The historic Bellingham Theatre Guild (BTG), a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, provides Bellingham broad community theater entertainment with feel-good musicals, comedic farce, and serious dramas. Some are world favorites, which stand in contrast to the avant-garde, irreverent original works offered at The iDiOM, now at Sylvia Center for the Arts, and the touring shows from around the world brought to our doorstep at Mount Baker Theatre.
My good friend Jeff Braswell, chair of BTG’s Publicity Committee, has been involved as an actor and BTG Board Member for more than 17 years. He and current Board President, actor and director Dee Dee O’Connor gave me the low down on all that’s happening at BTG as well as a fascinating look inside its almost 90-year history.
Making Theatre History in Whatcom County
Bellingham Theatre Guild 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. 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 was 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 Bellingham’s downtown area, BTG recently completed renovations to make the theater more accessible and earthquake sound. A 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.
The 194-seat venue is the perfect mix of historic charm and modern convenience. All three floors are accessible via the new elevator, including the basement room where you can buy concessions and meet the actors and crew in person after each show.
For a special treat, be sure to get your tickets for opening night of each show where BTG hosts a ‘gala’ night before the show with hors d’oeuvres and fun.
A Diverse Bellingham Theatre Guild 2018-2019 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. This season is no exception. On stage and behind the curtain you’ll find quite a range of seasoned performers, experienced directors and fresh faces including WWU and other students. Each of the directors this season are BTG stalwarts with decades of experience in community theater so the performance quality, set design and interpretation are all expected to be stellar.
Shipwrecked: The Adventures of Louis De Rougement
November 23, 2018 through December 9, 2019
Based on a true story, this fun, theatrical show is suitable for the whole family. Directed by Les Campbell, known locally for his exceptional direction of the musical Glorious, this story of bravery, survival and celebrity takes you out on the high seas, where you’ll meet exotic islanders, flying wombats, giant sea turtles and a monstrous man-eating octopus. I can’t wait to see the creative set design and costumes for this one.
Bellinghamster One-Act Theatre (BOAT) Festival
January 14 through 26, 2019
In its seventh season, this fringe-style festival presents an eclectic mix of short works produced by mostly local artists. I love that this festival creates an opportunity for new and established playwrights, primarily from Whatcom County, to produce and share their work, some for the first time. The range in of subjects and genres are as broad as the writers. You can expect drama, comedy and musicals. Several of my friends have presented their work here as a short before expanding them to full-length. My friend Marla Bronstein will be writing and directing a short play this year.
Festival passes are just $10 so plan to attend several of these anything-goes plays.
February 1 through 17, 2019
Directed by one of Bellingham’s favorites, Teri Grimes, Almost, Maine is a vignette of nine love stories set in the play’s titular small town. The characters find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and hilarious ways. “Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend—almost—in this delightful midwinter night’s dream.”
March 29 through April 14, 2019
In the vein of the 2016 Academy Award-winning film Hidden Figures, Silent Sky shares the true but upbeat story of Henrietta Leavitt and other women astronomers at the turn of the 19th Century. While working at the Harvard Observatory at a time of incredible scientific discovery, Henrietta explores her place in society, “trying to balance her dedication to science with family obligations and the possibility of love.”
My friend and Whatcom Community College Adjunct Faculty, Shawn Fuller, will be directing this timely drama written in 2015 by Lauren Gunderson. She tends to choose shows featuring strong women. I auditioned for her production of Rabbit Hole at the Claire vg in Lynden and people are still talking about her BTG production of The Women of Lockerbie in 2014.
June 14 through 30, 2019
This well-known and popular musical production directed by Michelle Kriz, Nunsense, begins when the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters. They are in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium, which is currently set up for the eighth grade production of Grease. As you might have guessed, this promises to be darkly and uproariously funny, something that BTG has done well for decades.
With over 700 productions and 7,000+ performances under its belt, BTG will continue to bring community theatre to new generations in Whatcom County for another 100 years. You can see the theater in all its glory 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.