Lights, camera, action
What: The Fever
WHEN: 7pm Oct. 16, 17 and 24
Cost: By donation
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Since turning off the spotlights at the Sylvia Center for the Arts in March due to COVID-19 restrictions that shuttered performing arts venues across the nation, longtime iDiOM Theater artistic director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao has gotten a little squirrelly.
“I feel like I was at a sprint for 20 years, and the shutdown all of a sudden forced a full stop,” he says. “Being laid off made for some mandatory downtime that was probably more needed than I knew for my mental health. We have been hiking, running, cooking, baking and befriending wildlife. We have daily visits from a crow and her four babies, and a growing group of squirrels who are very comfortable about making themselves at home in our house, and on top of our heads.”
Despite a truncated workload that has allowed him to more deeply connect with the world around him, Hergenhahn-Zhao reports that, seven months after iDiOM’s last curtain call, the stage space in Bellingham’s Arts District will once again be the scene of theatrical magic. On Oct. 16, 17 and 24, local actress Beth Wallace will star in and Hergenhahn-Zhao will direct online productions of actor and playwright Wallace Shawn’s Obie Award-winning play, The Fever, which will be streaming live from Sylvia Center’s Lucas Hicks Theater.
The news is significant in more ways than one. In 2002, The Fever was the first production at iDiOM’s original digs on Cornwall Avenue, and Wallace was the actress who at that time brought the play to life. It was also handpicked for its subject matter—which features an unnamed narrator coming to grips with what it means to live a life of privilege alongside the poverty and oppression of fellow humans.
“I think we are in a unique stage of national empathy to the plight of others, be it COVID or oppressed communities of people,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says. “I think what Shawn says about New Yorkers is equally true of people living in Bellingham. We deal with a lot of problems by separating ourselves. The Fever has an echoing call for connectedness that speaks to privilege of all kinds. For a multitude of reasons, I think that is a message people are needing and ready to hear. This play to me is one of those works that is a mirror to the times. Anyone working for social change will find things here to connect with. Anyone feeling under attack will too. It is a very humane play full of wit and hard truths.”
As the first of four online productions taking place through November—including Shawn’s The Designated Mourner (Oct. 23), Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning Into Butter (Nov. 6-7), and Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (Nov. 20-28)—Hergenhahn-Zhao says the goal is to try to make the livestreams as much like typical theater experiences as possible. A Zoom “lobby” will be open before each show so audience members can chat with each other, and there will also be talk-back sessions following the performances—which will take place in real time.
While acknowledging the broadcasts won’t replace the thrill of being part of a live audience, Hergenhahn-Zhao says they’re a way for people to stay connected to the local arts scene during a time when performing arts venues are in a perilous position that has them relying on support from patrons and local businesses, many of which are also in crisis.
Some, like the Upfront Theatre, haven’t survived. Others—such as the Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth (BAAY), the Bellingham Theatre Guild, Mount Baker Theatre, and Bellingham Repertory Dance—are actively seeking assistance from the community.
“We are doing our best to adapt, but the longer this goes on the more dubious it is that we’ll be making theater on the other side,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says. “Donations have helped to keep us alive for seven months, and we’ll be making a push for funds to stay open, and to finish our main-floor spaces at the center. During this shutdown, in a time when we need to be revisioning arts funding, the city has cut most arts funding.
“As always, the best way to help us survive is to attend our events. If you have some money to give, give it to your favorite social justice organization. If you have some to give after that, we have probably $100,000 to raise over the coming months to keep the theaters and the center alive through the shutdown.”
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