Emerald Pig needs a home.

I've sold my house! Great - now what???? So many possibilities and exciting adventures ahead, but what about Emerald Pig? My entire garage is chock-a-block full of costumes, props and Emerald Pig paraphernalia!  The need for a space of our own has reached a critical mass! I know I've said this before, but there's nothing like a deadline to motivate you to get things done!

Thanks to Maria and Roxanne at the Maple Ridge Times for highlighing our plight and helping gain the traction we need with the city and the Arts Council. The wheels are turning! Click here for the full story.

A Brief History of Community Theatre in Maple Ridge

I thought it would be good to share a bit of the history - someone should really write this stuff down properly. Maybe I'll talk to Val Patenaude or Sheila Nichols.

Sometime before John and I arrived in Maple Ridge, there was a community theatre group called Maple Ridge Players. They had a small but serviceable theatre that had once been a church. Unfortunately, the foundation failed and was deemed unsalvageable by the city. The building was torn down. It was not replaced. Maple Ridge Players ceased to exist.

Around 2000, the Cross House in Maple Ridge Park, was in need of help. A call went out to community groups to take over the building, but no one took up the cause.  The house fell further and further into disrepair. John and I were new to Maple Ridge and were looking for a theatre group to connect with. In 2001 we started Emerald Pig and looked around for a possible building. I discovered the Cross House 2 days before it was slated for demolition. Too late.

We started rehearsing at Sampo Hall, paying a pittance, but it was all we could afford and all there was. Thank goodness for Alex and his wife who owned the hall. They gave us a key and we just signed in and out and kept a running tally of our hours. They told us the story of the hall and how the Finns had settled here and built it and painted a beautiful mural on the back wall. They hoped the building and land could be sold to the city and preserved as part of a larger plan for the area. But it was not to be. They both died within a month of each other and now the hall sits empty, boarded up and unused. How long before it will have to be torn down?

Brenda Findlayson, the executive director of the Arts Council at the time we started in 2002, was very supportive and helpful in obtaining small grants for us on a show by show basis. She assured us that soon there would be a fabulous new theatre for community groups to perform in.

We found a temporary home for a while at Ruskin Hall and performed a few dinner theatre productions out there to capacity crowds. We ran our own bar and a charter bus came out and brought a group of seniors.

When the ACT opened, we bought a seat. We had hope for community theatre and booked one of the first productions in December 2003, The Legend of Santa Pig, with a live band on stage and whole barnyard full of animals and kids. It was a great family show and we met another friend and sponsor, Louise Warren, who loaned us her dance studio for rehearsal along with her young dancers.

We have spent many dollars in support of the arts in Maple Ridge and sustained Emerald Pig when there were no grants and when grants dried up. Emerald Pig has supported countless events and charities with donations of tickets, raffle prizes and services. We have dressed up, facepainted, loaned props, costumes and sets at the drop of a hat. These have included the Hospital Foundation Gala, Canada Day, Pitt Meadows Day, the Mayor’s Heritage Tea, Webster’s Corners Days, Literacy Day, Christmas Festival, Arts Day, Rivers Day, Earth Day and many others. As John pointed out, we have also hosted 2 Mainstages, 2006 and 2009, bringing tourism dollars to the community, much needed revenue to the ACT, as well as profiling Maple Ridge as a destination for high caliber theatre.

I want to be very clear that this is not about The ACT versus community theatre. The ACT is a wonderful venue for community theatre when the production is appropriate to a 350-500 seat theatre. The Legend of Santa Pig, Nunsensations, and A Christmas Carol were well attended and looked amazing on the main stage of the ACT. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will be on the main stage in December and will be fabulous! Dinner theatre in the Genstar Studio Theatre, has also been produced successfully many times (Faith County 2: An Evening of Culture, Har! The Pirate Play, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Odd Couple, Butterflies Are Free).

However, in recent years, we have had much more difficulty staging an event over two weekends because of the competition for performance space and/or programming on the Main Stage that directly competes for audience or interferes with the performance due to noise bleeding through from the main theatre to the Genstar. I see the problem as threefold:

  1. too many groups competing for the same (limited) time slots in the theatre’s programming schedule - this is a good problem to have from a business perspective, but not from an artistic one
  2. the programming process itself – the ACT must be managed in order to make money. This leaves very little room for small events that do not draw the musical theatre audience or children and will not generate a large percentage of ticket revenue over and above the regular rental rate.
  3. the ACT is not the right venue for small, intimate productions that challenge audiences, engage audiences and reflect life through the art. A different experience in a different venue is needed. The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls, our festival production next season, is still looking for another venue.

There have been numerous opportunities for the city to support the arts and demonstrate through its actions and policies the value it places on community theatre over the years. There has been much lip service paid, but nothing seems to change. I have never been invited to a meeting with a planning committee or asked for any input on proposals. The message and the mindset seems to be that we should be grateful for the ACT and that should be enough for community theatre. We are grateful for the ACT, but it isn’t enough.