The curtain has risen again on the Surrey Little Theatre, albeit in a bit of a different capacity this time.
Instead of performing for audiences at their little theatre in Clayton, the rich history of the Surrey Little Theatre (SLT) is now playing at the Museum of Surrey.
The now defunct theatre and theatre group is front and centre as the museum’s new Community Treasures exhibition. The exhibit opened last week and showcases the 62-year history of Surrey Little Theatre.
Ellie Parento, a former board member of SLT and one of the exhibit committee members, said she was happy to help put the show together.
“It was an honour to work on putting together the material for the exhibit,” said Parento. “It really showed how much work the many volunteers did to keep the theatre running for so long and how incredibly important the support they received from the community and patrons was.”
Parento said the committee ran through a whole range of emotions while prepping for the Community Treasures exhibit.
“It was sad to think that the theatre, as it was, had run its time.”
She added the committee was beset with frustration at times as they had very little info for some periods of the theatre’s history. “But (it was) also fascinating to discover some interesting things that none of us had known about the theatre previously.”
She said the biggest thing visitors will take away from the show at the museum is both the enormous successes the theatre had achieved and enormous challenges the theatre overcame in its 60-plus years.
She noted the exhibition has plenty of items to colour the theatre’s unique history.
“There are a large number of items, including such things as props, programs, trophies and photos.”
Parento said the endearing old theatre building where the thespian troupe used to perform on 184th Street—itself the former Clayton United Church—was recently sold to a developer and is currently being rented out as a residence.
As for the theatre troupe, it was founded in 1958. They won several awards over the years for their performances and productions.
Banners in the exhibit at the Museum of Surrey describe the little theatre’s six-decade history.
“Surrey Little Theatre has a colourful, decades-long history in the cultural landscape of Surrey,” reads an exhibit-introduction banner. “It was founded in 1958 by Betty Baines as a place for her daughter to learn theatre arts.”
In ’58, SLT held their initial meetings in the basement of the Dell Hotel. At the time, they called themselves the North Surrey Thespians. Incorporated in 1959, the group officially became the Surrey Little Theatre in 1964.
Initial productions were held in halls or schools: Queen Elizabeth High School, Cloverdale Junior High, and Princess Margaret Sr. Secondary were a few of several locations.
In December of 1958, the North Surrey Thespians held their first show, Wanted – A Housekeeper.
To finance early productions the fledgling theatre group held rummage sales, hosted fundraising parties, and put on cabarets. In 1962, the North Surrey Thespians won their first award at the Vancouver Regional One Act Play Festival of B.C. Drama Association for their performance of The Rose and Crown.
After their preliminary perambulating successes, the troupe longed, and needed, a permanent home. In 1967, SLT was able to buy the Clayton United Church after it closed down. The group performed its first production there in 1968, Dirty Work at the Crossroads, but they were shut down shortly after that as the church was old and wasn’t up to building code.
Major renovations were done and the petite stage opened once again in 1973 with a production of A Compulsory Option. The troupe hosted numerous plays each year and the success of the ’70s allowed SLT to pay off their mortgage in 1979.
As the 1990s dawned, SLT created “The Surrey Little Theatre Spirit Youth Group” as an avenue for youth to create, act, direct, and put on their own productions. The youth group hosted its first play in 1991 and settled into hosting a summer and a Christmas production each year.
The theatre achieved “festival successes” in the early 2000s, winning several awards for their performances.
Later in the decade, SLT started the “50-Hour Film Challenge” contest. Participants had from Friday evening to Sunday night to write, shoot, edit, and enter a five-minute film for a chance to win prizes and get their name on a cool trophy.
As the 2010s wore on, it was clear to all that SLT would need to move to a different venue. The building was just too small, was in need of constant repair, and major development in the area was looming.
Members from SLT approached the Langley Players Drama Club in 2020 and the two merged to form Langley Little Theatre in 2021. The legacy of the Surrey Little Theatre lives on as the new troupe performs out of the Langley Playhouse on 200th Street.
The Community Treasures exhibit on SLT runs until May 1 at the Museum of Surrey, 17710 56A Avenue. Entrance is free. To find out more info, contact the museum at 604.592.6956, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit surrey.ca.
Community Treasures exhibitions are shows brought to the museum through public outreach and engagement. According to the Museum of Surrey, “Community Treasures celebrates the stories of Surrey’s people.”
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