Artist Profile: Actress in the iDiOM Theater’s “These Seven Sicknesses” first got theater bug at Whatcom Community College

Shu-Ling Hergenhahn-Zhao, 26, is one of the many actors involved in “These Seven Sicknesses,” Sean Graney’s epic undertaking of staging all seven surviving Sophocles tragedies, on stage at the iDiOM Theater now through Nov. 2.

Hergenhahn-Zhao attended Meridian High School and Whatcom Community College and received STOTT Pilates instructor training in Seattle.

Question: When did you first catch the theater bug?

Answer: I did musicals in high school, which in my book never really counted. I didn’t care about what I was doing. I feel like I really fell in love with theater in college after I learned how to analyze scripts and was exposed to some actor training.

Q: When did you first become involved with the iDiOM and what have you done there?

A: I started performing at iDiOM in 2010- 2011 on Ben Eisner’s “Serial Killers” team. I performed in “Briseis” later that year which Glenn (the future Mr. Hergenhahn-Zhao and the founder of iDiOM Theater) wrote and directed. I’ve done several shows since then with Glenn, including “The Highline Sermons.”

I’m also a member of the Northwest Passage Theater Collective Theater LAB, which may be one of the best opportunities I’ve been given. (The LAB trains hard and plays harder.)

Q: Why do enjoy being involved in theater?

A: When we talk about theater we talk a lot about the thrill of being on stage, the social aspects of the art, and the conversation between the actors and audience.

I personally just like making things happen. Getting a group of people together to roll up their sleeves and bring a production to life is magical, stressful, and beautiful. Whether I’m acting or mixing quarts of stage blood or applying a prosthetic to someone, it’s all about contributing to that singular vision of the play. We all collaborate on this happening, and when the lights go up on opening night, it becomes a gift to everyone present.

Q: How is the iDiOM different other theater companies in Whatcom County?

A: IDiOM Theater is an independent black box theater. The space is intimate. Actors are less than two feet from you. The volume of original work sets iDiOM apart from other theater’s nationwide. IDiOM produces work that is irreverent, slightly absurd and takes risks.

I feel like iDiOM’s work also challenges audiences to reflect on life. Something as benign as a one-woman film- noir-clown show is laced with a commentary on gender roles during the post-war era as well as how we continue to play into those stereotypes today. The conversations iDiOM is constantly willing to have with their audiences about the human condition is remarkable.

That’s not to say that Bellingham isn’t full of folks creating challenging performances. We have amazing organizations producing challenging work like Kuntz & Company and Bellingham Theaterworks, but iDiOM is the only dedicated space that is putting up 40-plus of those shows this year. That might also mean we’re the most sleep deprived, but you win some, you lose some.

Q: What’s “These Seven Sicknessess” about ?

A: iDiOM’s production is the West Coast premier of the show. Having these stories all told together is rare and as an audience member you can see the full arc of these characters’ lives. We have the pleasure of serving dinner and dessert.

The entire evening is a 4.5-hour marathon that the audience will run with us. There are epic fights, beautiful words, bloody deaths, and a surprising amount of lighthearted humor.

If none of that has you jumping out of your seat to get in line, then let me just say that this group of actors is one I feel incredibly blessed to be counted among.

I leave rehearsals wanting to do kowtows repeating “I’m not worthy” regularly.

Q: What else besides theater do you enjoy about living in Bellingham?

A: There are a lot of little things I love about this city like cocktails at Temple Bar, Mount Bakery’s croissants, soups at 250Flora, Bagelry’s halvah, Vie Sweet’s butter-cream at Icing on the Cake.

(By “things,” I apparently meant food. I love our little hidden food gems. When I’m not a-theatering I’m eating or cooking, but mostly eating. I spend a lot of time eating.)