Turning on the lights at the Sylvia Center
What: The Stars Catch Your Butt on Fire
Where: Sylvia Center, 207 Prospect St.
WHEN: 7:30pm Fri.-Sat., Sept. 3-4
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
He didn’t set out to become one of the most prolific playwrights on the planet, but during the pandemic shutdown iDiOM Theater artistic director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao realized the two-plus decades he’d been penning one-acts, serial plays and full-length productions had him nearing the 500 mark.
It’s a feat that gave birth to the 500 Plays Project—a goal to publish all the works over the next five or six years at a rate of a book a month—and influenced the trajectory of the 2021/2022 season at the Sylvia Center for the Arts. When the lights officially come up for the first time in 18 months this weekend at the downtown Bellingham venue, the first of five anthologies culled from Hergenhahn-Zhao’s creative collections will be front and center.
In the seven short works in “The Stars Catch Your Butt on Fire,” audiences will be introduced to a one-time poet who braves the world after years in seclusion, two assassins who fall in love before realizing they are each other’s designated target, a tight-laced bank clerk who meets cute with a carefree Fredrich Nietzsche (see photo), two young people navigating an awkward date, a woman raising two sons after her husband’s sad-but-predictable death, a group long-secluded in a a fallout shelter who are finally preparing to exit it, and a late-night DJ who realizes he’s no longer among the living.
The Sept. 3-4 performances will be the only time audiences can catch the live showings at the Sylvia Center, as a loaded season awaits them. The next weekend, iDiOM’s 48 Hour Theater Festival returns with new plays being created “from page to stage” each night, followed by six showings of The Wing Maker by iDiOM playwright-in-residence Rosalind Reynolds. Before year’s end, there will also be two more anthologies, a literary adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and a guest showing of Merely Players by Seattle’s Outsiders Inn Theater Company.
Add in improv comedy performances by the Upfront Theatre, music by the Jazz Center of Bellingham, and other shows by community partners, and you’re looking at a full calendar. It’s a whole lot to take in, Hergenhahn-Zhao admits, but he says every move made to bring audiences back into the space feels like coming home.
“Live theater is what we do—people in a room together sharing a new experience in community,” he says. “Everything else was just a substitute until the art form found a path back. That happens this weekend. Even if only 10 people feel comfortable coming back, we are here with a show.”
For those who are worried about recent spikes in COVID cases due to the Delta variant, Hergenhahn-Zhao says the venue is committed to being part of a responsible return to live theater. In addition to requiring audience members to be vaccinated or able to show proof of a negative COVID test, and to wear a mask, the’ve gone above and beyond mandated safety measures. The performers and crew are all fully vaccinated, actors will be masked when they are not under the lights onstage, crew members will be masked, theaters will continue to have reduced seating capacity (including blocking off the first row to create additional distancing between the performers and the audience), and their sanitation routine follows the best practices outlined by the CDC.
“We’re asking lovers of live performing arts, whether under the lights or in the seats, to do their part to keep theater alive in Bellingham,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says. “Each month of the last 18 has brought a new twist to the past of reopening, so the thing we are most nervous about is a worsening of the pandemic that would increase risk and roll back regulations and shut us down again. Be safe. Take care of yourselves. Wear your mask. It helps a whole community of people return to what they love to do—and, you know, stay alive.”