When I first moved to Surrey in the 1970s, there were cows for neighbours, and small farm plots were woven amongst housing developments. Holland Park was wooded and home to wildlife. Whalley was not City Centre. Of course, over the years there has been a huge influx of people seeking Surrey as a place to live. We’ve grown from a large, diverse geographical area that was mostly rural and apologetic – remember when Vancouverites sneered at us as unsophisticated and crime-ridden? – to a large city with pockets of dense housing and other developments. Hard to find cows as next-door neighbours anymore. So things change, that’s history.
But as we tear down the old to make way for the new, it is important to remember the history and story of Surrey as it has emerged from farmland to city. For 60 years, Surrey Little Theatre has been a very important part of Surrey’s cultural landscape. Beginning as the North Surrey Thespians in 1958, the first meetings were held in the basement of the Dell Hotel. One-act plays were presented at local high schools, and the drama club officially changed its name to Surrey Little Theatre in 1962.
In 1967, this dedicated band purchased the former Clayton United Church as a home base. Gosh, doesn’t that sound easy? Buy an old building and put on plays. Well, it took quite a few years and a band of very determined leaders to renovate the building and bring it up to code and standards. Productions began in 1973. Renovations, repairs and upgrades have been continuous – as has the absolute dedication of the SLT volunteers that keep the theatre alive.
Today Surrey Little Theatre, nestled at the top of Clayton Hill, is more than an historic landmark. You would expect that the plays – usually three a year – would provide entertainment for the surrounding community. What can I say? Surrey Little Theatre is more than that. Much more. The youth programs – including the Teen Theatre/ Improv Boot Camp beginning Aug. 12 – have electrified a new generation of followers with a passion for theatre. Some of these young people go on to develop careers from their experience with Surrey Little Theatre.
Hannah Lohnes was a teen when she first came into contact with SLT. That was in 2013, and Hannah and her friends entered SLT’s 50-Hour Film Challenge. This film challenge started for SLT’s 50th anniversary and was based on popular 48-hour film challenge models. What fun. Sure, SLT is known for live theatre, but why not add film?
Hannah and her teen team won that year’s film challenge, and SLT gained a handful of teen techies. Very important to community theatre. Hannah herself has made a career in the technical aspects of theatre, but is still a volunteer at SLT and has been the technical director for the building for the last six years.
Now, Hannah and her team of technicians are overseeing the revival of the 50-Hour Film Challenge. It was dormant for a few years, but now it is back. So you want to make a movie? Anyone can enter. Teams must have at least five members, a device that can film (cell phones will do) and editing software.
The challenge weekend starts on Friday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. when the team representatives meet at the theatre to receive a randomly selected “inspiration package.” There is a common theme for all teams, with each package having a different location, prop, phrase and a character. You must use all these elements in your film, and complete it within 50 hours. The completed film must be back to SLT by Sunday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m. All the entries are viewed, and the Best Top Film receives a $500 prize.
The entry fee is $100, and all the entered films will be part of the Film Showing and Gala on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. This is an amazing show. Very entertaining. Thanks to the brilliance and inspiration of SLT and people like Hannah Lohnes. Register your team today by email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone can do this! More details are posted at surreylittletheatre.com.
So there you have it. Surrey Little Theatre has been – and continues to be – a critical and important part of Surrey’s cultural landscape. And this landscape is changing because more people want to live in Surrey. What was once “out in the country” is now prime development area. I have written about it before, but Surrey Little Theatre is being squeezed out of its historic location. Road widening on 184th Street and other developments mean SLT must move in order to survive.
It’s history repeating itself. Just like 1967, SLT needs a new building. It doesn’t have to be a new building. The current band of members is quite willing to renovate, restore and rebuild. That takes money. The offers from developers for the current land is not enough to purchase another building. I know you care. I got an overwhelming response to the last article I wrote about efforts to save our theatre. There is quite a large number of people who are passionate about this institution.
Now is time for the true test. In 1967 it took donations and sponsors to purchase the current building. Today we need you, and especially corporate sponsors. It can be done. Maybe you haven’t been part of Surrey Little Theatre’s past, but you can be part of the future. The SOT/SLT campaign is just getting started. Contact SLT president Sarah Lohnes (Hannah’s mom) or SLT artistic director Margaret Sherman by email, email@example.com. It take a village to raise a theatre.
Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.