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Bag&Baggage hires Forest Grove's Lewis as Mueller departs for Portland

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Bag&Baggage Productions Artistic Director Scott Palmer welcomed Forest Grove resident Beth Lewis as the theater troupe's new managing director during a 2015-16 season announcement gala Saturday night, April 18.Since eighth-grade, Beth Lewis knew what she wanted. She wanted to be on the stage, immersing herself in theater.

“I never wanted to do anything else so much,” said Lewis. “I never looked back. I said, ‘OK, I’m doing this.’”

So after graduating from Catlin Gabel High School in Portland, Lewis earned a degree in theater on the east coast. She lived in New York and landed a few acting roles. She moved to Los Angeles with her husband so he could pursue his film-scoring career. She lived the artist’s life for about a decade.

When Lewis moved back to her home state after 15 years, she was surprised to see the Portland-metro area’s theater scene had exploded, and that downtown Hillsboro was no exception. Lewis couldn’t believe her luck that Oregon might have it all — proximity to her family and a thriving creative arts scene in Washington County.

During Bag&Baggage Productions' new-season announcement party Saturday, April 18, Artistic Director and company founder Scott Palmer let a theatrical cat out of the bag: Lewis will be taking over for Anne Mueller as the troupe's managing director.

It’s her “dream job,” Lewis said, working for a theater company that “does all the work I love.” She'll officially start July 1.

Mueller has been at Bag&Baggage for two years, helping build the company’s financial foundation, and will now take a position with The Portland Ballet. Mueller danced with Oregon Ballet Theatre for five years and served the company in several administrative roles and as its artistic director for one year before coming to Bag&Baggage two summers ago.

While Mueller is returning to her first love in the transition, Lewis is also coming back to hers.

Not only has Lewis been in love with stage performance since her first middle-school roles, she loves the classic texts Palmer goes for at Bag&Baggage, usually putting his own twist on them. “The work Bag&Baggage does really speaks to me,” Lewis said. “They’re doing work I never thought I’d see in Hillsboro.”

While Lewis said she’s a “performer at heart,” she also really enjoys the administrative side of theater she’s been working in since her post-college days.

“Beth comes to us with a very specific theater profile,” Palmer said.

Lewis is also arriving at Bag&Baggage at a pivotal time. Palmer is looking into entering an agreement with the city of Hillsboro that would allow the company to purchase its own theater building in the long-empty Wells Fargo Bank building on East Main Street.

City officials currently support numerous arts organizations in the downtown core, including HART Theatre, Sequoia Gallery + Studios and the Walters Cultural Arts Center. A feasibility study released earlier this year suggested a few options, from a long-term lease agreement between Bag&Baggage and the city to a plan that suggests the city “assist Bag&Baggage in purchasing the bank building by providing a mortgage-style loan for a portion of the building’s value.”

Palmer wants to see Bag&Baggage anchor that core Hillsboro district.

"We want to continue to be one of the most successful, if not the most successful, Hillsboro arts organizations," he said.

Meanwhile, Lewis says she's ready to tackle her new role with a head for numbers and a knack for thinking outside the box.

While she's cheerful, upbeat and enthusiastic, she’s serious when talking about the value of theater. She’s easy to talk to and welcoming, but direct about the hard work she has coming her way.

Lewis brings a positive energy into the room, but a strong work ethic as well. She’s also not afraid of a challenge. In her budding career, Lewis has filed away experience bringing theater companies up by their bootstraps.

“You can’t pay for that; it’s so valuable,” said Palmer, who’ll be working along side Lewis trying to solidify Bag&Baggage’s future in Hillsboro.

Working for Sonnet Repertory Theater in New York and Looking Glass Theatre in Chicago, Lewis worked to cultivate donors. During her time at California’s well-known Pasadena Playhouse, Lewis started out working in the box office. She rose in the ranks, becoming the annual giving manager. She was hired back on after a layoff period while the theater went through some financial restructuring. She eventually became the Pasadena Playhouse's annual giving manager, working with donors and laying the foundations for a solid financial future.

These experiences came in handy when Lewis took a job as the managing director of Portland’s Curious Comedy Theater nearly two years ago, where she helped restructure the organization’s board and programming to help performers and encourage sustainable growth.

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