Theatre-goers spilled out into the lobby for intermission, most wiping away tears brought on by the emotional plot of a play they were watching.
But Stephen Drover stayed on his perch – a strategic mid-span aisle seat where he could see and hear all the goings on from the stage, as well as the reaction from the crowd.
Feverishly taking notes during the break, the Newfoundland-native-turned-judge would not comment on specific likes or dislikes of the two plays he saw earlier in the week, the one he was watching Tuesday night, or the two remaining plays showing at Langley Playhouse this week.
But what the theatre director would say was how impressed he was with the quality and diversity of productions competing in the annual Theatre BC Fraser Valley Zone Festival, for which he’d been asked to adjudicate.
“What I’ve seen thus far is a cross-section of many different kinds of theatre, which displays an encouraging outlook on the health of our artistic community,” Drover said of the week-long regional competition.
The Vancouver transplant is a director and no stranger to judging community theatre, adjudicating at least 20 festivals during the past decades.
But what did surprise him about this competition was the sense of community that was apparent in this festival from the very beginning.
Most such contests have an obvious air of competition that wasn’t evident this time out, he said.
Instead, he was moved at the camaradarie – on and off stage – moral support, and even the sharing of a meal before each show.
“This one feels particularly community strong,” he said of the competition.
“It doesn’t feel competitive at all. It has been nice to be reminded of that spirit of community,” that he said can tend to be forgotten in the big city theatres.
Mission accomplished, according to festival co-chair Mary Renvall.
The breaking of bread at the beginning of each night not only provided much needed nutrients for the actors and crew members who often leave work early to get to the theatre then work late into the night before taking a break.
These homemade meals seem like a perfect way to bring everyone together to socialize and share companionship, Renvall said.
While she’s attended many competitions through her theatre career, and there’s been hors d’oeuvres or sandwiches served up in a rather formal setting. Thanks to the cooking abilities of a few Langley Players’ members, they’ve been able to serve up a nightly barbecue that has added to more of the family feel that Drover appreciated.
“It’s really nice to have that time together,” Renvall said. “It’s very much appreciated by everyone.”
She described the Fraser Valley theatre groups as a relatively small, and close community of people, where some actors move between the different theatre companies to perform, and where they help each other out throughout the year.
“We’ve been through thick and thin together, we’re all family,” Renvall said, noting that through the years many of the theatre companies participating in this year’s competition have been there celebrating life’s triumphs and sharing difficult times – such as illness and hardship – together.
“They’re kind of extended family,” so this week’s competition is just about bringing that family together and having fun, Renvall said.
“It’s been a wonder week, so far,” Renvall told the Langley Advance Wednesday.
In addition to five evening productions offered by the five vying community theatre groups (Langley Players, Surrey Little Theatre, Theatrix, Stage 43, and Emerald Pig Theatrical Society), the drama festival also included an opening reception to kick things off Sunday, nightly play critiques, an acting workshop lead by Drover tonight, and an awards gala on Saturday.
The winner will be announced at the Star Wars-themed gala, which is being held at the High Point Equestrian Centre in South Langley.
The regional winner will then move on to the provincial championships, called Mainstage, being held in Kamloops in July. Last year Langley Players was the regional champion, and members took their production of Lost in Yonkers to the provincials where they scooped up seven of 19 awards.
They’re hopeful this year’s production, The Stillborn Lover, will do well.