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A theater company without a stage

iDiOM is celebrating their 20th making an event space their own

Psychiatric hospital staff from The Day Room restrain a patient. Pictured left to Right: Jeff Braswell, Michael Brannan-Nelson, Aubrey Farrington, Tyler Detrick, and Leila Prevost. // Photo By Sattva Photo

When iDiOM theater realized they would not have a stage anymore, many people would have called it quits. Instead, the theater transformed an event space into a stage. 

After attending high school in Bellingham, Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao spent time in Colorado acting in Denver and Boulder. He then came back to Bellingham and founded iDiOM in 2003. 

Seven years later, he did a stint in New York for an acting program but was back in Bellingham in 2012, where he has been at the helm of the organization since.

iDiOM’s first location was in the Allied Arts of Whatcom County building. In 2016, they moved to what is now the New Prospect Theatre, but this year iDiOM is left without a physical location.

They now operate residencies in different locations, staying for only five weeks. This spring, they are performing at The Happy Place on Cornwall Avenue. 

The event space is typically not used for theater – iDiOM had to bring in 65 seats from Mount Baker Theatre and risers to transform the big open box into their own stage.

(2) A theater company without a stage

Beth Wallace, Dawn Hunter, Elizabeth Sheinkopf as the three sisters in The New Electric Ballroom. The 90 minute play is showing May 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27. // Photo By Sattva Photo

iDiOM’s spring residency consists of two plays and different events. 

The first play, The Day Room, Don DeLillo’s first play written in 1986, finished showing on May 13. The characters are patients and staff in a psychiatric hospital who find they are more alike than different. 

The second play began showing on May 18 and is called The New Electric Ballroom, written by Enda Walsh in 2008. Hergenhahn-Zhao saw the play in New York almost 15 years ago and has wanted to bring it to Bellingham since. 

The play stars three sisters who haven't left their house in 20 years. They live on the west coast of Ireland in a small fishing village and try to protect themselves from the town while getting stuck in a cycle of storytelling. 

One of iDiOM’s recurring events is its 57th page-to-stage event, which took place this year on May 5 and 6. 

The 48-hour festival had playwrights write a 10-minute play overnight based on a theme. The next day, actors memorized lines and directors shaped the play for the night's two showings. 

The crowd from the first night helps pick the theme for the next round, and participants start crafting again. 

Matthew Balam is a fourth-year student at Western Washington University and was part of The Day Room’s cast. He has been with iDiOM since the end of 2021. 

Balam has participated in three of iDiOM’s page-to-stage events. This month’s event was its first time writing and directing one of the 10-minute plays.  

Balam said that when acting, you do not have to worry about everything being perfect. You can let loose and have fun, you do not have to worry about getting a word wrong and it is fine if you have to make something up on the spot when a line slips out of your mind.

Six writers, six directors and 20 actors participated this year. The theme for the first round was “big wizard energy” and the second was “grandpa has changed.” 

“There are one or two plays per festival that are just hard to get your head around that they were created in a day. We have had plays from those festivals go off and be performed on other tours and festivals all over the world,” Hergenhahn-Zhao said. 

Rich Brown is the department chair of theater and dance at Western and received the Washington State Thespians’ Hall of Fame Award in 2016.  

“In the past twenty years or so, 24-hour and/or 48-hour theater festivals have grown in popularity at theaters large and small. These festivals use the ‘exquisite pressure of time’ to spark creativity, and often the 10-minute short plays develop into longer works,” Brown said in an email. 

(3) A theater company without a stage
Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao, iDiOM founder, picks a theme for the second round of page-to-stage with help from the crowd. Six teams performed their 10-minute plays at 7pm and 9pm on Saturday and Sunday night. // Photo By Tim Albertson

Balam found iDiOM theater after the pandemic while looking for auditions in Bellingham.  

“iDiOM has been the best theater company I've ever worked with. All the people I've worked with there are incredibly talented and incredibly kind human beings that have put a lot of trust in me as an artist,” Balam said

Not having a physical location has been a big challenge for iDiOM. 

“I'm impressed that Glenn has been able to work through that with finding The Happy Place and turning this event space that's not meant to be a theater into a theater, " Balam said. "But it goes to show that all we need is a space, and we'll find a way to turn it into a theater and make something out of it.”

Ben Delaney

Ben Delaney (he/him) is a city life reporter for The Front. He is a junior majoring in environmental studies journalism. In his free time, he enjoys skiing at Mt Baker, fishing on local rivers, and just spending time outdoors. You can reach him at

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