GUILDFORD — On the final Sunday night of February, the stars came out for the Academy Awards in Hollywood. But there was one humongous Oscars statue here in Surrey, too. It stood – all seven golden feet of it – on a red carpet at the entrance to the Fraser Room at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.
And soon they came – to stroll that red carpet, to pose with jumbo Oscar, to partake in champagne and finger foods while watching the Hollywood-focused big screens and, of course, to see and to be seen.
In attendance were Surrey Arts Council’s Carol Girardi, Sources CEO David Young, entrepreneur/musician Chris Thornley (proudly flaunting a mini-Oscar of his own) and Coun. Vera LeFranc (wearing a to-die-for strapless number).
And let’s not forget the costumes. Surrey Christmas Bureau boss KC Gilroy (pictured) came dressed as Bette Davis, Sylvia Taylor as Jayne Mansfield. At least a couple of Indiana Joneses were in the room. The Vaudevillians were in their sharpest 1920s “Flappers” attire.
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And it was a party with a purpose: To raise money for the Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s mentorship program.
“Every year, we run a mentorship program that culminates in our Christmas show at the Surrey Arts Centre,” Ellie King, founder and artistic director of the theatre company, said between greeting guests.
“We bring kids in from any background, any ethnicity – come one, come all. All we ask from them is a modicum of talent and commitment, and a willingness to be part of a team.
“We teach them singing, acting and dancing,” King added. “We make all the costumes, we rent the space for them to perform, we rent the space for them to rehearse. We have the stagecraft side, the technical side, everything. They get a full professional experience.”
But there’s more to it than that.
Actor Stephen Elcheshen talked about the time a decade ago when the company wanted to cast both he and partner Kerri Norris, now also a top-billed regular with the theatre company, in the same production. One problem: They had a brand new baby.
“But Ellie told us to bring her along. So that’s what we did, to each rehearsal and each performance,” Elcheshen recalled.
“Our daughters are now 10 and seven,” Norris added. “They have such confidence and have made such great friends, and they kind of have a place to call home. We love that spirit of family that inhabits the company.”
And that, at its heart, is what the RCTC is all about – theatre, sure, but a sense of family and a little guidance, too.
“Five years ago when I started, I was small and shy,” said Kai Glass of North Delta, now an RCTC veteran at the age of 11. “And now I have confidence. I can sing loud now. I’ve learned a lot from them, like how to interact with an audience. And I’ve made a lot of friends.”
Ten-year-old Raychel Taylor of Cloverdale said she “learned how to react to events on the stage. I learned dancing and choreography. I danced in the main numbers. It was really fun. I met a bunch of nice people.”
Rachel’s mom, meanwhile, is amazed how this little girl, so shy when she auditioned, can now sing and dance comfortably in front of a large crowd.
But here’s the thing: The RCTC doesn’t charge for its mentorship program – not a penny. And that’s precisely why events the company’s Oscars shindig, which included a 50/50 draw and silent auction, are so critical.
This was the first time Royal Canadian’s annual Oscars event was held at the Sheraton, and King loved the ambiance the revamped hotel delivered. She’s thinking of doing a costume-themed party this year at Halloween as well, as another fundraiser.
And of course, she said, donations are always welcome. If you’d like to help support the Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s mentorship program, either with a one-time donation, as a sponsor, or as a member of the society – and score yourself a charitable tax receipt while you’re at it.