Ben Crop ’08, MBA’09; Kiri Dyken ’07; Drew Foster ’07; Karen Johnson ’07; Lesli Okorn ’07 and Audra Petrie Veber ’06
Most majors from any U.S. theatre program aren’t going to go straight to Broadway, nor will they make acting or producing a full-time profession without a lot more sweat and a little luck. But they can find fulfillment in theatre if they know what they’re doing.
Apparently, it also helps if they stick together. A surprising number of recent Willamette graduates are putting their training to work for Bag & Baggage of Hillsboro, Ore. Bag & Baggage, founded in 2005, is a young company that doesn’t behave like one. It has grown into its new home at the historic Venetian theatre in downtown Hillsboro, collected season-ticket holders and returning fans who opt to make the trip from Portland, and — despite the push of a dour economy — managed to stay in the black.
“The company is great for us coming out of college because it treats us professionally,” says Kiri Dyken ’07. “They also try to pay fairly.” Dyken recalls work with a different theatre company that, when real working hours were figured in, paid 40 cents a day. She’s doing better now.
Audra Petrie Veber ’06, production manager and stage manager for the recent production of A Christmas Carol, agrees that the pay is really in the product. “Theatre is not yet my full-time job — even though the quantity of work is full-time — but it’s not about that.” Veber works during the day at a private investment banking firm, but the theatre is her chance to get her hands dirty.
She says that she learned how to do that while studying at Willamette. “I wasn’t even a theatre major,” she says. “But I really remember the relationships with the theatre faculty.” These were some of the professors who taught her to be creative.
“I often feel that graduates from Willamette come as well prepared as graduates of a master’s program.”
“You learn the rules of theatre and then you break them,” says Lesli Okorn ’07. “At Willamette, we learned about the classic material but then we were asked to create our own discussion or retaliation.” Okorn has performed for three Bag & Baggage productions so far, and she has contributed a unique skill she picked up at Willamette: fight choreography.
In the end, those alumni who make their way into professional theatre generally do so because it’s what they love. But it doesn’t hurt when they’re well prepared.
“I often feel that graduates from Willamette come as well prepared as graduates of a master’s program,” says Bag & Baggage Artistic Director Scott Palmer. “They’re in touch with their own process. They understand the responsibilities.”
It’s a combination of the practical and the theoretical, according to Palmer, that enables these alumni to do well. “I think of us all as collaborators,” he says. “We’ve done some really difficult things in terms of production, but the process of collaborating is fruitful and ultimately we’ve been successful together.”
To visit Bag & Baggage online, check out bagnbaggage.org.