Whatcom CountyÂ is fortunate to have a variety of performing arts theaters. The iDiOM, now at Sylvia Center for the Arts, presents avant-garde, irreverent original works while Mount Baker Theatre brings touring shows from around the world to our doorstep. Bellingham Theatre Guild (BTG), a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, serves our community by deftly filling the void between the rest. They present broad community theatre entertainment withÂ feel-good musicals, comedic farce, and serious dramas that appear nowhere else.
My good friend Jeff Braswell, chair of BTGâ€™s Publicity Committee, has been involved as an actor and BTG Board Member for more than 16 years. He gave me the low down on all the great improvements happening at BTG as well as a fascinating look inside its more than 85-year history.
Making History in Whatcom County
BTG has been producing live theatre in Whatcom County since 1929. They began at the Normal School, which became the core of what is now Western Washington University.Â The theater also performed at church halls and even a mortuary before settling in its current location in 1944 at the former First Congregational Church. Built in 1902, the site wasÂ purchased from the well-known and scandalous evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson, believed to be the person upon whom the female lead character in Elmer Gantry was based.
Built on the historic landfills that mark much of Bellinghamâ€™s downtown area, BTG had not been significantly renovated over the years. Additions had been made but it lacked access to the disabled, the building was showing signs of settling, and access to the three separate floor levels required a lot of stair-climbing. Thus,Â the Board of Directors Â had a goal for decades to improve accessibility by adding an elevator.
Beginning around 2012 the Board committed to pushing the renovations forward. With help from consultants and volunteers, the Board developed a plan and launched a capital campaign to raise $1 million. As of this writing, BTG has successfully raised $850,000, enough to begin the renovations that should be complete in December 2016. The new elevator and entrance are in place, insulation and roofing have been improved to increase comfort and energy efficiency, and the foundation has been anchored to the bedrock to prevent further settling.
A Diverse 2016-2017 Season
BTG has long tried to balance its seasons to appeal to a wide audience, with musicals, comedic farce, and intense drama using local actors, directors, and crew and 2017 is no exception. Irving Berlinâ€™s White Christmas will kick off the Christmas season with a large cast bringing the feel-good song and dance based on the popular film. It will be followed by the serious drama, A Shayna Maidel, which follows a family through the aftermath of the Holocaust.
The spring of 2017 will bring the hilarious I Hate Hamlet, about an actorâ€™s adventure in New York while playing Shakespeare and meeting John Barrymoreâ€™s ghost. Summer will begin with the play-within-a-play farce, Noises Off, that will feature a revolving set to show the action both on stage and behind the curtain as actors try to pull off a doomed fictional play called Nothingâ€™s On. The season will close with the fast-paced drama, I and You, about two youths completing a school poetry project that quickly leads to unexpected plot twists.
WithÂ over 700 productions and 7,000 performances under its belt, BTGâ€™s building modifications will continue to bring community theatre to new generations in Whatcom County for another 100 years. You can see the renovations yourself because BTG is offering Behind-the-Curtain tours to the public. They are also gratefully accepting donations to cover the last of the renovations.
1600 H Street
Bellingham, WA 98225