History

Our History

In 1973, a group of actors came together with a shared goal of creating a theater, one that produces compelling plays through artistic collaboration. Along the road together, this artistic journey led to the creation of a non-profit professional theater. Like the plays we produce, Portland Stage started as an idea and matured through major challenges by remaining true to its collective vision: to present illuminating plays that challenge, inspire, and reflect. Portland Stage is passionately committed to being a vital partner in the fabric of our community by building relationships through hard work, transparency, collaboration, and education.

Portland Stage From Yesterday to Today

Portland Stage is founded as Profile Theater, a touring company of young theater professionals was founded, 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) led the company through performances in a wide variety of venues, but by 1976, Portland had become the company’s permanent home.

Ted 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, the then newly renovated Portland Performing Arts Center.

Portland Stage makes a commitment to offer student matinees of each 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. This 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).

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.

Chris Akerlind and Anita 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, while Christopher Akerlind left Portland Stage, Anita Stewart (1998-present) became the sole Artistic Director.

Portland Stage becomes the host of The Clauder Competition, New England’s most prestigious playwriting award. Created in 1981 by Jeb Brooks, every three years The Clauder Competition celebrates the distinctive voices of our region’s playwrights and brings their work to the attention of the greater theatrical community.
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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.

Portland Stage is given the honor of curating The Clauder Competition, New England’s most prestigious playwriting award. Created in 1981 by Jeb Brooks, every three years The Clauder Competition celebrates the distinctive voices of our region’s playwrights and brings their work to the attention of the greater theatrical community.
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Portland Stage brings to the mainstasge, Maine native and broadway actor, John Cariani’s play Almost, Maine, after having been part of the 2003 Little Festival of the Unexpectexd. Almost, Maine  became this highest attended show in Portland Stage history, went on to transfer to off-broadway and became the most produced high school production in North American. Learn More

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.
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Culture Club-Portland is formed. A consortium of Portland Museum of Art, Portland Ovations, Portland Stage, and Portland Symphony Orchestra was created to support cultural experiences for students in public schools.  The consortium has the goal of providing a free arts experience in all four member organizations for every child in Portland Public Schools, for 5 years.

Portland Stage produces 1st play by acclaimed Maine writer Monica Wood. Papermaker 1st had a reading as part of the 2014 Little Festival of the Unexpected.
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Directors Lab begins. This program puts Shakespeare’s language into the hands and mouths of the students, empowering them to be the artists, directors, and ensemble with the power to interpret the text and produce meaning. Learn More

Portland Stage partners with Maine State Music Theater to begin an annual series of Co-Productions each year in late summer.

Due to it’s success, The Clauder Competion changes from a triannual event to a biannual event. Created in 1981 by Jeb Brooks, The Clauder Competition celebrates the distinctive voices of our region’s playwrights and brings their work to the attention of the greater theatrical community.
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The Corona Virus Pandemic interrupted the 2019-2020 season, during the run of Native Gardens. Portland Stage was able to tape Native Gardens and began taping all of the mainstage productions, readings, discussions and education programs. These were made available to patrons to watch from the safety of their homes.

Once the pandemic interupted in-person attendance, Portland Stage began to look into ways to keep patons safe while attending events at Portland Stage. With the expertise of W.H. Demmons, Portland Stage had a state of the art ionized air purification system installed.
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Commissioned by Portland Stage and the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Collaborative to commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage. Learn More

Artistic Directors

Ted Davis 1974-1976

Michael Rafkin 1976-1977

Frank Goodman 1977-1978

Charles Towers 1978-1981

Barbara Rosoff 1981-1987

Richard Hamberger 1986-1992

Greg Leming 1992-1996

Anita Stewart & Chris Akerlind 1996-1998

Anita Stewart 1998-present

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access

At Portland Stage we agree to create and maintain a work environment that respects diverse ideas, races, genders, sexualities, abilities, culture, and religions, contribute to working in an anti-racist theater, and value Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA).


Solidarity Statement
… the board and staff of Portland Stage must affirm that Black Lives Matter and that at Portland Stage, we continue to grow in understanding and lean into this truth.

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Land Use and Historical Context

We are gathered on the unceded land of the Aucocisco and Abenaki peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Portland Stage asks you to join us in acknowledging the Wabanaki community, their elders both past and present, as well as future generations.


We also want to acknowledge that the history of Maine is deeply connected to the institution of slavery in the United States, and that residents of Maine participated in both slavery and the transatlantic slave trade even after slavery was outlawed in the District of Maine.

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