MELANIE MINTY: Surrey Little Theatre in the eye of a developing storm

Company, a big winner at Community Theatre Coalition awards, faces pressures in area of 184th Street

The future of Surrey Little Theatre

SURREY — The Community Theatre Coalition held its annual awards gala last weekend. This is the big – and only – event for the CTC. This society was established just for this purpose, to recognize excellence in community (amateur) theatre throughout Metro Vancouver.

This past season, eight clubs were members of the CTC. In order to be eligible for awards, clubs must belong to the CTC. The appointed nomination committee then attends all productions of the member clubs (maximum three per club).

The gala is grand, with excellent catering, and the entertainment during the evening is usually selections from the nominated best plays and musicals. Really astonishing the talent that is found in community theatre.

This year, the big winner of Best Production went to Surrey Little Theatre for its “Truth and Reconciliation,” produced by Cathe Busswood, also recognized with a special award. Director Alaina Holland took home the trophy for best director for “Truth and Reconciliation.” These are big awards for a very small theatre company that has had a prominent place in Surrey’s cultural history for 55 years. It has not always been an award-filled season, and there have been bumps – and even mountains – to conquer along the way.

While Surrey Little Theatre has had a significant impact on the theatre community, with successful seasons and dedicated audiences, its very life is being threatened by development along the 184th corridor. The designated heritage building, which has been extensively restored and renovated, cannot be torn down to make way for development, but with no parking or access due to road improvements, this may well be a moot point.

Theatre clubs that have their own space are an essential and important part of the fabric of our city. White Rock Players have their Coast Capital Playhouse, Langley Players have their own theatre and Vagabond Players have Bernie Legge Theatre in New Westminster. Community theatre clubs that must rent space are having a tough go, as municipal spaces are expensive and do not offer rehearsal space or storage for sets, props and costumes.

Simon Challenger, who directs Surrey Little Theatre’s season-opening production, “Calendar Girls,” has long been associated with Maple Ridge theatre club, Emerald Pig, and gives some insight to the value of a theatre group having its own playhouse. “We are unable to afford the cost of the new municipal theatre,” and that has put a big crimp in the opportunity to do productions. City space is just not a viable option. Period.

The Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce is visiting an open house at Surrey Little Theatre on Sept. 30. SLT members will be on hand to give a tour and taste of what this theatre space has to offer. For non-theatre people, it is important to see and understand the value of the physical space.

Save our Surrey Little Theatre. There are options, and the city must make the correct choice. Relocate the building or provide parking and access.

It has been suggested that SLT use the new Centre Stage at Surrey City Hall for its plays. They feel that with state-of-the-art sound, lighting and audio-visual equipment, and the experienced staff from the Surrey Arts Centre, Centre Stage is perfect for film screenings, live music, theatre and dance performances, as well as meetings, conferences and seminars. This unique venue is also available for community presentations and events.

Well, the venue is unique all right – but you definitely cannot put on plays there that run four to five weeks, plus months of rehearsals. Please, people of city hall, this is NOT the solution to save Surrey Little Theatre.

Growth and development happens, and Surrey is slated to become the largest city in B.C., population-wise. Good for us. And maybe one day soon, Newton will be home to a WHL hockey team of its own. It is fantastic to look to the future as we build a better and brighter city. But don’t demolish the past. Do whatever it takes to save Surrey Little Theatre. Size doesn’t count here. The big hearts and driving passion for theatre that lives inside the club members is priceless. Make it happen.



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