The cast of Surrey Little Theatre's production of The Last Lifeboat scooped up a series of awards during the provincial theatre competition in Chilliwack this past weekend.

Langley actors elated to be part of Lifeboat win

On-stage and off-stage crew from Surrey Little Theatre express joy at play’s B.C. triumphs.

Ultimately, the ship may still have sunk, but Surrey Little Theatre’s (SLT’s) thespians emerged triumphant from the “wreckage” of their replica Titanic this weekend – making good their escape with a load of “serious” bling.

For the first time on record, actors and stage crew from SLT (as usual – including several from Langley) – won a fistful of awards for The Last Lifeboat at the provincial theatre competitions in Chilliwack on Saturday.

“We have finally won the best production,” gushed an overjoyed Langley City actor and SLT president Mike Busswood.

“It only took 30 of us six months and 23 shows and thousands and thousands of volunteer hours to get there,” said Busswood.

He also served as production manager and a few different characters in this show by the Clayton Height’s theatre group.

“I’m extremely proud of our club and all the members that made this effort to gain this honour,” he told the Langley Advance.

SLT earned the top prize of best production, as well as another for best ensemble. They can also brag about a handful of other accolades: Dale Kelly won best director and best set design; Pat McClean won best costumes; Miles Lavkulich won best lighting design; stage manager Sara Lownes won best newcomer/youth, and Rebecca Strom earned honourable mention for best supporting actress.

And among the awards given out, Busswood also received an honourable mention in the best supporting actor category.

The 59-year-old Langley City retiree not only tackled the job of production manager for The Last Lifeboat, but also took on the roles of multiple characters on stage, including Thomas, Captain Smith, Lord Mersley, and J.P. Morgan.

It would be all his roles that earned him the supporting actor accolades, but adjudicator Michael Armstrong did specifically single out his work on stage as Morgan.

In addition to Busswood’s participation, there were two other Langleyites who took part in this production – doctor-by-day, actor-by-night Jay Martens and Fort Langley’s Owen Carlson (one of four children in the play).

Langley resident Dave Williams, from the Langley Players Drama Club, served as co-chair of the Mainstage organizing committee, and commented on the how this year’s festival created an “amazing opportunity for theatregoers to view performances” from communities all over B.C.

Theatre BC annually hosts the community theatre competition called Mainstage festival. This year’s competition was held in Chilliwack, and ran July 2 to 9, with Surrey Little Theatre performing its winning showing of The Last Lifeboat on Monday, July 4.

Awards were given out during a special celebration on Saturday, July 9.

Lifeboat challenge

SLT chose the Luke Yankee play last fall as their competition entry.

The play selection committee was drawn to the fact that this production reveals the untold story of J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Line at the time of the sinking of the Titanic.

Ismay’s decision to save himself rather than go down with the ship made him the scapegoat for one of the greatest disasters of all time.

This play addresses the issues of corporate greed, commercial success versus human safety, survivor’s guilt, and how making the choice not to follow one’s heart can destroy a life, even if it is “saved,” Busswood said.

Armstrong, a theatre instructor from Vancouver Island, applauded the SLT’s efforts.

“My job as an adjudicator is to look at how well the various clubs rose to the challenges presented by the scripts they choose to produce. The Last Lifeboat is a sprawling, difficult, and largely untested script up against scripts that have won numerous awards including several Tony Awards and one Pulitzer Prize,” he said.

Armstrong explained how each of the contending drama clubs brought their shows from much smaller theatres and each being given a chance to expand and perform their play in the much larger 575-seat Chilliwack Cultural Centre during Mainstage.

The large venue offered advantages and difficulties alike for the clubs. But Armstrong was impressed with SLT’s showing.

“Surrey Little Theatre rose splendidly to that occasion thanks to teamwork, enthusiasm, and a strong artistic vision from director Dale Kelly. Technically, the production I saw stands on a par with some of the best professional theatre I’ve seen in many years.

“Besides the seamless ensemble work, there were also a number of strong individual performances from experienced actors able to lift their voices out into the large house. The 65 period costumes were spectacular: a feat far outside the budget of all but a handful of the top professional companies in the country.”

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