In which we take a field trip and go backstage (and totally geek out)

The Mount Baker Theatre

"Knock on the stage door, and I'll let you in and show you around," 
my brother told me via text last week.

So, we did.

Senior carpenter, very correctly proud of the stuff he built for this show
My little brother has loved being a stage hand since high school.  After graduating, he worked for a lot of years running the stage at the school, and became a union stage hand, running sound and lights for everybody who came to town--from Joan Baez to Ziggy Marley.

Cool, right?

Then he got a real job.

 >>sad trombone<<

Recently, the real job ended.  Pretty quick after that, he was back to being a stage hand.

>>crowd goes wild<<

I wanted to see how the whole thing works.  I'm tremendously geeky that way--Santa Jim is, too.  We always watch the "making of the movie" parts of DVD's.  Sometimes, we don't even watch the movie--just the documentary about it.

Yeah, I know.

But anyway.

Backstage at "Little Shop" is really cool!

Playing around

The smaller props are all stored on a bookshelf backstage.

The "plant" is a puppet.  When Seymour carries it
around onstage, his real hand operates the mouth,
and the audience sees the fake hand.

The crew located an antique dentist chair in a barn out north of town.

The "dentist drill" is a great schtick.

While watching the show, Jim and I would elbow each other every time a familiar prop was used.

"We played with that thing, too!"

I know, I know.  We are total geeks.  You didn't know that?

Retractable-extendable tendrils

Rat poison = completely ineffective against gigantic
alien flesh-eating plants.  Just so you know.

Of course, the ultimate prop is the gigantic "Audrey II" plant.

Entirely coincidentally, Audrey II is about the size of my brother's VW Bug, Dieter.
We couldn't resist.

The plant grabbed Santa!
My turn, my turn!

We gawked at the other parts of the theater appreciatively.

Orchestra pit, which fills up fast even with a 5-piece band

I could never have staged this picture so prettily

Set walls are 20 feet tall, and designed by a guy who has never
been near the theater.  He works with specs so precise that the gap for
the little curtain
at the top was included in the design--and it fit perfectly.

"sculptural" detail on the wall--it's painted plaster!

gorgeous overhead lights have recently been converted to LED,
which allows the crew to use them for special effect lighting during productions

Low-tech : cheesecloth over the window.  When it's backlit, you can read
the words.  Front lit, the window is opaque.

Backstage again:

Costume changes for the Doo-wap Girls.  

The fly cables used to be made of untreated hemp ropes--
rats love that stuff.  This is treated.  Not so yummy.

The Style 215 Wurlitzer is original to the theater
When the theater was new in 1927 the huge organ would rise out of the floor and the organist would accompany vaudeville acts and provide music for silent films.  When I was a kid watching movies at the 'Baker in the 1970's and 1980's, there was still a live organist who provided pre-show entertainment.  The organ is in storage during "Little Shop" but will be rolled back into place when the play is finished.

More backstage secrets were revealed:  how to keep remote microphones from shorting out when the actors perspire.
"We used up a jumbo box of extra-large unlubricated condoms for this show."

The new dressing rooms are much bigger and better lit than the old closets that were original issue with the theater.

more costume changes

A first, in my experience:  the "green room" is actually green. 

Obligatory horse/dragon reference for this blog.
The carpet was specially woven in the late 1980's to match the original carpet
installed in the building.

All those years of coming here, and I'd never noticed that it's supposed
to resemble a Spanish galleon.  Pirates rule!

"wood work" detail -- painted plaster again!

up the "haunted" staircase
From the balcony, you can see the enormous dome that roofs the main floor.  Don't forget that detail, it will recur.

the stage as seen from the very back row

In the projection room, more weird stuff:

A toilet in the projection room, of course.

The projector is a weird mashup of 1960's technology with
a digital thingy bolted to the back

a "chicken door" for the projector lens to stick out.

And then, we went up.

Santa is good with heights.
Fortunately, I am too!

Wa-a-a-a-ay up.

Remember what the theater looks like from outside?  (The photo is at the top of this post)

We got to go to the Top. Of. The. Tower!

I grew up in this town.  I've known the 'Baker since I was old enough to know anything.

And it NEVER occurred to me that the tower wasn't just a decorative appendage.


Most of the old part of the city is visible from the top of the tower.

The old city hall (est 1892), now a museum.

When my parents were in college, they lived across the street from the old (empty) city hall.  One night, the clock tower caught fire--but since the fire station was right next door, the firefighters pulled their trucks out into their own driveway and fought the blaze from there.

My parents watched the whole thing from their apartment window.

Seeing the museum tower from the theater tower felt very weird to me.

The clock tower part of the museum building was finally repaired and reopened about 30 years later, when I was in college.

Pointing out the landmarks to Santa Jim, who didn't grow up here.

Remember the dome over the main floor?
Look how it appears from the other side!

The old Bon Marche building is on the site of Bellingham's first public library,
a Carnegie building.  The mural shows what the old building looked like--
an imposing structure on top of a huge flight of stairs.

Apparently, the citizens hated those stairs so much, they funded
a new library in the 1950's--a flat, ugly structure built onto a landfill
a few blocks away, with both floors accessible from the streets.

Finally, it's showtime!

My brother scampered to his place in the wings,

and we went out front to enjoy the show.

It wasn't just Good.

It was Awesome.

(Here is a link to the YouTube short they put together about the show--enjoy! )


  1. Love the history of these old places! The colors are amazing! Fun times!


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