Artist Profile: Bellingham’s Judith Owens-Lancaster relishes her life in theater

Bellingham native Judith Owens-Lancaster, like several West Coasters who have gone to the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune, only to return to the laid-back Fourth Corner, graduated from Bellingham High in 1958 and attended Western Washington University for one year on a music (voice) scholarship, went east, and returned to Bellingham about 12 years ago.

She’s directing the Bellingham Theatre Guild production of Ken Ludwig’s comedy “Leading Ladies,” Feb. 13-March 1 at the guild playhouse, 1600 H St.

Question: When did you become seriously involved in the arts?

Answer: In 1962 I moved to New York City, where I was offered a job in television production. That fell apart and with the urging of friends I started singing lessons, never dreaming I’d have a career. I worked as a legal secretary as my day job for years while studying voice and performing when I could. After doing summer-stock and dinner theater, eventually I ended up singing opera.

Q: When did you return to the West Coast?

A: In 1992 my ex-husband and I moved to Orcas Island. I thought I’d retired from performing, but within three weeks I was cast in a play and also served as assistant director. So much for retiring!

For more than 11 years I acted and directed a number of plays at the Orcas Community Theatre and began playwriting. Almost 12 years ago I moved back to Bellingham and, having sent my “bona fides” ahead, Bellingham Theatre Guild kind of scooped me up.

Q: What shows have you been involved with in Bellingham?

A: I appeared in a comedy called “Open House” at the guild in 2005 and went on to direct “Oklahoma!” that same year. Since then I appeared on stage in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and have directed “Guys and Dolls,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Pajama Game,” and now, taking a break from the big musicals, I’m directing the comedy “Leading Ladies.”

I’ve been costume designer on several shows and assistant director on a couple. Two years ago I directed “Mark Twain in Fairhaven,” which was performed at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center.

Q: What other theatrical enterprises do you enjoy?

A: Playwriting engages me and I’ve had plays in several B.O.A.T. Festivals. I’ve also written radio plays for the Midnight Mystery Players. I have a number of full-length plays finished, dramas and comedies, and I’m currently finishing the second act of a comedy.

I love acting and directing. In fact, I just plain love everything about live theater. I found a home at BTG and as long as they will have me, I will be there.

Q: Who have been some mentors in your life?

A: Anthony Amato, owner and founder of the Amato Opera Theatre in New York City, was an amazing teacher, guide and mentor. I owe so much to him.

One experience sticks out in my recollection, and that is one of my opera idols, Teresa Stratas, showing up at three concert opera performances I did just before leaving NYC . She singled me out for praise, and I think it was a perfect high to leave NYC on.

Q: What’s “Leading Ladies” about?

A: It’s written by Ken Ludwig. I saw his “Lend Me A Tenor” on Broadway when I lived in NYC. My first main stage full production I directed was his “Moon Over Buffalo,” so when I was seeking a comedy to propose to BTG, I looked to his vast repertoire and came up with this very funny play.

It’s the story of two down-on-their-luck British Shakespearean actors who learn of a wealthy old lady seeking long-lost relatives to leave her fortune to. Believing the relatives to be men, they plan to show up and pretend to be them, only to find out the long-lost relatives are women.

Undaunted, they dig out their dresses and wigs from their costume trunk and the fun begins. I don’t want to give away the plot, but I will say “all’s well that ends well.”