Bag&Baggage gears up for fundraiser dinner on a new stage

Four summers ago, artistic director Scott Palmer of Hillsboro's Bag&Baggage Productions decided to throw a dinner party and silent auction to raise money for the upcoming season, in which all proceeds would benefit the theater's Ten4One program.

Ten4One provides free tickets for high school students throughout the season (every $10 raised pays for one ticket for a high school student in Washington County).

Fans and supporters were invited to attend on opening night of Bag&Baggage's summer Shakespeare show at the theater's outdoor plaza in Hillsboro. In the event's first year, donors raised $15,000. The following year, they raised $25,000 and the third, $30,000.

Last summer, the party grew so wildly popular that it became impossible to cater to the near 300 people who turned up. So, this year, the event has evolved into an exclusive evening of its own, An Evening in Shakespeare's Garden.

Not far from its home stage, Bag&Baggage will host its fourth annual Gala Dinner and Auction on June 23 at Garden Vineyards in Helvetia. The location, Palmer said, "is absolutely gorgeous" and "one of the most beautiful vineyards in all of Oregon."

To surpass last year's count of 3,500 free tickets, Bag&Baggages hopes to raise more than $40,000 dollars, which would provide high school students at ten participating schools, including Banks High and Forest Grove High, with $4,000 free tickets.

Upon arrival, at $80 per person or $150 per couple, guests will be greeted on the lawn with a glass of the hosting vineyard's wine. They can then sit, sip and survey acres of grapevines and green valley slopes.

Those attending will get the chance to bid silently on auction offerings, which include a year of performing arts (including tickets to the Oregon Ballet, the Portland Opera, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and others), dinner parties with Palmer, holiday parties hosted by Bag&Baggage performers and the Red Sneaker Chamber Orchestra, Oregon International Airshow VIP packages, trips, vacations and wines.

And "one of the coolest things," Palmer said, is that Bag&Baggage will auction off the decision to choose next summer's Shakespeare title. The bid-winner earns the opportunity to pick from 10 of the Bard's plays.

"It's very nerve-racking and exciting," said Palmer "All the actors and [our] board are just on edge waiting to find out what these people are going to choose - is it going to be a big bloody tragedy or a light-hearted comedy?"

Last year, one donor chose Titus Andronicus, which is now scheduled to hit the Bag&Baggage stage Kabuki-style on July 5.

While guests are served a family-style dinner of fresh and local handmade cuisine, they will also be entertained by a unique collection of singers, dancers and actors.

Two local musical theater stars, Ben Farmer and Megan Carver, both regular performers at Lakewood and Broadway Rose theaters, will perform Somewhere from Westside Story; former Portland Opera lead singer and internationally recognized recital performer Carl Halvorson will sing a piece from Shakespeare's Verdi; concert violinist Tylor Neist will perform an original score from Kabuki Titus of Lavinia's theme; and Beth Willis will rock out to Shakespeare-themed pop songs like Love-struck Romeo by Indigo Girls.

After dinner, more wine will be served and guests can mingle with some of the theater troupe's most popular actors and dance the evening away in the surreal surroundings of Garden Vineyards.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to have a great party," said Palmer, "but also to raise a lot of money for this very important program."

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