Mad Horse Theatre begins its 26th season in Portland tonight and its second at Lucid Stage, the upstart theater space on Baxter Boulevard near Portland’s Back Cove.

With about 100 seats, Lucid Stage begins its second season as a major player in the Portland theater scene. Mad Horse has made the theater its home, committing to 14 weeks of performances throughout the year. Several other presenting companies have followed, including American Irish Repertory Ensemble, Figures of Speech, Dark Follies and the new company Snow Lion Rep.

Lucid Stage also hosts comedy and dance, and is busy most nights.

“We’ve been very successful when it comes to being busy all the time,” said Liz McMahon, who co-directs Lucid Stage with Adam Gutgsell. Both are longtime players in local theater.

“We’ve succeeded based on a combination of renting out the space at full cost and bringing community groups in to use the space for free or at reduced cost,” she said. “We’ve had very few dark nights, and we are already now booked through the end of June. We barely had any money to start a venue, but I was certain we could rent it.

“I knew there was a demand. There are more people now who need space than there are medium-sized venues. So I knew we would be OK once we got open.”

Lucid Stage has proven popular with directors and actors. They like the flexibility of the theater itself — the seats can be configured in many ways to accommodate different stages — as well as the functionality of the wings and backstage areas. Many of the companies working at Lucid previously rented the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company.

They liked the intimacy of the Portland Stage space, but found the lack of a backstage area limiting, said Christine Louise Marshall, Mad Horse’s artistic director and director of the company’s season opener, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”

“Having a backstage area and wings makes a huge difference,” Marshall said. “The depth and width of the space give you so many more options.”

“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” illustrates Marshall’s point. This show demands a lot of special effects. It’s sometimes tough to execute those special effects in a small theater — especially one without an easily accessible backstage area — because the space is so intimate. The audience might be privy to the effects.

That’s less a concern at Lucid Stage, she said, because it’s easier to set up the special effects out of view from the audience. If Mad Horse did not have access to this space, it might not have chosen this play, she added.

Written by Martin McDonagh, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” falls into the category of dark comedy. Marshall describes it as a “muscular, high-octane show packed with gorgeous gore, amazing special effects and a battered, beautiful heart.”

The partnership between Mad Horse and Lucid Stage represents the kind of relationship that benefits both organizations, Gutgsell said. In discussions with its board of directors, Gutgsell and McMahon have pitched Lucid Stage as a collaborating organization.

Lucid produces some of its own material, including comedy and theater, but it has branded itself as a partner with the groups and organizations that rent the space.

“Lucid is really collaborating with the community,” McMahon said. “I think that separates us from the other companies that produce their own shows.”

With a successful first year behind it, Lucid Stage is focused on growth. It has hired a part-time administrative assistant — local theater mainstay Harlan Baker — and a development director, Sarah Wolcheski.

The theater has garnered several grants from the Maine Theater Fund, the Davis Family Foundation and the Quimby Family Foundation to supplement income from ticket sales.

“We’re just really happy with the way things are going, and we look forward to the season ahead,” McMahon said. “We just want to thank everybody who supported our endeavor this year and let them know that our continued success depends on them coming out.

“It’s up to the patrons to keep organizations like ours going. We’re all about community.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: [email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes