the company is not part of the festival held at its own theatre. It would be difficult for SLT to host this huge Fraser Valley Zone Festival – the largest in the province – at its home theatre of 76 seats. I just love it when everyone plays so nicely together.

melminty@telus.net