‘Noises Off’ off as its space is sold

The impending sale of the Venetian Theatre prompts Hillsboro's Bag&Baggage theater to cancel a potential hit – and digs a budget hole

Nothing, it seems, can stop Noises Off, the backstage farce by Michael Frayn that’s been a perennial, and a perennial moneymaker, across the English-speaking world since it opened in 1982.

Unless it’s the real estate market.

Bag&Baggage, the theater company that produces most of its shows in downtown Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, announced today that it’s canceling its season finale, a production of Noises Off at the Venetian.

B&B’s Scott Palmer: “unwilling to risk the future … on a roll of the dice.”

The reason? The performance hall is being sold, and Bag&Baggage, which rents the space, has no guarantee that it will be available this spring. Noises Off is an expensive show to produce, and artistic director Scott Palmer said the company couldn’t take the chance on spending a good deal of money on sets and costumes only to discover that the Venetian wouldn’t be available for performances. Palmer had expected the show to be the biggest money-maker of the season, and having to cancel creates a budget problem for a company that, in its twelve-year history, has always operated in the black.

Bag&Baggage had already shifted its production of Polly Neale’s Brontë, which begins previews March 4, to the Hillsboro Public Library’s Brockwood Branch, but that space can’t handle the more technically complex Noises Off. Palmer searched for other alternative spaces but found none that would work.

The combination of moving Brontë to a smaller space and canceling Noises Off, Palmer said in a prepared statement, has cost the company $85,000. “The cancellation of Noises Off was made to save our future,” he said.

Bag&Baggage has been aware for several years that it could lose the Venetian as a performing space. That possibility spurred its search for a new permanent home. Three years ago it bought an old Wells Fargo bank building in downtown Hillsboro and began a capital campaign to transform it into a theater space. Palmer and his board hoped the space would be available in April of this year, but construction has taken longer than that. They now expect to open the 2017-18 season in the new space.

The sale of the Venetian, meanwhile, is expected to be final “on or after March 1, 2017,” with no guarantee from the buyer that it will remain available to B&B.

Palmer called the company’s projected deficit “a terrifying number,” and said B&B will begin a push for donations to help cover the loss: “For the first time in our history we are looking at staff layoffs, salary reductions, and cutbacks in other essential costs.”

“This was not an easy decision, as you can imagine,” Palmer added in his statement. “But I am unwilling to risk the future of Bag&Baggage on a roll of the dice that the Venetian might be open for our final show. It just isn’t worth it – it isn’t worth risking all of our hard work, donations to the capital campaign, and our future in our brand new home, on a chance.”

The play-within-the-play that causes much of the hilarity in Noises Off is called Nothing On. Which is exactly where Bag&Baggage is about to find itself. At least for now.

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