Operators of Surrey Little Theatre received a pre-Christmas gift in the latest city budget, in a week when the company’s latest Christmas show was rehearsed.
The UFO Ho-Ho! play opens Friday (Dec. 6) at the 76-seat theatre, which faces an uncertain future in light of increasing residential development in that corner of Clayton, at 184th Street and Fraser Highway.
The city has budgeted $500,000 in 2023 for the potential relocation of the theatre, among major general capital projects listed in the five-year budget passed by city council on Monday (Dec. 2).
“The relocation of this not-for-profit group’s facility to a more accessible location is anticipated to both strengthen this organization and increase service to the city,” city officials say in a budget document.
The allocation of $500,000 was news to theatre company president Sara Lohnes when contacted by the Now-Leader on Nov. 22.
“We have not spoken to anyone at the City of Surrey about this – only about the potential for us to find land or space, but there’s been nothing about formal assistance like this,” Lohnes said.
“This is totally out of the blue for us, but it’s a boost for what we want to do, yes.”
In West Clayton, city plans call for higher-density housing and commercial activity, and that could mean widening 184th Street one day. If that happens down the road, the theatre would have to go, because the structure – a former church built in 1936 – is located just steps from the increasingly busy street.
As it stands, parking is a pain, and there is no space on the land to set the structure back from the roadway, so a plan to move the plays to a theatre in another location would have to be drawn.
“That’s a plan we’re trying to work on,” Lohnes said. “Ideally we need a whole new building in a whole new location, and that location just isn’t feasible right now. Informally we’ve been in talks with the city about finding space, but nothing is formal yet.
“Ideally we’d love to stay in Clayton or Cloverdale – that’s where a good base of our patrons live, so we wouldn’t want to move too, too far,” she added.
The church building is listed on the Surrey Heritage Register but does not have formal heritage protection, according to the West Clayton Neighbourhood Concept Plan (NCP) approved by city council in July 2015.
Kent Gallie, the city’s manager of performing arts, said the $500,000 budgeted for the theatre relocation has been on the books for at least a year.
“Essentially it’s there, really, as a placeholder in the event that development happens in that area and they need to widen 184th Street,” Gallie said. “The purpose to have money in the capital plan is, if and when they do need to relocate, and they can put a plan together and find a suitable location, the city would be wanting to assist them, particularly if it was all because the road needs to be widened. So that’s where we’re at at this point. It’s not in there for a specific reason, but it’s in there for 2023 for the possible relocation, just in case.”
Gallie said operators of the theatre are “in the driver’s seat” at this point. “If they get a business plan in place, if they had a new building in mind, at that point it would warrant having another meeting with them,” he said.
And so, for now, on with the Christmas show, which closes Dec. 15.
“We’re really excited about it,” Lohnes said. “It’s sold-out the past two years, so we’ve added an extra show this year. We’re doing six shows over two weekends this year, instead of four or five shows on one weekend.”
In UFO H0-Ho!, an alien lands at the North Pole looking for his leader, according to a description posted to surreylittletheatre.com. “Believing his leader to be Santa, he asks to be taken to him. The elves and other characters try to help, but when a villain and his sidekick steal the alien’s ray gun in an attempt to take over Christmas, the elves and friends find they need more help than they expected.”
The play, written by Margaret Shearman and directed by Linda McRae, features four sets of families working together to make the “out-of-the-world adventure come alive on stage,” according to SLT publicist Ellie Parento.
Kim Baker, who plays one of the head elves, Shingles, is involved in the show with her children Jeremy (as the villain), Parker (a jokester elf) and Joel (in the tech booth).
SLT newcomer Lisa Keeling Drever plays Jingles, a cheerful elf, and is joined by her daughter, Sophie (“a show favorite from A Grumpy Christmas, as Frass,” Parento noted).
Barb McLeod plays Sandy Claws, and her son, Andrew Keilbart, is the villain’s sidekick, Sly Stoneheart.
Simon Challenger plays jolly Santa Claus and is also the show producer. His daughter, Jenn, is on board as stage manager.
“Together with the families,” Parento says, “Harry Pering hilariously plays Elvis from the Planet Elvia along with Boe Connell, who is Captain Shortbread, a dog on law patrol and an elf, and Hannah Deschutter, resident musician.”
After the curtain closes, kids are invited to stay and take part in some activities, including photos with Santa.
Show tickets are $6 for kids and $12 for adults, at brownpapertickets.com. For more details, call 604-576-8451.