NEWTON – A local theatre group says it must change or die, which makes the location of its annual general meeting so ironic.
These are tough times for Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society (FVGSS), whose musical shows have entertained audiences in Surrey for three decades.
Declining ticket sales and disappearing government funding have conspired to leave the group at a critical point in its history, and its financial wellbeing will be among topics at an AGM on Sunday, Aug. 16 – in the Arbor Room of Valley View Funeral Home in Newton.
"We’re not dead yet" was the message posted on the FVGSS’s most recent newsletter, which urged those who care about the theatre group to attend its AGM to learn of "some new policies for our performance schedule and help with our direction for the future."
Last week, FVGSS president Mike Balser and others built a "Jack and the Beanstalk"-themed float to roll during White Rock Sea Festival’s torchlight parade, held Sunday (Aug. 2). The work was part of an effort by the group to not only promote its annual panto show at Surrey Arts Centre this fall, but also be more involved in the community.
"There was a period of growth for us, but over the past eight years or so, it’s shrunk a little bit," said Balser, who teaches drama and music in Coquitlam, as he, Tim Tucker and Christine Alexander built the float in the FVGSS’ warehouse in Newton.
In the 1990s, Balser said, the FVGSS’s annual panto would make close to $40,000 during its two-week run – enough to help finance the staging of the group’s annual spring show, which is usually an operetta of some note.
"Now," Balser said, "we are losing $4,000 on the run of the panto, so things have changed, and part of that is the financial structure of theatre rental and things like that."
The funeral home on 72nd Avenue will also be used by the FVGSS to audition would-be performers for the panto "Jack and the Beanstalk," starting on Sunday, Aug. 30.
Next spring, the group will stage "Anne of Green Gables" at White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse.
A name change for the group isn’t out of the question, Balser said.
"This has been our name for a long time, so we don’t want to discount that," he said. "But at the same time, there are more and more people asking us, ‘Why are you the Gilbert and Sullivan Society again? You’re doing ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ pantos half the year, other shows. So a name change is something we’d bring to the membership, not something we can do just as a board."
The group’s activities are posted on its website, Fvgssociety.wix.com/fvgss, and at Facebook.com/FVGSS.
"I think we’re a valuable (organization)," Balser said, "because we give kids, in particular, and adults, too, a chance to learn new things, be part of a team and work within a structure. You know, opening night is a non-negotiable date," he added with a laugh.