Glenn Hergenhahn, who founded iDiOM Theater in 2001, returns as iDiOM's artistic director at the end of January because Sol Olmstead, who held the position the last several years, is moving to New York City.
As Sol said in a 2009 interview with me, "This city is teeming with ingenuity and iDiOM is proud to be able to put those brains to work. Glenn has an amazing ability to encourage people to be as brilliant as they can be and to challenge themselves to think deeper about what they wish to become."
Here is Glenn, speaking for himself:
Question: Why did you found iDiOM?
Answer: I began writing plays after college, where I studied painting. I knew after staging my first play in 1996 that I wanted to spend my life making plays.
I started iDiOM because Allied Arts of Whatcom County (which then owned the building where iDiOM lives) made it part of their mission to support other arts organizations and gave us an amazing opportunity to create our own space. Thank you! (Thank them if you stop by.)
iDiOM came into existence just at the time when Bellingham was open to new original theater. We benefited by sharing a space with the Bellingham Grande Cinema, and later with The Pickford, both organizations that had a clientele of smart, creative, diverse audiences similar to ours.
iDiOM is very much a playwright's theater. We are proud to boast that iDiOM creates more original plays than any theater in the country. In the past 10 years we have produced almost 700 new plays. Many of those are shorter one-acts, but the fact that there has been such enthusiasm and excitement about a small-town theater making new plays should be trumpeted throughout the land.
Q: Who was involved?
A: For the first several years iDiOM was run by Krissa Woiwod and myself, and we were responsible for much of the new work the theater created. Strong new voices entered the fray several years ago, most notably Andrew Connor, Mike Matthieu and Solomon Olmstead.
Both Mike and Andrew have (much to our dismay) left town. More recently, Sol Olmstead has taken the helm of the theater. He will step down at the end of January and I will step back into the role of artistic director that I held for eight years.
IDiOM faces a lot of challenges: Dwindling attendance (a problem shared with most of the theater venues in town), rising rent (Daylight Properties has nearly doubled our rent since they purchased the building.), the ongoing task of creating new, innovative, dynamic, irreverent, challenging work with a lot of heart; and very little money.
Q: Who and what are most memorable to you since the theater opened?
A: Krissa Woiwod's writing helped bring the theater into existence. We are lucky to have her writing for the theater again, and hope she will be an ongoing presence in years to come. Her writing is subversive and poetic (in the best way) - like a wrecking ball dressed like a clown (take that in any way you want.)
The Cody Rivers show changed the way we do theater at iDiOM, mostly because it raised the bar on what a well-rehearsed show could be. Mike Matthieu and Andrew Connor, aside from being brilliant writers and performers, are tireless perfectionists. That was a much-needed dynamic in a theater that took a certain amount of pride in imperfection.
Sol Olmstead came to the theater very green. In just a few years he has come into his own as an actor, a director, a playwright and a collaborator. Aside from being incredibly smart, Sol's greatest asset is that he will throw himself headlong into anything asked of him.
I can't begin to express what a great trait that is in the world of theater. You need fearless warriors of the stage. Sol is one of those.
I could go on and on:
Raven Burnett, Kamari Chapman, Eva Suter, Tim Sanders and Ben Eisner have all continued to grow as writers and continue to be involved in the ongoing project.
Sean Cook and Nate Smith have fled town, but are sorely missed and will come back our way from time to time. It has been a joy to see actors like Jeff Braswell, Riley Penaluna, Wes Davis, Cass Murphy, Chris Coombs, Andrew Herndon, Kimberly Ross, Ron Warner, Kari Severns and Trevor Van Houten (to name just some) grow as actors over the years on the iDiOM stage.
Relative newcomers like David Huss, Leon Charbonneau, Marie Biondolillo, Tera Contezac, Joan Harris, Matthew Williamson and Eliott Glasser continue to bring new talent and new energy to the iDiOM family.
Q: What do you look for in signing up somebody for the iDiOM?
A: It is not always easy to articulate the work we do and what we are looking for. Our sensibilities change from year to year. When we began we were almost doing anti-theater: Irreverent, silly, satire of what you might expect to see on stage.
Though that sensibility survives, we do much more straight theater these days. Though even when we stray into realism, we look for plays and people that have something unique to say, are innovative and brave, and are not afraid to fail miserably.
Q: Why did you move to New York, what did you learn, and why did you come home, and are you going to stay here for awhile?
A: I moved to New York in 2010 because I wanted to study and learn and expand my artistic horizons a bit. I studied acting at The Atlantic Theater; I had the opportunity to direct there as well. I produced off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows, but more than anything I had the chance to act with some amazing people.
I learned a completely different way of acting and directing. The classes that I teach here are the result of the things I learned in New York. The lab project that we began this year is a continuation of the exploration of the craft.
I came back because I met my wife, Shu-ling Hergenhahn Zhao. I also missed this place. We aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Q: What's on the horizon?
A: I am already at work designing next year's season. We will be making a lot of announcements soon about submissions and opportunities, new staff and new board members.
There will be even more going on at iDiOM, and more opportunities for writes and actors. I will be teaching acting, writing, and directing classes through Northwest Passage. Our NWP Theater Lab will be performing our first show, "Monsters," in April.
Q: How's life married to a fellow thespian?
A: Being married is great! We had the most amazing Hallowedding populated by a beautiful congregation of woodland creatures and strangely clad guests. Shu is another fearless warrior for theater and one of the most talented people I've worked with. She often works behind the scenes and without credit, but her hand and her sensibilities are making all my shows better these days.
We spend most of our time being incredibly silly, which is healthy, and helpful for making theater. Having a 5-year-old also helps to keep you from taking yourself too seriously, which might be the most important thing of all.