MELANIE MINTY: Surrey play about ‘Titanic’ cruises to Fraser Valley victory

Additional stagings of 'The Last Lifeboat' at Surrey Little Theatre

Actors Mike Busswood

SURREY — Take a cast and crew of 25 volunteers, a theatre with a small stage and 76 seats, a play making its Canadian debut, an experienced director, more than 80 costumes and a demanding succession of scene changes, and what do you get?

A winner.

Surrey Little Theatre’s production of “The Last Lifeboat” won top honours at the Fraser Valley Zone Festival and will now go on to represent the zone at Theatre B.C.’s provincial finals, called Destination Mainstage, in Chilliwack on July 4.

SLT’s play, written by award-winning author, producer and actor Luke Yankee, was named outstanding production by festival adjudicator, Stephen Drover. The play’s director, Dale Kelly, was also given the top award for his work. There were seven plays in the zone festival, all presented by community theatre clubs. That’s thousands of volunteer hours, unpaid actors and stage hands, and a whole lot of co-operation. Surrey Little Theatre also won the award for Outstanding Backstage Co-operation, honouring the team of 25 crew, production team and actors. Nice.

The theatre company now invites everyone to come see the show before they take it to the provincial competition in July. Three showcase performances will be given at Surrey Little Theatre from June 23 to 25. The funds raised at these extra shows will help offset the costs of taking the production to Chilliwack. Tickets are $15. For reservations call 604-576-8451, email or go to  Tickets are also available at the theatre with cash or debit card. Visit for more information.

“The Last Lifeboat” is a complex play, and with constant scene changes and a 20-year timespan, it is an ambitious play for any director. Kelly just loves these challenges, having directed 87 plays so far – and still counting.  A postie by day, and dedicated director by night, Kelly has probably worked with every local community theatre club. His career as a director began at Surrey Little Theatre in the mid-’70s.  It was a matter of being in the right place at the critical moment when SLT was looking for a director. Well, you have to start somewhere, sometime. There is no schooling on how to be a director. Sure, you can learn stagecraft, lighting, acting methods, scheduling and how long you need to rehearse to get it right.  That’s what Kelly finds so appealing about the art of directing.

Before you can direct a play, you have to have a play to direct. Yankee wrote a letter to the crew of this production. Keep in mind, this is an award-winning, big-time playwright based in Los Angeles. He wrote: “It gives me tremendous pleasure to congratulate you on the Canadian premiere of my play.  But perhaps it is more fitting to call it YOUR play, as I know you made it such through your hard work, talent and dedication.”

Yankee was very open to changes, interpretations, and adaptations that Kelly and crew had to make. In the original script, there is no physical lifeboat. In this SLT production, there is.  Small stage, fast scene changes, quick costume changes (some as short as 15 seconds), tight backstage space and you have to add a lifeboat! Sure, why not?

Taking this play to provincial competition is costly. Mainstage is the big theatre competition for community theatre clubs throughout BC. Location changes from year to year, and this year it will be in Chilliwack. Not too far to travel, but it will take a big truckload to get everything on site.

Kelly and crew have made some more changes based on advice of adjudicator Drover. “We’ll see what works and how we can make it better,” Kelly says.



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