Problem Play Project- Play Commission

Bag&Baggage Productions, a professional theatre based in Hillsboro, Oregon, is pleased to announce an innovative new play commissioning and producing program: The Problem Play Project. Fully funded by a generous grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, 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. Following the commission, the script will be given a full-scale production at The Vault Theater in Hillsboro in March of 2019, directed by B&B’s Artistic Director Scott Palmer and featuring a multicultural cast comprised of Bag&Baggage Resident Artists and hired Equity performers.

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.  


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, to make all things old new again, and to connect the great works of world literature to the lives and beliefs 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.

As such, B&B is turning to the classics as a way of addressing two very different problems: how to bring Shakespeare’s non-genre-conforming works to life in a compelling way for a contemporary audience; and, in doing so, how to address our iron-clad 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 travel distance, costs, and time are enormous barriers for us in attracting the kind of diverse artists we hope will perform with us. Despite these obstacles, the 2017-2018 Season, which ends in May of 2018, reflects B&B’s deep commitment to equity and inclusion. For example, our summer production of Romeo&Juliet (Layla&Majnun) was our way of exploring the cultural tensions and “othering” that drives Islamophobia and other hate crimes.

That production was a world premiere adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, fusing Shakespeare’s text with Nizami Ganjavi’s Layla and Majnun, the ancient Persian epic thought to have inspired Shakespeare’s timeless tale of star-crossed lovers.

This adaptation focused on reconciliation themes in the Muslim world, featured a multi-ethnic cast, and included significant translations of the Persian epic from Farsi into English.

Spinning Into Butter and Death and The Maiden, two shows presented later in the season, focused respectively on issues of racism and political violence.

The Problem Play Project is an expansion and deepening of our commitment to these important issues.


What Does Commissioning An Adaptation of A “Problem Play” Mean?

Over the next three years, B&B will commission three new, world-premiere adaptations of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” by Oregon-based playwrights of color.

Scholars have long agreed: William Shakespeare wrote a number of “problem plays” – those works that cannot easily be placed within more traditional constructs of comedy, tragedy, or history. These plays, which have plagued theatre directors, audiences, and actors alike for more than 400 years, include 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 one of these works and then consider the nature of Shakespeare’s work through the lens of their own experiences, creating a new work that will allow B&B to have a multi-ethnic cast of actors and designers based on that perspective. Our hope is that, by asking artists of color to consider the works of Shakespeare from their own perspective, 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, where our company is based: Hispanic/Latino; African American; Asian American/South Asian American; American Indian (Native American); Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and biracial.

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; this being said, 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)

-Two samples of previous playscripts

-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 statement 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:

Scott Palmer, Artistic Director at scott@bagnbaggage.org

Deadline For Submission: Friday, February 2, 2018 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.


Award Process:

All submissions will be reviewed by a volunteer committee with connections to the greater 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 February 23, 2018 with an expectation of completing the commission by August of 2018.

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.

Questions may be directed to:

Scott Palmer, Artistic Director, at scott@bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590 x3.

Box Office Hours:
M/W/F 11:00am - 5:00pm and 1 hour prior to performances

Our Mailing Address/Main Performance Venue
350 E. Main St., Hillsboro, OR 97123

Phone: 503-345-9590

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