Little Festival of the Unexpected

Little Festival of the Unexpected is an annual event dedicated to public readings of new works. Three playwrights are in residence each year at the festival as they continue to develop their scripts with input from actors, directors, dramaturgs, and audience members.

Playwright Monica Wood on her Little Festival experience.

New Play Development at the Little Festival
Little Fest 16 PosterSince its debut in 1990, the Little Festival of the Unexpected has established a tradition of nurturing artists, invigorating audiences, and exploring new voices, new visions and new forms of theater. The festival furnishes a supportive environment for playwrights to develop their work, as well as a unique opportunity for audiences to catch a firsthand look at the creative process that brings scripts to the stage. Little Festival readings are performed by a company of professional actors, and are followed by an open discussion among the audience, director, and playwright.

Each playwright in residence receives a stipend as well as housing during the festival. Limited support for travel is also available.

Past Little Festival of the Unexpected scripts have a successful track record of full productions both here at Portland Stage and at other professional theaters around the country. Both Almost, Maine, which was developed at the 2003 Little Festival, and Papermaker, 2014 Little Festival, went on to become the most commercially successful Mainstage productions in Portland Stage’s history. Many other Little Festival works have gone on to productions elsewhere, including successful Off-Broadway runs and television filming.

2017 Little Festival of the Unexpected Plays

The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess

In this riveting two-person drama, Zoe, a biracial student, and Janine, her white professor, meet to discuss their differing views on Zoe’s paper about slavery and the American Revolution. This polite clash of ideas soon landslides into an explosive discussion of race, history, privilege, and social justice.

Sex and Other Disturbances by Marisa Smith

Join us for the world premiere of New England playwright Marisa Smith’s latest play. Sarah’s husband is obsessed with the collapse of Western civilization. On a search for happiness and escape, she unexpectedly finds herself having a little affair, wondering, “What’s the harm?” Sarah finds out the hard way in this fast-paced comedy about friendship, love, sex, and other disturbances.

Refuge/Malja by Bess Welden with translations by Ali Al-Mshakheel

Jamie, a Jewish-American photojournalist, calls up an old friend, Ibrahim, in the middle of the night to discuss translating a message into Arabic. What she hesitates to tell Ibrahim is that the message is for a young Syrian refugee she’s met who just might be the son she never had—or the grandfather she never knew—in this decade-spanning drama about the malja (refuge) we all search for.

Little Festival of the Unexpected Performance Schedule:  May 10–13

Friday May 12th, 7:00 pm
The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess

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Saturday May 13th, 12:30 pm
Sex & Other Disturbances by Marisa Smith

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Saturday May 13th, 3:30 pm
Refuge/Malja by Bess Welden with translations by Ali Al-Mshakheel

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Saturday May 13th, 7:30 pm
The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess

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For listings of past Little Festival of the Unexpected plays, click here to visit Portland Stage’s production history page.

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Little Festival of the Unexpected Submissions
Submissions for the upcoming Little Festival of the Unexpected are accepted September 1st through December 31st for consideration the following May. Only scripts and samples of full-length plays are considered for the Festival.

  • Literary agents may submit complete scripts on behalf of their clients.
  • Playwrights who do not have agents may submit 10-page dialogue samples for consideration. Dialogue samples must be accompanied by a synopsis, production history and character breakdown.
  • Plays are eligible for development at the Little Festival of the Unexpected only if they have not previously been professionally produced or workshopped with Equity actors. This restriction includes Actors Equity showcase and waiver productions. Plays that have had readings or non-AEA productions are still eligible.

Only one submission is accepted per playwright in a given year.
Submissions of 10-page samples (from playwrights) must be sent by U.S. Mail only – no e-mails, faxes, etc.
Portland Stage rarely produces scripts with more than 8 characters. When doubling occurs, a full character track breakdown should be included.

Submit by mail to:
Portland Stage Company
Attn: Literary Manager
P.O. Box 1458
Portland, ME 04104

Please note we have recently updated our submission guidelines to allow our staff to more effectively manage our new work initiatives.  Scripts that were submitted prior to June 1, 2016 will be assessed following the old submission guidelines.