Margot ConnollyMargot Connolly

Newly based at Hope College, the Big Bridge Theatre Consortium (BBTC) of colleges and universities has commissioned its third original play dedicated to peace and interfaith dialogue.

Hope is a founding member of the consortium, which began in 2017 and also includes Carroll College, George Fox University, Seattle Pacific University and The University of Portland.  Originally headquartered at George Fox, the consortium has relocated to the college along with its founding artistic director, Rhett Luedtke, who joined the Hope faculty at the beginning of the school year as an associate professor of theatre.

The new play is being crafted by award-winning playwright Margot Connolly and will explore issues related to antisemitism.  As-yet untitled, it is scheduled to be ready to debut during the 2025-26 school year.

“Margot is an exciting up-and-coming artist,” Luedtke said. “She just completed a playwriting program at Juilliard and has her MFA from the University of Iowa, which is one of the top playwriting programs in the country.”

The BBTC selected Connolly in collaboration with the Jewish Plays Project, which had previously named her winner of its Jewish Playwriting Contest for her play “Belfast Kind.”  Recipient of an EST/Sloan commission for her play “Hello, World,” she’s also received finalist recognition for several of her plays, which also include “Quiz Out,” “The Twitch” and “Tough.”

Connolly will be developing the BBTC-commissioned play across the next two years. The concept is how two student organizations, one Jewish and the other Christian, at a Midwest college that are working separately to address social concerns in their community are affected and respond when the local synagogue is attacked and the Jewish students’ Rabbi is killed.

“What I’m most looking forward to with this project is the chance to explore the ways new generations navigate centuries-old issues to build a better future,” Connolly said. “I’m really passionate about writing roles for young people — they’re just as interested and engaged with the world around them as full adults but they’re rarely taken as seriously, and I love giving students an opportunity to push back against that stereotype and take up space.”

As explained on the BBTC’s website, the theatre departments at the member colleges and universities created the consortium as a direct response to the rise in xenophobia, sectarianism and racism within the United States. The consortium is committed to combating the issues by commissioning new American plays dedicated to personal and political experiences of interfaith conflict.

Luedtke, who was a visiting professor at Hope last year, has come to the college after 19 years on the faculty at George Fox.  He noted that he appreciates the opportunity to continue his passion to teach at the intersection of faith, theatre and the world’s need.

“I’m excited about Hope and the vibrancy of theatre at the college,” he said.  “My mission matches Hope’s pretty well: My primary interest is in the training of the next generation of theatre artists to address the world’s deepest needs, to reach across boundaries of difference to teach dialogue rather than conflict. Given the current global conflicts, and the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia across our country we need stories that foster healing and connection now more than ever.”

Michelle Bombe, who is a professor of theatre and department chair at Hope, describes the consortium as “a perfect mission fit for Hope Theatre.”

“The work of Big Bridge fits our mission as our theatre program fosters students to become citizen artists who understand the transformative power of theatre.  Our students use theatre as a tool to develop creativity, learn empathy, and gain an understanding of the diversity and complexity of our human experience,” she said.  “The department is committed to challenging our students, practitioners and audiences to promote a more informed and inclusive world and Big Bridge is leading the charge to promote peace and interfaith dialogue through the expression of theatre.”

Hope’s Department of Theatre presented both of the first two plays commissioned by the BBTC.  In November 2019, the college staged multiple performances of “The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month” by Arlene Hutton.  Hutton spent a week in residency at the college working with the student cast and faculty director.  In April 2022, the department hosted a staged reading of “The Hijabis” by Rohina Malik, along with a performance of her one-woman show “Unveiled.”

“Both were well received and appreciative sentiments for the interfaith dialogue was shared in the post-performance conversations,” Bombe said.