This has been a difficult few months for Bag&Baggage, but not for the reasons many might think. Since we became the in-house theatre company at The Venetian Theatre, the US economy has…well, tanked, basically, resulting in a wave of panic and fear throughout the non-profit performing arts world. In Oregon, we have seen many of our colleagues in the professional performing arts making some very difficult decisions; closing their doors completely, reducing their programming, cutting back on pay for actors, literary managers, designers, and production values, limiting their seasons, or selecting works they don’t fit with their artistic remit in the hopes that “bums in seats” shows will save the day.
For Bag&Baggage, we have faced different struggles (not lesser, just different).
We have seen our audience numbers more than double in the space of one year, and have seen a significant increase in audiences from outside of Hillsboro attending our performances. The largest increase in audiences have come from Portland, but also from as far afield as Vancouver, Salem, Corvallis, McMinnville and Tigard/Tualatin. More and more people are coming to see our work!
We have seen an increase in the amount of press attention our performances have received, including having every one of our performances this year reviewed by The Oregonian. It wasn’t that long ago that getting a listing in the calendar section was considered a victory for Bag&Baggage, and now we are seeing regular features, reviews, stories and updates in a wide range of regional press.
Our artistic reputation has grown, and we are becoming known for our challening approach to the classics, and for our commitment to excellence in our vision and our craft. We continue to pay our professional artists a highly competitive wage for the region, often outpacing wages paid by comparable (or even “larger”) theatres in Portland.
All of this is good, right? Onward and upward, right?
Well, sort of…
In the midst of all this success and growth, we have also seen changes that speak to the ongoing struggle of all performing arts non-profits: a decline in individual contributions and an overall reduction in corporate sponsorship.
As anyone in the business knows, if your theatre company is surviving on ticket sales alone, you are just that: surviving. You are not growing, you are not prospering, and you are not thriving. So, although Bag&Baggage has more than doubled our audiences, increased our reputation, expanded our program offerings and increased the participants in our education program, we are still facing the same challenge many of our colleagues face: how to grow and thrive, not just survive.
We are ambitious, and want to continue to provide the kind of challenging, artistically engaging work we have become known for…Bob Hicks said it best, in his Oregonian review of our current show The Taming of the Shrew & The Woman’s Prize: “This is exactly the sort of provocative, intellectually curious project that contemporary theater should be taking on…”
And we want to continue to do just that; take on provocative, intellecturally curious projects that challenge our audiences, that stretch our artistic imaginations, and entertain and educate. Now, we just need to pay the price of our success; raise more money.