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On Stage

Filling Seats, Take Two

Of clapping and collaboration

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In last week’s issue, I drew attention to the Bellingham Theater & Performing Arts Forum that will be happening from 1-4pm Sat., Jan. 11 at iDiOM Theater.

The forum is designed to bring various theater and and arts organizations together and get them talking about challenges facing the creative community, resource sharing and collaboration, the possibility of a future arts lobby and discerning if there’s a pressing need for new venues.

I recently accepted an invitation to be on the panel as one of the “working arts professionals” who will be on hand to discuss the bullet points, and it got me thinking about the state of our local stages.

While some of the shows I see are better-attended than others, I’m here to tell you there’s a lot going on in this not-so-subdued town (unless it’s the week after Christmas). And collaboration is alive and well.

At the iDiOM’s 48 Hour Theater Festival last weekend, for example, cross-pollination of the arts scene was on full display, with actors from around Bellingham getting in on the act.

Other examples of creative cooperation are easy to find. The Bellingham Theatre Guild is currently lending its space to the Neighborhood Playhouse for a kid-friendly production of Charlotte’s Web. More than a few Western Washington University theater students are now mainstage performers at the Upfront Theatre. Those same players can occasionally be found populating performances at the iDiOM. Additionally, Kuntz and Company often combines the talents of professional dancers—many from Bellingham Repertory Dance—with those of community members.

Matt Christman, who runs the Firehouse Performing Arts Center with his wife Alona, has seen numerous arts organizations such as Kuntz and Company utilize the converted fire hall—which seats about 80—since opening for business in 2004.

When asked if he thinks Bellingham needs more venues, Christman says it couldn’t hurt.

“Some of the artistic genres, notably theater and dance, could use access to a modestly sized, well-equipped theater available at a reasonable price,” he says.

“That being said, Bellingham is still small,” Christman adds. “Ongoing patronage is critical to sustaining facilities. There is already so much competition for audiences that I question whether Bellingham is at a place where it can consistently generate appreciable audiences to warrant the creation of new spaces, both for the success of the new as well as the survival of the existing.”

iDiOM Theater’s Glenn Hergenhahn, who’s organizing the Performing Arts Forum, says he thinks Bellingham has the potential to become a destination for theater and dance.

“To do that, we need to harness the passion of all the talented individuals making great things happen in town,” he says. “We need to present a clear plan to the city and earn its support, and we need an active and ongoing conversation about art, life and what we hold dear.”

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