Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë were sisters and writers hailing from Yorkshire, England, whose novels have become classics. In the mid-1800s, the three overcame isolation, sexism and a family rocked by addiction to become three of the most important writers in all of Western literature.
Hillsboro's Bag&Baggage Productions is putting on the Pacific Northwest premiere of Polly Teale's exploration of the lives and works of the sisters. "Brontë" plays at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library over the course of four weekends in March.
Teale is a British writer and theater director best known for her work as artistic director of Shared Experience theater company. She wrote and directed the production as a means to celebrate the work of the sisters, but also as a way to explore the influences of the lives and family members on that work.
The sisters' short, tumultuous lives produced classic works that are still closely studied today, although much of their lives and inspirations for their novels remain a mystery.
The production aims to capitalize on what is well known — that they defied expectation, achieved incredible success as women writers, and continue to inspire generations of people.
"Not only is this a play that has a stellar reputation for creativity and expressiveness, it is also a play written by a woman about women writers," said B&B Founding Artistic Director Scott Palmer. "B&B is committed to making sure that women artists, writers and literary figures have a central role in our all of our work, and 'Bronté' is a great example of that commitment."
The play opens in 1845 when Branwell Brontë, brother to the sisters, returns to the family home in Yorkshire. After having an affair with the mistress of the house he worked in, he falls into the depths of alcohol and drug addiction, bringing chaos and disorder to the rest of the family. As all of this is happening, the sisters write their novels and tell their stories to the audience.
"To be able to play intimate moments with our audience sitting right next to us, will be incredibly powerful," said B&B Resident Actor Jessi Walters, who plays Anne. "It has given me a whole new wave of excitement for our forever home, where we will be able to tailor our environment to the creative needs of our shows."
Due to the pending sale of The Venetian Theatre, where B&B has performed for the past nine years, moving to the library means that the show will go on. But that doesn't mean those involved can't get creative.
B&B has labeled the production as a promenade show, meaning that the audience will move from scene to scene, taking advantage of the books, stacks and atmosphere of the library — something they could not have done in a traditional theater space. This offers the chance for the actors and company to engage with new and unique performance challenges, Palmer said.
"I love the architecture of the library — the stacks, the staircase, the study rooms, the windows — and am so excited about how we've been able to incorporate each of these elements into our show," said B&B Director of Advancement and Resident Actor Cassie Greer, who plays Charlotte. "This is definitely a B&B show unlike any you've seen before, and I can't wait for an audience to come share this unique environment with us."
Due to the library's operating hours, B&B has had to limit the performance dates and times.
"The library is a huge partner in this show with us, and we have to respect their opening hours and the thousands of patrons who make use of the library throughout the week," said Palmer.
The library closes at 6 p.m. on those nights, giving B&B a chance to set up the space for the performance while not interfering with the library's regular hours.
"Could there be any better place than a library to perform a play about the lives of the Brontës? No space I have ever worked in before has informed my performance so much," said B&B associate artist Joey Copsey, who plays Branwell.
The production is directed by Michelle Milne, who directed B&B's "The Best of Everything" in September 2016. She travels regularly to New York City to continue her advanced training as a Feldenkrais Method practitioner and to southern Arizona to continue exploring her interest in borders as a place of exchange and transformation. Here in Oregon, she collaborates with a wide range of theater companies. She also teaches in the theater departments of Columbia College in Chicago and Goshen College in Indiana.
Palmer and company promise an unforgettable evening, and suggest those interested in seeing the show nab their tickets ahead of time — each show has a limited capacity of 60 people per evening.
SEE BRONTËMarch 4-26 Friday, Saturday and Sunday shows at 7:30 p.m. All shows take place at Hillsboro Brookwood Library, 2850 N.E. Brookwood Parkway Limited seating of 60 audience members per show