A Word Or Two On Being Professional, From Cassie Greer

Bag&Baggage is proud to be Hillsboro’s only professional theatre company, and one of only two professional performing arts groups in Washington County (the other being our big sister Broadway Rose in Tigard! Love you, BRTC!).
A few years ago, one of our volunteers was distributing posters in Forest Grove and asked a local business leader if we could display a poster in their shop window. The response was a resounding “No!” When asked why, the business owner said, “You guys are professional and I don’t want to promote a for-profit theatre company! Only non-profits!”
Fair enough; except, “professional” doesn’t mean “for-profit.”In fact, almost every professional theatre in Oregon (and the country, for that matter) is a 501c3, federally-recognized non-profit organization. So, what do we mean by “professional?”
There are a couple of pieces of that definition that we think are important for our audiences and supporters understand:
First, as determined by our bylaws, Bag&Baggage believes that theatre artists (actors, designers, and production staff) should be valued for their experience and craft through receiving compensation for their work. For B&B, that means that every artist that we work with is paid a “regionally competitive wage.” Obviously, we are not able to pay all of our dozens of actors and designers a full time wage; it is simply not fiscally possible. Instead, what B&B does is survey our colleagues in similarly sized theatre companies in the region and pay slightly above that average wage. For us, being“professional” means that we recognize the value of our artists work and pay them accordingly.

Second, we believe that theatre is a craft that requires training if it is to be of high quality. For that reason, we require all of our artists to either have completed or be in the process of completing an advanced degree in theatre or theatre arts or have previous professional theatre experience. In fact, this is a requirement of our audition process. For our colleagues in community theatre, the process of auditioning and performing in community-based productions is, in fact, a training experience. That is the reason that we tend NOT to cast community members or individuals who only have experience working in community theatre. Let’s be clear; this doesn’t mean that we think community theatre performers aren’t incredibly talented (because we do!). We just believe that, for the kind of work that we do, actors and designers with a dedicated, academic training program to rely on is the most appropriate for our kind of work. That is the second piece of our definition of“professionalism;” that, to be a professional, you must have dedicated training and experience in your chosen craft.
This second component of our definition is really important to us, particularly given the kind of theatre that B&B produces. For most of our shows, there are very complex and conceptual challenges to the work. For example, our “Merry Wives” production is an adaptation of an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, performed in a challenging and very specific physical style and in a very difficult costume/make-up style. In order to ensure that we achieve this complex vision, we need to work with actors and designers who have the technical skill, academic training and style-training from day one!
One of B&B’s Company Members, Cassie Greer, is a great example of the kind of trained, experienced actor that B&B likes to work with. Cassie received her training in the MFA Acting program at Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, Fla.), and the BA Theatre program at Goshen College (Goshen, Ind.), where she also minored in Vocal Performance.
While in Northern Indiana, Cassie appeared with various local theaters, as a vocal soloist with the Goshen College Orchestra, toured with the Goshen College Chamber Choir, did local commercial work, and, with a small team of artists, ran Downtown Goshen’s New World Arts. She also managed events at Goshen College and taught acting to students of all ages at Goshen’s Center Stage Academy of Performing Arts.
After relocating to South Florida for graduate school, Cassie taught acting, movement and voice to BA and BFA students at Florida Atlantic University, appeared with Boca Raton Festival Repertory, and worked with publicity and communications for the FAU Department of Theatre and Dance. She also interned as an advanced movement instructor in the MFA program at FAU, taught acting for young performers at Standing Ovation Performing Arts (Boynton Beach, Fla.), and performed with local folk-pop musician Eric Jaffe.
Cassie has trained in Fitzmaurice Voicework®, the Alexander Technique, Middendorf Breathwork, Laban Movement Analysis, the Michael Chekhov Technique, Viewpoints, Linklater Voice, Meisner, and Stanislavski, and has studied with Catherine Fitzmaurice, Meade Andrews, Lenard Petit, and Dawn-Elin Fraser, among many others. She is also a certified Assistant Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework®.
Here is a short blog post from Cassie about her experiences working on our production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor, or the Amorous Adventures of the Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff” by John Dennis:
“After doing our first full run of the show last night, I drove home from rehearsal with my head full of ideas. The last time we heard and saw the play in its entirety was at the first read through, and up to this point, I have really only seen Megan, Gary, and Arianne at rehearsals, so watching the run held the extra excitement of being introduced to the characters that my colleagues have been developing over the past few weeks. Let me tell you, I work with some really funny people- seriously – funny, and incredibly thoughtful and creative.

If you’ve been following our blog, I’m sure you’ve heard about the style we’re working with (or, as we redefined “style” for ourselves last night, our “performance approach”), and are thinking, just like we actors are, about all the quirks and nuances that define 1950s television. It’s so easy to imitate and do impressions of these iconic actors and characters, but how do we take ownership of these nuances? How do we find truth – a unique and honest perspective – and connection while living and breathing in this very lifted and accentuated approach? I guess this might sound a little esoteric, but I strongly believe that an actor’s honesty and connection have a direct impact on the investment of the audience in a show – even a show whose aim is to create a world that walks the fine line between stylized and slap-stick.

So as I drove home, ruminating on both this challenge and the immense creativity and talent of my peers, I found myself more and more energized to explore – to delve deeper into the text and performance approach and the particular nuances of my character – and to rise to the occasion that Bag&Baggage has again presented me: the invitation to forget all of my preconceived notions, to step boldly outside my comfort zone, and to create a piece of work (and an experience for an audience) that is truly fresh, unique, and thought-provoking. …you’ll have to let us know how we do!”

The Merry Wives of Windsor,
or The Amorous Adventures of The Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff
March 7 – 24, 2013
The Venetian Theatre
253 E Main Street, Hillsboro
Tickets: www.bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590