Staging their comebacks
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
As more people get in the queue for COVID-19 vaccines, the prospect of once again attending live theater events comes a little closer to being a reality. But we’re not quite there yet, so it seems like an opportune time to check in on the state of a few of our local stages.
At the Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth, the past year has brought a number of significant changes. A few months into the global health crisis, when it became clear BAAY would need to scale back operations in a big way—while still keeping sight of its mission to enrich the lives of children through the exploration of the arts—executive director Ian Bivins shifted to a more program-centered role, while also taking on outside work. In May, Anna Evans stepped in as a part-time interim ED to fill Bivins’ position.
“She has been our rock as we navigated the effects of the pandemic,” a recent press release recounted. “Due in large part to her leadership, BAAY has weathered the storm and is in a position to emerge stronger than ever.” It was also noted that as the school’s longest-serving volunteer, Evans had been committed to the academy’s success since 2006, when her daughter was cast in BAAY’s first production. (Additionally, she served on its board from 2015-2020.)
In the same missive, it was announced that after a year of transition, reflection and collaborative visioning, Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth would welcome Olivia Theilemann as BAAY’s new Artistic Director, and Juliette Machado as its Operations Director.
“Both Olivia and Juliette share similar identities as creative triple threats, with skills in nonprofit administration, arts education, and performance,” the press release furthered. “Together as co-leaders, this dynamic duo will chart the organization’s next course, working hard to ensure that BAAY has everything it needs to thrive and serve students for years to come.”
After a year of tuning in to Zoom classes and taking part in occasional virtual performances, BAAY students can look forward to a few small, in-person classes and using new, multi-use learning spaces at the State Street headquarters when its spring session kicks into gear on April 12. In addition to offering a wide range of subjects such as acting, singing, costuming, theatre tech, and makeup and special effects, private voice lessons and songwriting coaching will also be on the table for those wanting one-on-one learning experiences.
Action plans are also afoot at the Bellingham Theatre Guild. Early this week, the powers that be announced the 30-minute excerpt of Karen Ellison’s The Harry & Sam Dialogues they’d submitted to the American Association of Community Theatre’s National One-Act Theater Festival was one of only two submissions from western states to be accepted to the 2021 event—which this year will be a virtual one.
As one of 38 community theaters across the country competing for 11 slots, BTG’s acceptance to the festival wasn’t a sure thing. But months of hard work involving many dedicated volunteers paid off, and at some point a film crew will arrive in town to shoot the full-length version of the play for the nationals. The cast and crew—which includes actors Jeff Braswell and Kevin Six (pictured), director and designer Les Campbell, stage manager Christy Ham, and more—have continued to rehearse since submitting the piece. It’s something they would’ve done even if they hadn’t made the lineup, in hopes of sharing it sometime soon with its intended audience at the Bellingham Theatre Guild’s longtime home at 1600 H Street.
The BTG is also offering a new Zoom Theatre Series starting this week, with showings of Replacing Linda on April 9 and 10. The storyline follows Megan and her business partner, Wade, who must conduct a series of virtual interviews to hire a new administrative assistant in front of the company’s board of directors.
Like the other two plays on the roster—all of which are being directed by local force of nature Marla Bronstein—the show was written in the last two years specifically for the digital stage and features every actor performing separately from their own home. Virtual Complaint Department will continue the series April 23-24, and The Most Viewed Least Watched Virtual Talk Show in History will conclude the trilogy on May 7-8. Following each performance, actors and playwrights will “attend” Q&A sessions, so keep that in mind when you’re viewing their plays.
Both BAAY and the Bellingham Theatre Guild have depended on community support to keep their entertainment and education engines running during the pandemic, and the Sylvia Center for the Arts is also hoping patrons of the arts will help them get to the finish line of a recent fundraising effort, “Sylvia Rising.”
Started on March 19, the GoFundMe campaign has thus far raised more than $20,000, and hopes to reach the $50,000 mark by April 18 so they can begin to build, hire and create. The money will be used to develop new programs aimed at increasing diversity and equity in the arts; hire staff to support its mission of providing affordable spaces for Whatcom County’s artists to rehearse, teach and perform; and open a coffee shop in the space to bring in consistent revenue and create another space for community and performance.
When the arts hub on Prospect Street closed its doors last March, they weren’t sure what their reopening would look like, or when it would happen. But a year later, they’re still finding ways to make art. A recent livestreamed showing of Unsung—an original take on the story of Beowulf from iDiOM Theater Playwright in Residence Rosalind Reynolds—was one of many virtual shows they’ve offered since October of 2020, and although the performances have been successful and have drawn viewers from around the world, they’re no substitute for the real thing.
“Today we prepare for a time when audiences can return, when performers can hear the applause, and we can all return to the shared community that brought this project to light to begin with,” Artistic Director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says.
“While clearer skies are ahead, the survival of arts venues is by no means guaranteed. To realize our plans and secure the future of the center, we need support from our community.”
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