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Erica Smith and Jeanette Harrison in "Pure Native" by Vickie Ramirez, produced by AlterTheater in 2022. (Photo by David Allen)

Jeanette Harrison to Lead Native Theater Project

A leader with a track record of nurturing and producing work by Native artists, Harrison will begin the project in residency at Oregon’s Bag&Baggage Productions.

HILLSBORO, ORE.: Multi-hyphenate director, producer, and community builder Jeanette Harrison has been awarded $200,000 from the NoVo Foundation to develop Native Theater Project (NPT), which seeks to improve outcomes for Native people by actively supporting storytelling sovereignty, improving representation, developing Native leaders, and enhancing the American theatre ecosystem’s cultural competency in producing Native stories by Native artists.

Bag&Baggage Productions, Hillsboro’s only professional theatre, will proudly serve as NTP’s incubator through January 2026, during which time the Native Theater Project will operate out of Bag&Baggage’s Vault Theater.

“I’m honored to have NoVo Foundation’s support in this vital work,” said Harrison in a statement. “And I’m so happy to partner with Bag&Baggage Productions to host this work in the Portland area, which has one of the highest urban concentrations of Native people in the U.S.”

“We could not be more excited and honored to support Native Theater Project in this way,” adds B&B producing artistic director Nik Whitcomb in a statement. “Our role as an organization is to handle all of the things behind the curtain so that NTP can focus on building a sustainable model while creating meaningful programming for Indigenous folks locally and across the nation. It is thrilling to be able to make space at our table and what a treat for us to have the mind of Jeanette Harrison around our halls for a while!”

This unique collaboration is the product of a chance meeting that Harrison and Whitcomb had in New York after they were both serendipitously appointed to leadership positions at arts organizations in the Portland area in the same year (Harrison’s post ended abruptly last summer when the theatre she was appointed to lead, Artists Repertory Theatre, canceled its season and laid off staff). The two hit it off and found common ground immediately.

“Within five minutes of meeting each other, Nik and I were talking about deep issues around what our field truly needs to support artists in telling stories that are authentic to not just them as individual artists but to their families, their communities,” said Harrison in a statement. “Our synergy and goals align beautifully.” Her statement continued: ““One of the things that’s special about the Native Theater Project is that we are both internal—focusing on serving Native artists and Native communities—and external, making sure we’re bringing Native work to wider audiences.”

The first public-facing collaboration is the production of a new comedy by Navajo playwright Blossom Johnson, Diné Nishłį (i am a sacred being) Or A Boarding School Play. The show will be produced as part of Bag&Baggage’s “In The Vault” series in their upcoming 2024-25 season. More details on this production, partnership, and other happenings of the upcoming year will be released at B&B’s season reveal event on April 25.

Native Theater Project will also host a weekly virtual gathering for Native playwrights and will begin accepting submissions starting tomorrow, March 12.

Harrison recently relocated to Portland after co-founding and serving as artistic director of California’s AlterTheater for 17 years. During her time with the organization she championed, commissioned, and produced a number of Native playwrights who have become or will soon be household names. Most recently Harrison served as associate director to Rachel Chavkin on the 2023 Broadway production of The Thanksgiving Play, written by her longtime collaborator Larissa FastHorse. She is also a driving force behind the creation of the Arts Learning Project, which helps Native students build resiliency and self advocacy skills and regularly provides Native youth across the nation with accessible arts education.

Bag&Baggage Productions is Hillsboro’s own resident professional theatre company. Founded in 2007 by Scott Palmer, B&B is a leader in innovative storytelling with a knack for boldly reimagining classic tales. They have produced out of the Vault Theater and event space since 2017. It is their aim to use their venue as a hub for cultural gathering for Hillsboro, Washington County, and beyond.

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ADV – Billboard