Mount Baker Theatre (MBT) has been bringing entertainment from around the world to Bellingham (and the entire Bellingham region) since 1927. That is an understatement when you consider the historic building and world-class, culturally-diverse live theater, dance, celebrity, and music performances that come to beautiful Bellingham from across the globe. And the 2016-2017 season is no exception. I took a tour of this architectural gem with Executive Director Brad Burdick to learn more about the powerhouse of Bellingham’s downtown arts district and its impressive list of upcoming shows.
Preserving History and Entertaining Ghosts
Almost 90 years ago, MBT was a luxurious movie palace built with an exotic Spanish Moorish design meant to transport its small town patrons to another time and place. Sadly, it is the only survivor of five built in the Bellingham-area at the time. In 1978 the building was placed on the National Historical Record and in 1984 the community rallied and saved it from demolition by developing a partnership between the City, County, and the community. Since then MBT has operated as a city-owned facility managed by the Mount Baker Theatre Corporation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Over $14 million in capital improvements have transformed this living machine. The theater’s interior is breath-taking and its exterior iconic. My tour took us to the heights of the balcony, the depths of the orchestra pit, and behind the curtain that hides the modern and historic secrets of how the magic is made. But my description can’t do it justice. Instead, the best way to experience this incredible venue is to schedule your very own free tour.
But tours aren’t for the easily scared because rumor has it that the theater is haunted by a friendly ghost named Judy, along with other spirits. Although some sightings have been correlated with consumption of adult beverages, others have gone unexplained. A safe in a former office turned storage room was mysteriously closed and no one knew the combination. After many, many years the room was being cleaned for renovation and the safe was suddenly discovered open!
Burdick also mentioned another tour he gave to a couple of individuals sensitive to paranormal activity. They both reported seeing a large black spirit of a big cat at the bottom of the stairs back stage, near the door that leads to the fan room for the Wurlitzer pipe organ (one of the top organs in the U.S. according to organist Dennis James). Later research discovered that in the late 1930’s, a traveling circus had performed at the theater and a black panther had died in the room. They asserted that animals don’t appear as ghosts, but as energy residues that jump out when encountered. Of course, the only way to find out is to take the free tour yourself!
Journeys Program is a Passport to Live Entertainment
Its evident that MBT’s employees work hard to bring the best in local, national, and international live entertainment to Bellingham. In addition to keeping the building’s history alive, their mission is to provide access to diverse performing arts and entertainment that enriches and educates the community. To achieve their goals MBT has developed the Journeys Program which includes a ‘passport’ full of culturally-diverse performances that make you feel like you’re immersed in another time and place without incurring the time and expense to travel to New York, Seattle, or Vancouver, B.C.
You don’t need to go to New York, Greece, Houston, or the Far East to see see incredibly-staged theatre, dance, and spectacle performances. They’re coming to us.
Professional dance company Momix will perform Opus Cactus on Oct. 18, 2016. Their mesmerizing movement brings the whole family along for a dangerous and funny escape into the enchanting world of the Sonoran desert.
I’m also excited to ‘experience’ Dublin (via Broadway) on Nov. 4, 2016 with the Tony Award-winning production of the romantic musical Once. Bringing the Broadway experience right here to Bellingham, this story follows a Dublin street musician’s struggle to reach his dreams and how he finds his art in the chemistry he develops with a captivating young woman.
I try to remember that famous people are just real people doing extraordinary things. But I can’t help get excited to be in the same room with some of the talented performers scheduled to visit. On Oct. 14, 2016 it will be as if New York’s Lincoln Center is right here in Bellingham with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by world-renowned Wynton Marsalis. He is among the most talented musicians and composers of his generation and his versatility spans genres.
If American politics has got you down, you’ll want to take an insider tour of Washington D.C with the famous resident comedy troupe The Capitol Steps on Sept. 16, 2016. With real life experience as Senate staffers, no subject is off limits for this company of talented comedians that blend the spectacle of musical AND political theater as they perform What to Expect When You’re Electing.
I’m a music lover. I like what I like and I don’t stick to any single genre. So I love the range of musicians MBT has this season. This season the following are all coming to town: Ben Folds Oct. 28, 2016, the U.K.’s Jive Aces Nov. 17, 2016, The Irish Tenors Dec. 14, 2016, One Night of Queen by Gary Mullen and the Works Feb. 18, 2017, International Acoustic Guitar Night Feb. 24, 2017, and The Irish Rovers with We Banjo 3 Feb 26, 2017. . And their Silent Film Series includes a number of classics, each accompanied by Dennis James on the theatre’s Wurlitzer pipe organ.
90th Birthday Celebration Planned
To honor the Mount Baker Theatre’s 90th Anniversary year, a whopper of a community party is set for Saturday, April 29, 2017. Theatre-goers will be invited to dress in 1920’s attire and join in with the spirit of time, when the theater was born. They’re planning birthday cake, signature cocktails, and dancing on the main stage behind a world-class swing band. Can’t wait to bust out my flapper costume.
Through the MBT events, we get to experience other cultures, locations, and points of view and glimpse what it takes to be famous. I’m told that approximately 40% of attendees live outside Whatcom County. Many combine their attendance with forays into our beautiful outdoors to make one glorious vacation. I feel pretty fortunate to have right here in my own back yard what others see as their ideal escape.
104 North Commercial Street, Bellingham, WA 98225