Penny DeSanto sings during rehearsal for The Vaudevillians’ “Young at Heart” show, to be staged at Surrey Arts Centre on Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 2-3). (Photo: Tom Zillich)

MINTY: Vaudevillians need new blood as key ‘bursary show’ returns to Surrey stage

The primary source of fundraising is this weekend’s two benefit concerts at Surrey Arts Centre

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

We are living in a digital age, and our lives are being commandeered by non-human entities. Sure, I do really like my new smart watch, and while I do appreciate it when it buzzes and flashes when I meet my exercise goals, I am less thrilled with the beep-beep telling me it is time to stand up. Or breathe. Robots and AI are beginning to take over. But don’t panic – get back to human contact and interaction by attending a bit of live theatre.

“We connect personally with our audiences,” says Karen Bonardelli, a Vaudevillians entertainer who is fairly new to the seniors group. She admits to being a bit of a ham, loves to sing and dance, and has seen her lifelong passion for theatre realized with the busy troupe.

Part of the passion is passed on to audiences, and Karen says she wants to “an encouragement to people.” She loves how the troupe circulates throughout the audience after each performance, making physical contact and sharing a song or two.

The Vaudevillians have an active performance schedule, and for 15 years “B.C.’s #1 Seniors Entertainment Troupe” continues to fulfill its mission statement of bringing laughter and music to other seniors in the community. They entertain in residential care facilities and community centres from White Rock to West Vancouver, and everything in between.

The big event of the year, though, is the annual Douglas College bursary benefit concert held at Surrey Arts Centre. This year’s show is called “Young at Heart,” and you can catch it on Saturday, Nov. 2 and Sunday, Nov. 3 on the Main Stage, with daily show times at 2 p.m. Tickets are only $22; to get yours, phone the box office at 604-501-5566 or visit tickets.surrey.ca.

• RELATED STORY, from Oct. 17: PHOTOS: ‘Young at Heart’ seniors sing and dance again in Surrey ‘bursary show’

It was in 1993 that The Vaudevillians established a bursary for students in the Performing Arts Program at Douglas College. The Society for the Preservation of Vaudeville bursary, in honour of founding member Jim Trimble, has enabled many students to complete their education and become members of the performing arts community. To date the bursary fund is at almost $120,000 and will live in perpetuity. Now that is a legacy.

The primary source of fundraising is this weekend’s two benefit concerts at Surrey Arts Centre. Bring all your family members. Reach out and touch someone, and make a difference.

Why should you go? Well, why not? The cast ranges in ages from 63 to 86, is entirely run by volunteer power, and not only inspires and encourages new young talent with the bursaries, it also is a platform for the “mature” adult who wants to fulfill a dream and participate.

Jo-Anne Pearce is a long time member of The Vaudevillians. “I am a slow learner, and I started when I was 55,” she says. “I was always told I couldn’t sing,” she relates, so she didn’t participate as a younger person. Now she is a “comic singer” and did a George and Gracie routine for many years. “Find me a new George,” she begs. Well, you know, when you have a seniors’ troupe, even the most dedicated get to a non-performance point. Her George retired. There must be another George wanna-be out there. Just one caveat to join: minimum age is 55.

New people are needed for this feisty group. Dan Minor, 79, is the current music director, choreographer and artistic director. He has been tap-dancing for 69 years and does the “old fashioned” style of tap dance. This longtime performer is ready to retire from all of these jobs. So hey, want to dedicate your retirement years to The Vaudevillians? You don’t have to be a song-and-dance person, either. But Dan, thanks for your contributions – I wouldn’t be tap-dancing today if you hadn’t been my tap-dance teacher’s teacher. Wow, that makes me third-generation!

Barbara Hall, president of the society, is currently acting as stage manager, producer and now tech person for the troupe. She does not perform on stage, but she is loving wearing many hats. That’s my take, not hers. She wants more help. The Vaudevillians just need a few more heads to hang the hats on – not just performers, either, just all kinds of jobs. Believe in yourself. C’mon, maybe you too have a watch that is telling you it is time to stand up and breathe.

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

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