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Surrey’s revamped FVGSS breathing life into local theatre scene

First year that the society didn’t do a traditional Gilbert and Sullivan performance.

William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were all the rage during the Victorian Era, but that doesn’t hold much merit to casual theatre attendees in 2019.

That’s why, after 37 years of putting on stunning theatrical performances, the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society (FVGSS) had to revamp their image.

“The Gilbert and Sullivan society out here was built up of British Ex-Pats,” said Jim Nelson, President of the FVGSS. “They performed for many years quite successfully, but the problem is that the audience is dying off.

“We’ve gotten to the point where you cannot easily find an audience for Gilbert and Sullivan shows.”

With the audience dwindling, Nelson and company had to find a way to breathe new life into the society. That process started about four years ago, when the FVGSS hosted a Christmas Pantomime.

“That was a big step for FVGSS, and it’s been quite successful the past few years.”

“It was obvious that things had to change,” Nelson said. “It took us some time to revamp because we had to look at the way we did things, the way we worked as a board, and the way we put on shows.”

New life for the FVGSS

One of the most notable catalysts behind the facelift for the FVGSS has been the addition of more entertaining Pantomimes.

“This was the first year that we have not done a traditional Gilbert and Sullivan show,” Nelson said. “Now, we’re doing Broadway-level shows.”

“We’re also doing it in a place where no one knows where we are. We must continue working on building an audience. It’s still a work in progress since we don’t have a home theatre for the spring. Every show, we sign a contract with the theatre to rent their facilities.”

The FVGSS has been a staple at the Surrey Arts Centre since it’s inception 37 years ago. That gives them a permanent home for their fall show, but otherwise the society is nomadic.

Their most recent show just took place at the Coast Capital Playhouse in White Rock. Prior to that, they used the Amble Centre in New Westminster and the Clover Theatre.

“I think you get the picture,” Nelson said. “It’s not easy in the arts scene and we’re not entirely unique.”

That being said, you could see the signs of life within the organization after their spring rendition called “Seussical.” The theatrical performance is far removed from the traditional Gilbert and Sullivan performances, but the reception was superb by Nelson’s standards.

“Seussical has quite amazed us,” he said. “It sold out seven of nine nights. Supposed to be 50 people last night, ended up being 100. We’re really happy about how audience has received us.”

The numbers would say that the transition away from Gilbert and Sullivan shows had given the society new life. Many of the young actors have helped with that as well.

“Our young talent is great. The only hard part is that they’re very talented and end up leaving us for theatre school,” said Nelson. “Our last Peter Pan got accepted to Douglas College for theatre.”

Along with the young talent is a core group that’s been with FVGSS for most of its existence.

“There is still a core group that’s a part of this. Our Art Director has 25 years of experience with the society. Costume custodians date back to 20 to 30 years as well. There is that part that is still there, a long-standing core inside.”

The meshing of the experience, the youth and the new genre of shows is what now fuels the FVGSS. For Nelson, it’s something he’s happy to be a part of.

“I’ve been in entertainment for decades,” he said. “What I love is the live aspect. There’s nothing better than that. In the moment you feel the audience, you make a mistake but know when you’re being appreciated. There’s a real connection to people.”

How to support the FVGSS

No secret here, but the most obvious way to support the FVGSS is to go watch the shows.

“Seusscial was expensive, and there’s no way we could have done that without financial support, Nelson said. “We would have to charge double, no question about that. Seussical is Broadway show so there’s expectations. Costumes, acting, set, they all have to be at a Broadway level.

“Without grants, like the one from SurreyCares, our shows wouldn’t be possible. We’re all really appreciative of SurreyCares and what they’ve done for us. I was there last year for the Grant Ceremony and to be included among so many great organizations is truly an honour.”

If you want to support the FVGSS in other ways rather than attending the shows, you can also donate to them by getting in touch.

There is one other way to help the FVGSS, according to Nelson.

“What we’d really like is for people to participate. We need marketing, producers, directors, actors, musicians, costumes designers, people to construct, put up posters. There’s a ton of jobs, it takes 60 people to do production and no one gets paid. If you want to experience true camaraderie working in a team, there’s no better place to get that than the theatre.”



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