At Surrey Arts Centre in October, the touring “Josephine” show features cabaret, theatre and dance to tell the story of Josephine Baker, the first African-American international superstar. (Photo: josephinetheplay.com)

At Surrey Arts Centre in October, the touring “Josephine” show features cabaret, theatre and dance to tell the story of Josephine Baker, the first African-American international superstar. (Photo: josephinetheplay.com)

EVENTS

Surrey theatres reopen with cautious optimism for live events this fall

Church services, concerts and other bookings return to Bell Performing Arts Centre

The stage lights of Surrey’s theatres have turned on again after 18 months of pandemic-triggered darkness.

The 1,052-seat Bell Performing Arts Centre is back in business inside Sullivan Heights Secondary. The box office reopened Sept. 7, and six staff members returned to work there, including longtime theatre co-manager Steve Goodman.

“We recalled all staff,” Goodman explained. “All of our staff remained employed (during the pandemic), which is great, but they did other jobs in the (school) district, so we all got redeployed. Now we’re all back doing our original jobs.”

Village Church services return to the Bell on Sept. 26 following a “practice run” for the religious organization Sunday (Sept. 12), according to Goodman.

“Our first event, other than church, is Oct. 23, when we host a Stenberg College graduation ceremony, and then the VSO is doing their first concert here on Sunday the 24th.”

• RELATED STORY: Three ‘Surrey Nights’ concerts for VSO in orchestra’s return to Bell Performing Arts Centre.

“There are some events coming that I can’t tell you about just yet, because they’re not confirmed,” Goodman added. “But we will have additional events this fall.”

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B.C.’s current public health order allows theatres to have no more than 50 per cent of seated operating capacity.

“I think ‘cautiously optimist’ would be the term to use for people who are looking to rent the theatre,” Goodman said.

“We have a couple of clients who will only host an event here if it’s 100 per cent occupancy allowed. Some of the tours, the nationwide ones mostly, it’s not worth it for them to put the whole tour together unless they’re allowed 100 per cent occupancy in a theatre. But other clients, they’re happy to put on a show with 50 per cent occupancy, so in late November and December, we’ll definitely have some activity here. But no-one knows yet whether that occupancy will increase or not.”

Elsewhere, Surrey Civic Theatres plans to again stage events at Surrey Arts Centre theatres and city hall’s Centre Stage this fall, starting with Theatre Conspiracy’s “Conspiracy Now: Is Democracy Dead?” show, in the arts centre studio from Thursday, Sept. 23 to Saturday, Sept. 25.

• RELATED STORY: Game-play theatre show in Surrey digs into Indian farmer protests, social media ‘polarization’

Other fall shows listed on the surrey.ca/theatre website include An Evening with the Piano Men (Oct. 15, Centre Stage), Dynamite Lunchbox Entertainment’s touring “Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play” (Oct. 30, Surrey Arts Centre Main Stage), singer/actor Tom Jackson in “Stories, Songs and Santa Causes” (Nov. 19, Main Stage), Vancouver Welsh Men’s Choir in a “Sing We Now of Christmas” concert (Dec. 10, Main Stage) and the morning Coffee Concert series event “Music for 17 Pedals and 287 Strings” (Dec. 10, Studio).

Tickets for the Surrey Civic Theatres shows are available on tickets.surrey.ca, which also details a “Queen: It’s A Kinda Magic” tribute band concert, rescheduled from May 11, 2021, to June 16, 2022.

The Bell theatre website details a Dec. 12 performance of the British comedy “O Christmas Tea,” along with a May 7, 2022, concert date for American vocal group Home Free.

“The ‘O Christmas Tea’ show was here once before the pandemic (in 2019), and unfortunately the next one got cancelled, so they’ll be back again this fall,” Goodman explained.

“The Home Free concert, I think it was their third postponement,” he added, “so we’re really hoping that happens next spring, as planned. That’s one that sold really, really well right off the hop, so they can’t do it at 50 per cent capacity, because there are already too many tickets sold for it.”

The VSO plans to bring its “A Traditional Christmas” concert to the Bell this winter, Goodman said, but the date hasn’t been publicly announced yet.

• RELATED STORY, from 2017: ANSWERING THE BELL: A look back at Surrey’s large in-school theatre.

Bell Performing Arts Centre, so named with sponsorship money from the telecommunications giant, officially opened nearly 20 years ago, on April 13, 2002, with a gala headlined by Surrey-raised country artist Lisa Brokop.

Over the past 18 months, Goodman and theatre co-manager Andrew Elliot worked to send out COVID-19 notifications to those in Surrey’s public school system.

“We talked about it here, about how good of a gig this is until you don’t get to do it for awhile,” Goodman said. “Now I think we all have a great appreciation for this place and the work we do here. We missed it a lot.”

Surrey’s largest “soft-seater” theatre is located in Fraser Heights, home to the 1,500-seat Chandos Pattison Auditorium, at Pacific Academy. The theatre recently hosted the funeral for Caleb Reimer, among the three hockey-playing teen boys killed in a car crash in that neighbourhood on Aug. 21, but it’s not clear whether general-public events are being booked there.

Meantime, Newton Cultural Centre’s “black box” theatre is booked again by Naked Stage theatre company for “The Fighting Days,” from Nov. 12-14. A “reader’s theatre” production of the play, written by Wendy Lill and directed by Simon Challenger, involves auditions on Saturday, Oct. 2 from 1 to 5 p.m. (email kellyinva@gmail.com for info, or visit nspsociety.com). Set in Winnipeg during 1910-1917, the play focuses on the life and work of Francis Marion Beynon, a Manitoba journalist and political activist.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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