Portland Stage was founded in 1974 as the Profile Theatre, a touring company of young theater professionals, with the mission to “entertain, educate, and engage its audiences by producing a wide range of artistic works and programs that explore basic human issues and concerns relevant to the communities served by the theater.” The first Artistic Director, Ted Davis (1974-1976) initially led the company through performances in a wide variety of venues, but by 1976, Portland had become the company’s permanent home. Davis was followed as Artistic Director by Michael Rafkin (1976-1977) and Frank Goodman (1977-1978), and in 1978, the company changed its name to Portland Stage.
In the years that followed, under Artistic Director Charles Towers (1978-1981), Portland Stage earned a national reputation as a professional theater company, becoming a member of LORT (the League of Resident Theatres) and TCG (Theatre Communications Group) and signing a letter of agreement with Actors’ Equity Association. In 1982, under the leadership of Barbara Rosoff (1981-1987) Portland Stage moved to its current home, a former Oddfellows Hall at 25A Forest Avenue in Portland, then newly renovated as the Portland Performing Arts Center.
Since moving to its permanent home, Portland Stage has progressively established itself as the premiere professional theater company in Northern New England, building a reputation not only for quality productions, but also for providing theater opportunities to students, and for staging new works. Since the 1980s, Portland Stage has been committed to offering student matinees of every show in its Mainstage season. Today, over 4,000 students from Maine and New Hampshire attend these performances each year, many of them getting their first exposure to professional theater at Portland Stage. Under Artistic Director Richard Hamburger (1986-1992), the company launched the Little Festival of the Unexpected in 1990, a week-long annual festival that brings playwrights from around the country to develop new plays at Portland Stage. Recently celebrating its 25th year, the Little Festival has helped writers such as Mac Wellman, Nicky Silver, Douglas Carter Beane, Nilo Cruz, Quiara Alegria Hudes, Tom Coash, and John Cariani land productions both on Portland Stage’s Mainstage and in regional theaters around the country.
Hamburger was followed as Artistic Director by Greg Leaming (1992-1996), and then in 1996 by the team of Christopher Akerlind and Anita Stewart. Akerlind, a lighting designer, and Stewart, a set designer, were at the time the only designers to head a regional theater in the United States. Under their leadership, Portland Stage began a tradition of bringing an ensemble of students from our community into the theater to join our professional cast each season for a holiday show, first with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol each December and more recently alternating between A Christmas Carol and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Akerlind and Stewart also continued the theater’s commitment to new work, launching the From Away festival in 1996, an annual collaboration with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa that brings authors from around the world to Portland each fall for staged readings of their works in translation.
In 1998, Christopher Akerlind left Portland Stage and Anita Stewart (1998-present) became the sole Artistic Director. In 2000, Portland Stage purchased the Portland Performing Arts Center where it is located, a huge step towards long-term stability and a far cry from the company’s itinerant roots in the mid-‘70s. Since taking ownership of the building, Portland Stage has dramatically expanded its audience base, formed an Affiliate Artists group of local theater professionals, and launched a second season of productions, the Studio Series, which debuted in 2007. In 2010, the company took another leap forward in opening a Theater for Kids space to begin offering professionally-taught theater education programming for young people ages 4 to 11 for the first time.
To date, Portland Stage has produced 346 plays and counting, including 48 world premieres.