“Crucible” Pre-professional Training Program

Hannah Leone of the Hillsboro Argus/The Oregonian explores the importance of our Pre-Professional Training program for local high school students. Read the story online here! or below…

By Hannah Leone | hleone@oregonian.com
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on August 20, 2014 at 2:47 PM, updated August 21, 2014 at 10:44 AM

2014-08-10 Crucible_0016

In the middle of Nordstrom Rack, dress in hand, Madeline Ogden got the email on her phone and felt a rush of excitement. She jumped for joy and forgot about the dress.

Ogden, an incoming Glencoe High School senior, had landed the role of Mary Warren inBag&Baggage’s upcoming production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” She enthusiastically described her character as “awful in a lot of ways.”

Emily Upton’s father called her into the room when they were talking from opposite ends of the house about whether or not Ogden’s fellow Glencoe senior would get the role of Mercy Lewis. There, an acceptance letter greeted her on the family computer screen.

Melory Mirashrafi was in Iran, at an Internet café she visited about once a week while staying with family, when she found out she would be playing Betty Parris. The Hillsboro High School senior just happened to get the message on the same day it was sent.

“The Crucible,” which opens Sept. 5, is the first Bag&Baggage production to include high school students in its new pre-professional training program. Students receive stipends and mentorship from Palmer and resident actor Cassie Greer in exchange for their work.

Grants totaling $15,000 from the Ritz Family Foundation, the Reser Family Foundation, and the Hillsboro Arts and Culture Council partially fund the “The Crucible.” About half of these grants are going toward student stipends through the program, which includes six student actors and three student crewmembers fromHillsboro School District high schools, Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer said. Other student actors include Hanna Brumley as Susanna Walcott, Taylor Dixon as Sarah Good and Alexandria Morgan as Tituba.

The play is based on Arthur Miller’s story about witch hunts in Salem, Mass., highlighting themes of evil, persecution, mass hysteria and guilt.

For Palmer, a Hillsboro High School alumnus, it’s another chance to reconnect with his roots and an opportunity to be surrounded by young, motivated energy, he said. For Upton, Ogden and Mirashrafi, it’s an opportunity to connect with professional actors they’ve grown up watching.

The professional development program is designed to raise these students up in a way that is much more involved than internships the theater company has offered in past years, Palmer said. He wants to make sure every student involved can put professional theater experience on their resumes, to help them get scholarships, get into college, and just get better.

The level of mentorship the students have been receiving is not possible through the high school drama programs, Ogden said. She would consider herself lucky to get a full minute of one-on-one coaching at school, where class sizes limit such opportunities. Rehearsals with actress Cassie Greer are like going to workshops every day, Ogden said.

Upton’s father, a theater person, told her he didn’t start learning skills she is acquiring through the program until college acting classes.

All three students expressed gratitude for the learning experience of working around professionals all the time. Watching the way the B&B resident actors carry themselves onstage and interact during rehearsals has helped the students understand how to behave professionally, but still have fun, Mirashrafi said.

The three girls have already name-dropped their Bag&Baggage experience in college interviews. Each found her passion for acting in different ways, but all believe in its power to impact people.

Ogden first went to a Bag&Baggage show in middle school and has taken full advantage of its Passport program, which offers high school students free tickets to the group’s performances. Ogden’s experiences with the theater company have helped her realize theater is what she wants to do with her life.

The girls would have jumped at the opportunity to work for Bag&Baggage no matter what the play was, but are happy it is “The Crucible.” Most Hillsboro high school students read the book, they said.

Palmer doesn’t plan the B&B calendar to match local high schools’ curriculum, but he does pay attention to what students are required to read each year in hopes that what the theater does has some sort of tie-in. Many stage adaptations of novels are the same classics the students read, so overlap is fairly common on its own, Palmer said.

Students had to audition for the internship positions in “The Crucible” just like the other cast members, although Palmer knew the more age-appropriate roles he wanted to set aside for students. The young actors in “The Crucible” all happen to be female, but male students have also indicated interest and will likely have more opportunities in the next Bag&Baggage production incorporating the pre-professional program, Palmer said.

The play’s young actors are crucial to its story and the plot, Palmer said.

“Their fear of discovery, their jealousy and their eagerness to take advantage of the hysteria surrounding their community for personal gain are a key part of the relevance of this story,” Palmer said.

With 20 actors, “The Crucible” has Bag&Baggage’s biggest cast yet. Each actor takes a different approach, and Palmer is not an actors’ director, he said. This means he needs the cast to be responsible for understanding their own methods. The students are doing as well or better than most professional actors, Palmer said.

“The Crucible” is a difficult play; it’s depressing, intense and heavy, and everyone feels the heightened stakes, Palmer said. He has been impressed with the students’ level of focus and concentration.

Ogden has said she loves theater and wants to do it forever, but never before has she had an experience with so much at stake. From a parent’s perspective, the program makes students prove their passion. It’s comforting to see her daughter dealing with the high-pressure environment of professional theater before she goes to college, said Ogden’s mom, Lisa Ogden.

The production also honors retiring Hillsboro High School drama teacher Silverna Scott. Bag&Baggage is collecting donations for the Silverna Scott Professional Theatre Internship award, which will soon give one student from Hillsboro High School each year a professional internship with a stipend at the theater company.

“The Crucible” runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Sept. 5 through Sept. 28. A preview performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4. Tickets range in price from $18-$30 and can be purchased online atwww.bagnbaggage.org or by calling the box office at 503-345-9590.