Malcolm Stead (left, as Hugo Birch), Danny Steele (middle, as Sir Rowland Delahaye), and Brian Craig (Elgin the butler) are featured in Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s production of “Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web,” staged at theatres in Surrey and New Westminster this month. (submitted photo)

COLUMN ON THE ARTS

MINTY: To create ‘Spider’s Web’ and more, theatre company makes most of Surrey studio space

Royal Canadian company rehearses at City Parkway studio

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

The Royal Canadian Theatre Company, based in Surrey, was founded in 2006 as a not-for-profit society. Artistic Director Ellie King is the heart and soul of this struggling professional theatre company in the making.

I say struggling because there are limitless challenges in producing legitimate theatre that is entertaining, accessible to all, educational and affordable. I know, that sounds like so much blah, blah, blah – or a political campaign. RCTC is so much more than producing live theatre.

King has decades of theatre experience starting at just over two years of age, and once you start chatting with her your head begins to spin with all the gigs she has done, including dance, training at LAMDA, traditional English pantomime (her favourite genre), drama, cabaret entertainer, musician and even a magician’s assistant. She and her husband Geoff have two sons: one is a scientist and one a stand-up comedian, and together they serve the wishes of their parrot, Thomas, and their rescue dog, Lula. Starting her own theatre company was not really part of the life plan, but….

Today, RCTC is housed in a facility provided by the City of Surrey. This space was to be used to mentor youth and establish an arts-oriented community. The City Parkway location has led to even more challenges.

“We are extremely grateful to the city for the space,” King says. “It has made a huge difference to what we can do.”

But being in close proximity to a homeless shelter and needle exchange is quite another challenge. This last bit is from me, not King, so listen up, city employees and council: Surrey absolutely needs companies like Royal Canadian. You need to fix the problems in that area, or work to make it more secure.

So, are the arts organizations being squeezed out by plans to build a canal and SkyTrain extension? We have to ask these questions without fear or favour. In the meantime, we are working with what we have and where we are. Please acknowledge the heroic contribution to our city by organizations like RCTC. And oh yes, air conditioning would be nice to have in the building that has no insulation, for when summer temps are tropical. That’s from me, too.

Arts and culture boosts local economies in five key ways – by attracting visitors, creating jobs and developing skills, attracting and retaining businesses, revitalizing places and developing talent. The current space could just use some revitalizing – please help.

As part of the lease contract, RCTC is to provide opportunities for youth in the area. “We offer places in our mentorship program to youngsters, completely free of charge,” King says. “No-one is excluded and everyone is welcome. Theatre – the way we do it – doesn’t just teach skills and provide friendship, mentoring and a warm family feeling, it also helps kids to overcome major social and emotional issues. And without us, these young people would very likely be in more serious trouble, or certainly headed that way.”

• RELATED STORY: Comedy is King as Surrey theatre company stages benefit show for youth mentorship program.

This is not only part of the heart of RCTC, but a project that King is absolutely passionate about. Having this City Parkway space – even with all the challenges – is a huge bonus to the company. Yes, we want them to keep doing what they do.

RCTC puts on three productions per year and, except for the traditional pantomime at Christmastime, the actors are all paid for their time and talent – some even at actor’s equity (professional union) rate. Ticket prices are very affordable, even though theatre rental rates have gone up.

The company’s first production this season is Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web. I am a real Agatha fan, and already have tickets for this RCTC production. Spider’s Web is Christie’s second most popular play, with The Mousetrap being tops. It is a delight for Christie fans, and the cast for the RCTC production is outstanding. Long-time theatre buffs in Surrey will want to see Danny Steele return to the stage after an absence of about 16 years. Honestly, that is worth the price of a ticket alone, but here is the rest of the cast: Malcom Stead, Patrick Maloney, Jenessa Galbraith, Aeron Elcheshen, Jackie Charrois, Brian Craig, Steven B. Fowler, Dovreshin MacRae and Michael Charrois.

Performances at New Westminster’s Anvil Centre are from Oct. 18 to 20, and the play is staged at Surrey Arts Centre on Friday, Oct. 25 and Saturday, Oct. 26. Visit rctheatreco.com for information about relaxed performances, which are friendly to people with disabilities, additional support needs or those on the autistic spectrum as well as their teachers or guardians, or parents. Yes. Catering to all, accessible to all, even the “sensitive” audience. Gotta love it.

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

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