Bag&Baggage has a unique student program, TEN4ONE, that allows high school students in ten western Washington County high schools to attend performances for free. There’s no paper shuffling involved, no hoops; students just show up, and get a ticket. 

As school budgets acrossOregon shrink and less-than-core academic activities get pushed to the margins,high schoolers in Hillsboro and surrounding towns have a reprieve. Theonce-itinerant Bag&Baggage Productions,which lately calls the restored VenetianTheatre on Hillsboro’s Main Street home, gives away free seats to any highschooler wishing to attend.

This is no device for padding the attendance numbers. A recent and quite smartperformance of Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart” packed the housewith $25-per-ticket adults — just about everyone but teenagers.

Instead it is an outreach by Bag&Baggage to extend the franchise to thosewho might not otherwise experience live theater and its surprises, intimaciesand engagement. And in giving free tickets to high schoolers it seeds a nextgeneration of theatergoers, assuring a future for the art form. For who at age15 now would pay $19 to see a play in Hillsboro without the instantgratifications and bombs-away soundtrack of a DreamWorks movie at the mall?

It turns out, plenty. Bag&Baggage just a few years ago started leveragingits annual fundraising pledges to support free tickets for Hillsboro HighSchool students. What began in the dozens has become hundreds, with afree-ticket capacity this year for about 3,000. The invitation now extends toBanks, Carlton, Century, Forest Grove, Glencoe, Liberty and Yamhill highschools, along with Miller Education Center.

This is just the right kind of grassfire in the arts. Students and schools canbe grateful — but so, too, can a wider community that depends on so much morethan making the bottom line.