SURREY — Happy birthday to me – today, Aug. 11. I’ve entered another decade. Wow. Positively shocking, I know, but my friend Ellie King says I am actually younger because my mind is always active and I am always creating things. Admittedly, I do keep a fairly busy schedule with participation in theatre clubs, dance classes, writing and running a business. But honestly, compared to King, I almost look like I am sitting still. And we are nearly the same age.
“I just put in a full day working as an extras wrangler on a film,” she tells me while we chat over lattes. OK, so I had a grande mocha macchiato with extra whipped cream – whatever, it’s my birthday.
Wrangling is usually a job for younger people; the film industry works long days and it is not a task for the unfit to herd, or wrangle, 198 extras. Exhausting.
King related all the other projects she has on the go and honestly, I can’t keep up. She’s an actor, writer, director, producer and general factotum in the world of theatre. She just retired her signature role in “Shirley Valentine” three years ago – and that was to a standing ovation.
“It was a great way to retire the role,” King quips.
A large portion of King’s time for the last 10 years has been devoted to the Royal Canadian Theatre Company. And she’s not just busy with RCTC, either, but that company is the story here. RCTC is a not-for-profit society and is governed by a board of directors.
“They could fire me, if they don’t agree with my vision,” Ellie elucidates.
Well, so far, so good. Everyone is happy.
And soon RCTC will have their own space in a city-owned building on City Parkway in Whalley.
RCTC and one other arts organization, Vancouver-based Streetrich Hip Hop Society, were chosen from more than 50 applicants to occupy this space, at 10660 City Parkway, once it is upgraded and habitable. So far, King is the only “staff” to manage the place. But she is up to the challenge.
Surrey’s Cultural Strategic Plan seeks to provide a catalyst for neighbourhood renewal while providing arts space. Gotta love it.
Mentoring youth is a big part of the plan for RCTC and King. She already is the artist in residence at the Newton Cultural Centre and teaches theatre classes for youth. The venue on City Parkway, which is still unnamed, will have space for dance, music, classes, and performances. It is a big vision. It will happen.
In the meantime, King is directing all three of the RCTC productions this coming season at Surrey Arts Centre. First up is a suitably spooky play, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night,” in October. December is the King-written panto “Beauty and the Beast,” and March will have the funny “Opening Night,” by Canadian playwright Norm Foster. Call the Arts Centre at 604 501-5566 for info and tickets. In this 10th anniversary for Royal Canadian, the theme is “come laugh with us.” For live theatre to survive and grow in popularity, you have to give people what they want. Laughter, and getting young people involved, is just what this city needs.
Peninsula Productions, also aspiring to become a fully professional theatre company, is quite proud to be part of creating, promoting and mentoring youth in theatre. NextGen was an idea that the company’s artistic director, Wendy Bollard, had been wanting to implement for quite some time.
“I was eager to give the next generation of performers an opportunity to create, perform and get paid to do it,” Bollard says. “We believe that artists deserve to be paid for their work and our NextGen program has been able to do that.”
NextGen is supported by the City of White Rock, the City of Surrey and the Canada Summer Jobs Program.
Join the NextGen Troupe on Aug. 19 at Coast Capital Playhouse in White Rock for a night of musical theatre, improvisation and original dance numbers. This event promises to bring together some of the brightest youth performers including the NextGen troupe and special guests Ava Carich, Mireille Perez and others. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 each (call 604-536-7535 for info).