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Bellingham Theatre Guild plans grand makeover

Rick Mullen of Presentation Art Studio created this rendering of what the Bellingham Theatre Guild building will look like after its remodel.
Rick Mullen of Presentation Art Studio created this rendering of what the Bellingham Theatre Guild building will look like after its remodel. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Writing as a mother whose daughter spent hundreds of hours of her teenage years toiling as a “techie” behind the scenes at Bellingham Theatre Guild’s 1903 building, I’m cognizant of the dire need to update the building at 1600 H St.

At a recent meeting of guild members —it’s an all-volunteer group — details of a campaign for major renovations were announced. The $900,000 goal is ambitious, and while the guild covers its operating costs through ticket sales and member donations, it’s turning to the community for help raising money for the improvements.

The old building is not handicap-accessible, so renovations include installing an elevator and a new main entrance at ground level.

Here’s what my daughter, Emily Saxton, says about what was originally the First Congregational Church in Lettered Streets neighborhood:

“After summers of running up and down three flights of stairs in a building made largely of dust, I also learned that I have asthma. The same dust offered valuable lessons on how to sneeze very, very quietly. These ailments were not limited to respiratory problems that are part of any nerd’s medical portfolio. There were also mild electric shocks among the crew, and frequent, fraught conversations about how directors and audience members who used wheelchairs could have access to the building.

“In order to hang lights, one had to climb a ladder to the loft above the theater’s seats, lie chest-down on the floor, use one arm to suspend oneself across a 3-foot gap underneath which a long metal bar was suspended, and gradually lower an 8-pound light onto the bar, then hold it in place while a partner wrenched it into place. This was great for 16-year-old boys, but terrible for everyone else.”

Now in its 85th season, the guild sees itself as a place to build community and change people’s lives with live theater. Although the best actor to emerge from the guild is Hilary Swank, many alums have found careers in theater, met future spouses, and seen the guild as a way to enhance and straighten out their lives.

The building, which has housed the guild since 1944, has a stacked rock-and-mortar foundation that stands on rubble and fill with groundwater problems. That will be solved by sinking metal pins, called “pin piles,” down to bedrock and replacing the foundation with concrete.

While some local organizations have made significant donations for the project, guild board members are encouraging people — whether or not they have see a production — to become involved. There are several ways to help:

▪ Volunteer — such as being an usher, working in the ticket office, or helping with carpentry or electrical jobs.

▪ Make a tax-deductible donation

▪ See a show! The next production, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” opens Sept. 25 and runs through Oct. 11.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

Bellingham Theatre Guild

Where: 1600 H St.

Details on shows: bellinghamtheatreguild.com (click on Auditions or Get Invoved), Facebook, and 360-733-1811

Details on the campaign: btg4thefuture.com, campaign@bellinghamtheatreguld.com, 360-671-1993

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