Bag&Baggage is a critically acclaimed suburban theatre with a long history of adapting classical work for contemporary audiences; The Problem Play Project is an expansion of that work, with a view towards creating multicultural, diverse plays that connect to our diverse Hillsboro community. Previous/current productions of The Problem Play Project include The Island in Winter or, La Isla en Invierno by Carlos-Zenen Trujillo, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; and The Measure of Innocence by Anya Pearson, an adaptation of Measure for Measure.
Funded through the instrumental support of the Meyer Memorial Trust, along with the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Cultural Coalition of Washington County, the Problem Play Project provides a $10,000 commission to an Oregon-based playwright of color to adapt one of William Shakespeare’s “problem plays” with a diversity/inclusion lens.
Submissions are now being accepted for the 2020-2021 Problem Play Project;
see below for details.
Why The Problem Play Project?
B&B believes great world literature from the past has something to say to modern audiences: We learn about our present and our future from explorations of our past, and our work with the classics of world literature is always meant to illuminate or explore the issues, themes, and meanings of relevance to our audiences today. As a company, we are committed to exploring new interpretations, new meanings, and unusual approaches to classical work. We want to challenge our audiences to see these plays in new ways, to reinvigorate them, and to connect the great works of world literature to the very real and tangible lives of our audiences. We are a text-based company with a passion for heightened language, and believe these works can challenge, provoke, and shape conversations.
B&B is turning to Shakespeare to address two very different challenges: how to bring the playwright’s non-genre conforming works to life in a compelling way for a contemporary audience and, in doing so, how to address our commitment to developing a more diverse artist and audience base. Our proposed approach involves creating new, blended work that is text-based, and that reaches out to the members of our community who rarely (if ever) see themselves and their stories on stage.
We need to be 100% clear: B&B struggles with diversity and inclusion initiatives — in large part due to our suburban location in Hillsboro. Virtually all of the artists we employ live in Portland, and the distance, cost, and time of travel are enormous barriers for us in attracting the kind of diverse artists we hope will perform with us. That being said the impact of The Problem Play Project has already been felt, as we grew from employing 12% non-white artists in the 2017-18 Season to 36% non-white artists in the 2018-19 Season, with many of these artists who are new to our company working on shows other than the specifically-designated Problem Play Project show. We know this is just the beginning of this work, and are excited to continue to build momentum surrounding all of these efforts.
What Does Commissioning An Adaptation of A ‘Problem Play’ Mean?
Beginning in 2017, B&B has commissioned new adaptations of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” by Oregon-based playwrights of color. Long agree by scholars as works that cannot easily be placed within more traditional constructs of comedy or tragedy, Shakespeare’s “problem plays” have plagued theatre directors, audiences, and actors alike for more than 400 years. The problem plays are typically identified as Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure For Measure, The Winter’s Tale, Timon of Athens, and The Merchant of Venice.
We will ask our selected playwright to choose Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Timon of Athens, or The Merchant of Venice (as Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale have already served as the bases for previous Problem Play Project shows) and then consider the nature of Shakespeare’s work through the lens of their own experiences. The resulting script will be a brand new work allowing B&B to have a multi-ethnic cast of actors and designers, based on the perspective and values of the playwright. Our hope is that, by asking artists of color to consider the works of Shakespeare from their own cultural context, and with a view toward exploring issues of specific relevance to their life and community, we can break open and explore these classic works in new and innovative ways – connecting them to communities of color in equally new and innovative ways.
Of specific interest to B&B will be emerging artists from the following ethnic groups who make up the largest proportion of non-white residents of Washington County: Hispanic/Latino; African American; Asian American, South Asian American; American Indian; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and bi-racial. For example, a playwright of Japanese descent might approach Shakespeare’s play Measure For Measure with a view towards exploring Oregon’s history with Japanese internment camps given that one of the main themes of Measure For Measure deals with unjust imprisonment. A Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander may wish to incorporate Polynesian locations, ancient mythology, or poetry in an adaptation of The Winter’s Tale, which includes elements of magical realism and rural settings.
The approach is completely up to the selected playwright, and we have no limitations on the process; however, our goal is to ultimately produce work that includes the following elements:
- Heightened language
- A multi-ethnic cast
- A thematic focus on equity, social justice, inclusion, and/or diversity
- A cast of no more than 12 actors
How can I be considered for the commission?
Playwrights without representation who are interested in being considered for the commission are asked to submit the following:
- A resume including two references, (preferably directors or others familiar with your work)
- Samples/selections from two previous playscripts, not to exceed 30 pages in total length
- A personal statement about why you should be selected for this commission, including information on your approach to writing plays, and how you plan to complete the commission by August of 2018 (a 6 month process)
- A short proposal detailing which “problem play” you are interested in adapting and a general idea of how you might approach the adaptation (i.e. a complete re-write, a merging of Shakespeare’s play with other literary sources, etc).
Submit all materials electronically, in PDf format, to:
Cassie Greer, Artistic Director
Deadline For Submission: December 31, 2019 at 5:00pm
Please note: Playwrights with professional representation may have their agents contact us to discuss potential submission, but our focus is primarily on emerging playwrights in Oregon.
All submissions will be reviewed by a volunteer committee with connections to the great Portland-area theatre community, and will include representatives of a wide range of organizations with a focus on equity, social justice, diversity, and inclusion. The successful applicant will be notified of the commission by January 20, 2020 with an expectation of a first draft by June 30, 2020, and the final completion of the commission by December 1, 2020.
Please note: our selected playwright will be required to participate in a week-long workshop process approximately halfway through the commissioning period. This workshop will involve B&B actors, community members, directors, and advisors at The Vault Theater in Hillsboro providing detailed feedback on the script over multiple readings. This workshop will be scheduled at the time of the commission.
CURRENT PROBLEM PLAY COMMISSION:
“Some rise by sin, some by virtue fall.” Drawing on Shakespeare’s inherent genius for seamlessly blending the comic and the tragic, Portland-based playwright Anya Pearson (Made to Dance in Burning Buildings) adds her own unique command of language, humor, and social insight to this story, reimagining Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure through the all-too-relevant lens of the systemically unjust criminal justice system and the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Set in our current fractured political landscape, The Measure of Innocence is a captivating new dramedy about the dichotomy between corruption and humanity, morality and mercy.
The Measure of Innocence is Bag&Baggage Productions’ second commission through the Problem Play Project.
About Meyer Memorial Trust
Meyer Memorial Trust (MMT) was created by the late Fred G. Meyer, founder of a chain of retail stores bearing his name throughout the Pacific Northwest. Established in 1982, Meyer has awarded roughly $700 million in grants and program-related investments to more than 3,200 organizations in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Since 2016, MMT has focused their grant-making on ensuring a more flourishing and equitable Oregon.
Questions may be directed to Cassie Greer, Artistic Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503 345 9590 x4.