We are living in the Golden Age of Community Theatre. Honest. This is a real bonus for all of us living in the real world: lots of opportunities to perform, and a bounty of live-theatre choices to go out and see. Wonderful. But, for every gold nugget, there is a downside. There is just too much choice! How do we decide where to put our talents and dollars? The community theatre groups are vying for audiences with flashy professional shows, as well as with each other.
FVGSS, a Musical Theatre Society, recently reworked their name from Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Mike Balser is a longtime member of FVGSS and has given his time and talent as performer, director and president of the organization (now past-president). He feels the name change was a good idea. “We wanted people to know that we do more than just the Gilbert & Sullivan comic light operas,” he reasoned.
Good idea, but if you are under 45, do you even recognize the names Gilbert & Sullivan? The Victorian-era partnership of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan wrote 14 comic operas between 1871 and 1896. Yikes, that was a long time ago. Never mind. G & S light operas are comical, fanciful, absurd and absolutely delightful. And the FVGSS company delivers the delight with a light touch tempered with talent.
This year, FVGSS is presenting us with Iolanthe (pronounced I-O-lan-thee), a tale of fairies and England’s House of Lords. Iolanthe (played by Chantelle Dewar), you see, has been banished by the Fairy Queen (Breanna Marie) because she dared to fall in love and marry a mortal. Oh no! Horrors! It can only get worse. Fairies, you see, do not age the same as mortals. Iolanthe has a son, Strephon (Jake Hildebrand) who has grown to manhood during Iolanthe’s banishment. Strephon, a lowly shepherd, is in love with Phyllis (Rebekah MacEwan) to the dismay of the Lord Chancellor (Brad Dewar).
Enter the fairies to set the Peers of the Realm straight. “Some things just never go out of style,” says choreographer Tamara Jaune. This is her first time as choreographer for the G&S comic operas, but Jaune has worked with this society before. “G&S comedic operas toy with the idea of people who rise to power who are untrained and incompetent, and control everyone else,” she noted. “Incompetence. Snobbery. Witless bureaucracy. Some things never go out of style.”
Barbie Warwick, president of FVGSS, believes in preserving the cultural history G&S brought to the world of theatre, despite the challenges. “One of the greatest struggles in mounting a Gilbert and Sullivan show in 2018 is the fact that the popularity has waned over the past few generations,” Warwick explains. “People who recognize the name G&S are either over 70 years old or ‘music geeks.’ The majority of the population isn’t familiar with them. This is a shame because Gilbert and Sullivan were so ahead of their time, and their shows are very relevant to today’s society. They push against cultural mores and they use their wit to take the establishment and politicians to task.”
And there you have it. Iolanthe is from the Golden Age of G&S popularity and is coming alive again in the Golden Age of Community Theatre.
Iolanthe, the fantasy tale that, bizarrely, brings together fairies and parliament. Directed by Jacqollyne Keath, with music direction by John Arsenault, this production faces more challenges than just finding an audience. The society had to find a new venue for performances. Surrey Arts Centre‘s beautiful theatres are too expensive for the organization now, and Newton Cultural Centre is too small a venue. For a few years, the society’s spring production was granted space at the White Rock Players‘ Coast Capital Playhouse. Perfect space, and reasonable rent – but fully booked!
So take up the challenge along with FVGSS – cross over the bridge. Iolanthe runs May 16 to 20, Wednesday through Sunday, at Anvil Centre Theatre in New Westminster (777 Columbia St., near 8th St.). Parking is available in the adjacent parkade. For tickets, visit FVGSS.org/coming or call the box office at 604-521-5050.
Although this is a new location for FVGSS, the cast and crew are full of familiar names and family ties, with some new faces, too. The music is frivolous, the fairies are fun, and the peers are pompous. Yep, some things just never go out of style. It’s just one Golden Age to another.