Fifty years ago this week, Carol Fast was tuning her voice among the first performers to hit Surrey’s newest stage.
On Feb. 29, 1968, Surrey Centennial Arts Centre – now known as Surrey Arts Centre – was officially opened at Bear Creek Park with a production of Brigadoon by Surrey Musical Productions, and Fast was cast as flirtatious dairymaid Meg Brockie.
Fast, then known as Carol Molnar, sang “Love of My Life,” “My Mother’s Wedding Day” and other songs written by Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe.
“It was a big production, a lot of fun, with wonderful music to sing and dance to,” Fast recalled when contacted by the Now-Leader on Monday.
“We had an orchestra – 30 people in it,” she continued. “The current theatre doesn’t have an orchestra pit but that first theatre did, but it didn’t get used later. We in the cast called it the bear pit, and it was a cement square, right in front of the older stage there. The new stage just covers (the area) where that pit was.”
The new theatre’s seating wasn’t what Fast and the other Brigadoon performers expected, she said.
“I didn’t really watch it being built, but I thought it (the theatre) was lovely,” Fast recalled. “We were all sort of taken aback, though, because the seating was a few theatre seats at the back and then at the front they had chairs and benches, for people to sit on. But it was a nice stage.”
Today, Fast lives in the Boundary Park area of Surrey and still regularly attends events at Surrey Arts Centre.
“Oh yes, I still go there all the time,” said Fast, 81. “I belong to the Classical Coffee Concerts series in the mornings, and of course the Arts Club shows, the touring shows, and anything else that tickles my fancy. I’m there all the time. I’m a fixture,” she added with a laugh.
On March 14, Fast plans to attend the arts centre’s golden-anniversary gala event and concert, to include a performance by BC World Music Collective and an opportunity for guests to “mingle, reminisce and enjoy some finger food,” followed by the group’s performance.
“Gather with friends and family for a grand golden gala,” reads a post on the web page where tickets can be purchased (tickets.surrey.ca). “Wax nostalgic and celebrate the legacy and inspiration that Surrey Civic Theatres has brought to the community and the artists that have graced its stages through its 50 years.”
The municipality of Surrey budgeted $200,000 to build its new cultural centre, which expanded and evolved over the years to include a black-box Studio Theatre and the creation of Surrey Art Gallery in the facility’s north wing.
Photos and history of the facility are included in “anniversary pages” of its 2017-18 season brochure.
Longtime event presenters at the arts centre include Surrey Festival of Dance (from the very start), Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Arts Club Theatre Company, Royal Canadian Theatre Company and Surrey International Children’s Festival.
The classically-trained Fast, who was 31 at the time of the arts centre’s opening, performed on local stages since the age of eight. Born in New Westminster, she eventually moved to Manitoba to sing with the opera there, before she and her husband Henry found their way back to B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
“When we retired, we came home to New West but then found this lovely home in Surrey,” Fast said. “We moved to Surrey and I did Royal City Musical Theatre and a few things here.… It must be 15 years ago since I last performed on stage.”
Fifty years ago, it was a big night for Surrey – and also for Fast and the others in Brigadoon.
“It’s wonderful to say we were there for the opening, for the first show there,” Fast said.
At the arts centre’s anniversary event on March 14, emcee Deborah Williams (co-creator of the hit Mom’s the Word shows) will welcome guest speakers including incoming Arts Club Theatre Company artistic director Ashlie Corcoran, who performed at Surrey Arts Centre in her youth.
Tickets for the arts centre’s gala event range from $26 to $46 at tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566.