Five of the 12 young actors in Surrey Youth Theatre Company’s production of “Naked Rat Mole Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience” are, from left to right, Sahil Jagpal, Ruby Forte, Bria Pickering, Aleksa Dolecki and Kate Spratt. The show will be staged at White Rock Playhouse on March 7-8. (submitted photo)

COLUMN ON THE ARTS

MINTY: ‘Rat’ tales for young actors with Surrey theatre company

‘Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed’ hits a stage in White Rock in March

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

This is the Year of the Rat, so it seems only fitting that Surrey Youth Theatre Company (SYTCO) is presenting Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience as its major musical production this year. This youth company, under the direction of Susan Pendleton, has brought more than 60 shows to our community, and most are unique and not previously performed in this area – or even in Canada.

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, written and composed by Mo Willems, will be staged at White Rock Playhouse (formerly Coast Capital Playhouse) on March 7 at 7 p.m. and March 8 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the theatre box office – call 604-536-7535 or visit whiterockplayers.ca.

People of all ages can enjoy this “rock” musical, but with youth company members, I think this will appeal to children seeking their first experience in live theatre.

“The object of SYTCO is to be part of the community,” says Pendleton, company founder. “We want to expose people to live theatre,” she adds.

Of course, it is Pendleton’s passion to introduce young people to theatre as part of a performing company. SYTCO was started in 1997 in Surrey to fill the need for local youth aged nine to 17 to perform live theatre in a professional setting.

Twenty-three years ago, there were few youth companies of extracurricular classes in theatre arts. But learning life skills through theatre experience has become very popular, and there are now many options available to enrol children in after-school theatre classes. There are different approaches for the diverse talents, expectations and goals. Finding the right experience for any particular child is (always) a challenge.

Pendleton selects plays after the cast is formed. Auditions are intense, and you need time to prepare. It is not just, come in and sing a song you like. Auditions for the company are actually in workshop format and encompass group and solo work, including theatre games, improvisation, scenes and cold readings. Auditions for next season are Wednesday, June 3; check the website for more details, at surreyyouththeatre.ca.

It’s emotional, being in theatre,” Pendleton says. “I strive to be aware of what their limits are.”

And while being part of a theatre company is great fun, it also requires commitment, hard work, a good attitude and a passion for live theatre.

“You have to be a risk-taker all the time,” Pendleton advises. “You need to develop your own character, do your background research and understand the history of the time and place of the play. Learn acceptance of others, and trust the team.”

That’s why the company is so important to Pendleton. Kids don’t audition for a certain play – they become part of a team if accepted into the company. “There are no stars,” Susan states.

She always asks this question: “What is acting?” Her answer: Making the other person on stage with you look good. Listen to them. Make eye contact. Teamwork. This is live theatre, not film where you can do take after take until the moment is perfectly captured.

Finding performance space is always a challenge in Surrey. Large venues are not needed for this type of theatre. This is not the big, spectacle-type of musical. It is more intimate. Some of our schools do have viable theatre space, but availability is tight, booking is sometimes difficult and it is expensive.

Expense is forever and always a challenge. Pendleton is very pleased to be able to get two performances at White Rock Playhouse for Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. The theatre is owned and operated by White Rock Players and is not attached to a public school or a civic theatre. Run by volunteers, this playhouse is a beautiful base for community theatre. Thank you for renting out your space to others in our community. It is appreciated.

It does cost money to run a theatre, or a theatre company. Grants, donations, ticket sales and corporate sponsors are always needed. “You don’t go into this business for the money,” says Pendleton, who runs this company on her own – no parent groups, no board of directors. She does thank the Peninsula Arts Foundation for its support, and also the City of White Rock.

So, do you want to become a “triple threat”? Musical theatre isn’t for everyone, but how do you know until you try it? Start with attending a live show performed by kids. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed has contemporary music, and a message: It is OK to be different, as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Life lessons in an entertainment package. Good beginning for Year of the Rat.

Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. Email: melminty@telus.net.

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