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Scott Palmer of Bag & Baggage Productions plays a role in downtown Hillsboro revival

By Special to The Oregonian

March 29, 2010, 3:55PM
scottpalmer.JPGView full sizeScott Palmer consults with costume designer Allison Dawe during dress rehearsals for the Bag & Baggage production of “The Taming of the Shrew & The Woman’s Prize.”HILLSBORO -- Scott Palmer first saw "King Lear" as a high school sophomore on a class trip to Ashland. Twenty-five years later, the kid smitten with William Shakespeare's language is using theater to help revitalize downtown Hillsboro.

Palmer, a 41-year-old Hillsboro native, returned to his hometown in 2004 after studying theater and forming several acting groups, including an outdoor Shakespeare company in Glasgow, Scotland.

His current group, Bag & Baggage Productions, started in 2005 with professional actors who traveled to small Oregon towns without professional theater. Last year, the group found a home in Hillsboro's renovated Venetian Theatre on Main Street.

Scott Palmer
Home: Hillsboro


Family: Single; mother in Hillsboro, father in Vancouver and brother in Corvallis.

Job: Artistic director of Bag & Baggage Productions

Education: University of Oregon, B.S.; Oregon State University, M.A.; University of Glasgow (Scotland), course work toward Ph.D.

Previous: Founded an outdoor summer Shakespeare festival in Glasgow; produced plays in the United States, Great Britain and New Zealand.
Palmer also has joined several regional arts groups where he shares information about marketing, advertising and fundraising, said Cristina Caravaca, cultural arts program supervisor for the Hillsboro Arts and Culture Council.

"He's a smart, educated arts administrator who understands the business side as well as the artistic side," Caravaca said. "He's acting as a catalyst between groups. ... Revenue can be very disparate among groups. He's good at creating a level playing field, so everyone benefits."

Palmer emphasized revenue when he approached developer Denzil Scheller, who completed the $2.8 million transformation of the old Town Theatre into the Venetian nearly two years ago with business partner Saxony Peterson.

"I told him that having a successful theater company in his building would be good for his bottom line," Palmer said. "It's what we call cultural tourism."

Theater brings people into the downtown on weekend evenings and Sunday afternoons, Palmer said. Many dine at local restaurants before the show, and some visit shops that otherwise wouldn't have foot traffic outside of weekday office hours.

His productions aren't the only draws for arts lovers, however. The city-owned Walters Cultural Center, opened in 2004 in a converted church, offers musical events, visual arts and classes.

A half-dozen galleries, plus a dozen or more businesses, organize art walks on the first Tuesday of each month. One of the venues is HART Theatre, Hillsboro Artists' Regional Theatre, started in 1994 as a private company that became a nonprofit community group in 1997.

Rather than wither next to Palmer's troupe, the community actors have seen audiences grow with Hillsboro's expanding arts offerings, said Sean Morgan, the city's arts and culture manager at the Walters Center.

Shortly before Christmas, Morgan said, HART, the Venetian and the Walters all had events scheduled the same Friday night and all ended up with full houses.

Community musicians in the 9-year-old Hillsboro Symphony Orchestra also are part of the cultural mix that helps draw new businesses, especially those with a creative work force, former Mayor Tom Hughes said.

Hughes served on a citizens committee that developed Hillsboro's Vision 2020 plan for revitalizing the downtown, then helped implement it as mayor from 2001 to 2009. The downtown once was the center of a farming community, he said, but that economic purpose declined by the 1970s as new neighborhoods and malls developed away from the old core.

The arts help bring new life to the central city, Hughes said, and give people reasons to come downtown again.

"In a broader sense, we have become a community of knowledge-based technologies," he said. "Those companies employ really creative people who want to have ways of expressing their creativity outside their work hours."

Palmer's passion for Hillsboro and his entrepreneurial skill have made the cultural amenities stronger, Hughes said.

Scheller, Palmer's landlord, said, "Scott's a salesman."

Scheller stopped booking rock concerts after he scheduled Bag & Baggage in the Venetian. He offers classic films and a range of other performances, including classical music.

"Scott is responsible for a lot of this," Scheller said. "The guy is brilliant. He's really entertaining, and he has a knack for making his shows unique."

Take, for instance, last season's "Death of a Salesman." Scheller said he has seen Arthur Miller's play many times and always hated it. He went to see Palmer's production only to satisfy his curiosity.

"It was breathtaking," Scheller said. "I absolutely loved it. He's got a real gift for this kind of thing."

Desari Strader, a Washington County commissioner who has known Palmer since their days at Brown Junior High, is another hometown kid who has returned in recent years. She believes Palmer's impact on the area is an important one.

"We have a lot of passion for Hillsboro and the region," she said. "We want to see the area continue to be innovative and thrive. I think the arts play a big part in that."

-- Janet Goetze


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Posted by iheartbho
March 29, 2010, 4:44PM

This looks refreshing as a revival of the arts in the burbs.

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