On April 20, 2019, Bag&Baggage introduced Cassie Greer as their new Artistic Director. Greer has been with B&B since 2011, first as an actor and then in a variety of education, outreach, and artistic support roles, culminating in the Associate Artistic Director position she’s held since 2017. Artslandia is thrilled to bring you the inside scoop on this exciting appointment.
Congratulations on your new position! What’s it like to be stepping into the shoes of Scott Palmer, the Founding Artistic Director who’s been with the company for nearly 15 years?
Thank you so much! And oh man, are these some big shoes! Running this company is a daunting, thrilling, incredible opportunity, and I’m grateful to our Board of Directors for leading us through a thoughtful transition process and giving me so much support. While there’s no way I will ever be Scott Palmer (or want to be!), I do have the advantage of having worked with him in a variety of capacities over the past eight years––experience that has, more or less, amounted to a personal masterclass in artistic leadership, Bag&Baggage style. Among Scott’s most exemplary qualities––and probably the thing that has drawn most people to B&B over the years–– is his incredible vision and his ability to unite artists and audiences behind a central idea or mission. This is true whether we’re talking about a show concept or a fundraising campaign, and I have learned staying relevant, appealing directly to concepts that actually matter to people in our community, thinking outside the box about creative expression, and unapologetically, passionately pursuing our goals (be they artistic or financial) is the way this company has achieved success. I’m excited to pick up this torch and run with it using everything I’ve learned from Scott, as well as bringing my own brand of leadership to Bag&Baggage. We have a fantastic team here in Hillsboro, and while our founder will definitely be missed, I’m eager to see where we can go as we continue to bring all of our voices and talents to build upon the foundation he has created.
You and Managing Director Beth Lewis comprise one of the youngest all-female leadership teams of a mid-sized professional theater in the U.S. How did that come to be? What are your thoughts about that superlative?
Yeah, that’s a pretty incredible statistic. And my feelings are mixed: on one hand, it’s amazing to be able to make this claim, and I feel extremely fortunate that my career path has taken me so quickly to a place where I’m able to step into a leadership position of this kind. On the other hand, I think about the many young, fresh, creative, female voices that are never given the kind of platform that I am being given, and I wonder how we can do our work better as theater companies in America to flip the narrative that white, male leadership is somehow safer, more acceptable, or more trustworthy than female leadership, or leadership by people of color. We limit ourselves so much as artists if we’re unwilling to let underrepresented voices come to the forefront. If you think about it, so much of the work at the heart of acting training is about learning to take risks and adopt uncomfortable perspectives; yet when we look at those same concepts on the company level, the theater sometimes seems risk-averse. And I totally get it–– this is an extremely complicated conversation, particularly when we’re living in a society that seems to be increasingly devaluing and underfunding the arts. But the reason that theater is such a powerful artistic medium is that it appeals to our human empathy in a present, visceral way, and if we as theater companies are unwilling to take some of the same risks and expand our worldview in the same way that we ask our artists to do, I think we’re only holding ourselves back. There was that great New York Times article a few weeks ago about doors opening for women and people of color in artistic leadership, and it’s great to know that Bag&Baggage is part of this current national wave; but as that article concluded, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and if we want our art form to survive, my appointment as Artistic Director of a midsized company as a 30-something woman needs to be the most unremarkable thing in the world.
Scott was the playwright on many of the previous adaptions the company premiered. What is the plan for the future now that he’s moved on?
True! One of the things Scott is internationally recognized for is his approach to adapting the classics––Shakespeare in particular. At B&B, we value text-based work, and almost all of our Shakespeare adaptations have looked at either the material that influenced Shakespeare or the material that was most immediately influenced by him (i.e., Restoration-era plays)––and sometimes both––mashing these up together in a new take on the story. This process of adaptation has become pretty familiar to our artists: I personally have acted in eight Scott Palmer Shakespeare mashups, for example, and had the opportunity to do my own adaptation in this vein with As You Like It or, Love In A Forest that we produced last summer. So, one answer is that we’re well-equipped to continue to explore the work of the Bard, and other classics, in this fairly academic and text-based way.
Another answer is that this is only one pretty specific approach to adaptation, and the fact that we won’t be producing at least one Scott Palmer show per season opens us up to feature other adapted work that includes the voices of more women and people of color. For example, we just wrapped up the first season of a multiyear initiative called the Problem Play Project, which commissions Oregon-based playwrights of color to take on Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays” and adapt them through the lens of their own lived experience, cultural background, and social values. This is emblematic of the type of work we’d be interested in producing more of, and there are so many playwrights and storytellers out there––even right here in the Portland theater community–– who are doing compelling and relevant adaptations of classical material. Scott’s absence gives us just a little more space to explore these.
What do you have in mind for the future of the company? Any surprises planned?
Ooh… no surprises right now, I don’t think. My interview process with our Board of Directors was geared pretty specifically around our current five-year strategic plan, which takes us into 2022, and most of which has to do with really solidifying our operations here in downtown Hillsboro and being more forward-thinking about diversifying our work. Bag&Baggage’s mission isn’t changing; we’ll still be exploring provocative reinterpretations of classic works of world literature, and our company members are all here to stay. We’ve been in The Vault Theater for barely two seasons, and we’re still getting to know how this space runs most efficiently, so much of the immediate future is going to be about growing our roots as an institution in our community. We also have some pretty ambitious goals surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion that I’m excited to see us take on, being more intentional about the voices and faces who are given representation on our stage. Perhaps the only surprise coming this season is that some of our resident artists will be directing B&B shows for the first time––most of our audiences only know them as actors, so I’m excited for them to have the opportunity to see Kymberli and Andrew as the multifaceted theater artists that I know them as. As for other surprises, let’s talk about that after we get through 2022!
Which of the shows in the upcoming season are you most excited to bring to the stage? What else can you share with us about the new season that you didn’t get a chance to cover in your season announcement?
Oh, this question is like asking someone to pick their favorite child… can I cop out and tell you what excites me about each show? In brief: I can’t wait to take on conversations about gender and sexuality with Much Ado, especially with a text that so perfectly hones in on relationships and invites us to be inclusive and forgiving. A Clockwork Orange is going to be an incredible challenge and a really dynamic piece unlike anything our audiences have seen before. Kymberli’s concept for The Game’s Afootincludes little “Easter eggs” from as many previous B&B shows as possible, which is going to be incredibly fun. I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Anya Pearson, and I cannot wait for our audiences to experience her powerful work with The Measure of Innocence. And Fallen Angels gives us yet another opportunity to turn our assumptions about Noël Coward on their heads, leaving our audiences laughing but also questioning the status quo––a perfect way to wrap up our entire season, if you ask me! We’re also excited to bring back some of our favorite guests at The Vault, including Tony Starlight, Fake Radio, No Filter Improv, and Cabaret Varieté, along with our “Films For Five” series, Arts & Culture lectures, Downtown Hillsboro First Tuesday Art Walks, Silver Screen Saturdays during the run of each show, the return of our Cabaret Cupid Valentine’s Day Event, and a Rocky Horror Halloween weekend. And I’m sure I’m forgetting things… We’ll have all the details up on our website at bagnbaggage.org!