Seniors & Aging

Bellingham Theater Guild volunteer becomes a star without stepping onto the stage

Dee Dee O’Connor in the lighting room at Bellingham Theatre Guild, where she will design the lighting for the guild’s performance of “White Christmas” in November and December 2016.
Dee Dee O’Connor in the lighting room at Bellingham Theatre Guild, where she will design the lighting for the guild’s performance of “White Christmas” in November and December 2016. For The Bellingham Herald

Often unacknowledged, theater techies are the wheels who make the show run in community theater. Dee Dee O’Connor is one of those wheels.

For four years she has been volunteering backstage at Bellingham Theatre Guild, helping to build sets and light the stage.

When she was young, O’Connor, who turned 55 on Nov. 8, played in school bands, sang in school choirs and “never missed a chance to perform in talent shows.” She saw her high school’s production of “My Fair Lady” in Springfield, Ill., and was “absolutely enthralled that a bunch of kids I knew could do something like that.”

She wanted to join the drama club, but her family was moving to Boise, Idaho, at the end of the school year. The drama club in Boise wasn’t welcoming, so she didn’t become involved in theater during high school.

“I never thought of becoming involved with a community theater until, years later, one of my work colleagues began to talk about his volunteering building sets and acting,” she says. “I believe the seed of interest was planted at that time, but I was busy with work and life and never pursued it.”

In the beginning, it was mostly which end of a hammer to use.

Dee Dee O’Connor, theater volunteer

A retired technical writer and editor, O’Connor moved to Bellingham about 14 years ago. She saw a production of “True West” at Bellingham Theatre Guild, which is run by volunteers, and heard house manager John Purdie’s pre-show talk about how to become involved with the guild.

“His enthusiasm caused me to zero in on the part that encouraged folks to volunteer, no experience required,” O’Connor says. “That was me!”

She signed up as a volunteer that night.

“I had been a little adrift and actively looking for volunteer work at the time,” she says, and thought, “If this thing works out, it might be fun.”

O’Connor first learned the art of building sets.

“In the beginning, it was mostly which end of a hammer to use,” O’Connor says. “Watching the set gradually take shape filled me with a sense of accomplishment and purpose that left me giddy. I had no idea that the sweaty, dusty work of building a set could be so much fun.”

Later, Ryan Goelzenleuchter, the guild’s tech guru, talked to her about stage-lighting.

“The way in which light helps tell the story on stage hit me at such a visceral level that it is virtually indescribable,” O’Connor says.

That was just the start of her deepening involvement with the guild.

“I’m a set builder, light-board operator, lighting designer, stage manager, and assistant director,” she says.

O’Connor is directing “A Shayna Maidel,” which runs Jan. 27-Feb. 12 at the guild playhouse. She also serves on the guild’s board of directors; sits on the committee that raised money for a soon-to-be-finished remodel of the playhouse; and posts content on the guild’s Facebook page and Instagram account.

Understandably, she recently won the guild award given to an outstanding volunteer.

“I truly love the behind-the-scenes stuff,” she says.

Bellingham Theatre Guild

Online: bellinghamtheatreguild.com

Phone: 360-733-1811

Address: 1600 H St.

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