If he had his druthers, Keith Powell Beyland would control his own theater space. But Beyland, artistic director for Portland’s Dramatic Repertory Company, doesn’t have that luxury.

A small troupe that presents a handful of edgy dramas each year, Dramatic Repertory balances its ambition with the complexities of the city’s evolving theater scene, which is in the midst of an upheaval. New companies are starting out and stages are popping up in residential neighborhoods, industrial corridors and commercial strips on the peninsula and across the city, and in the suburbs from South Portland to Freeport.

The Footlights opened a 70-seat theater in Falmouth last fall. Theater of the Awesome recently opened in Freeport. The Westbrook Performing Arts Center at the city’s middle school is luring dance productions to town. South Portland is fast becoming a destination for drama with three companies operating just over the Casco Bay Bridge.

The activity represents a creative burst among actors, dancers, directors, choreographers and playwrights, who have more opportunity to create but also more competition at the box office and more demand for space, dates and talent.

In November, Beyland and Rob Cameron of Fenix Theatre Company teamed to present “A Bright New Boise,” the first play in the new performance space at Portland Ballet, a flexible 73-seat theater on Forest Avenue, adjacent to Portland Ballet’s studio. In March, Beyland will mount “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” in the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company, with seating for about 75, and in May he’s back at Portland Ballet with “Equivocation.”

All are serious dramas, which until a few years ago rarely played outside big cities or north of Boston. “A Bright New Boise” is about a father’s attempted reconciliation with a son he gave up long ago; “Rachel Corrie” is a true story about a U.S. student killed during protests in the Gaza Strip, and “Equivocation” is about telling the truth.


“How is it working out?” Beyland asks. “That’s a question I can answer somewhere around June. Of course, I would prefer having my own personal space. It’s easier for people to remember.”

On the other hand, Dramatic Repertory has the ability to tailor its shows to the available space. “I feel like I have options, which is always good. I’m not tied down,” he said.

The recent bubble of activity traces back to the closing of Lucid Stage on Baxter Boulevard in the fall of 2012. Lucid did not produce its own shows but for two years provided a 75-seat performance space to many fledgling and established theater companies. It was built with theater as its top priority, giving directors and actors not only a dedicated space that accommodated their need for flexibility, but also long-term bookings that encouraged them to develop an audience via word-of-mouth and repeat performances.

Lucid proved to be an incubator for the arts. Its closing, because of financial difficulties, left the companies that it helped birth scrambling for space. The result of that scramble is the new theater at Portland Ballet, a permanent home for Mad Horse in a former school in South Portland, and pop-up stages in unlikely places, like Urban Farm Fermentory, which makes cider, meads and other drinks on Anderson Street in East Bayside. The drink factory hosted two weekends of plays by Lorem Ipsum in November.

With all the activity, Portland may be at the leading edge of the bubble. This month the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill will formalize plans for a new 400-seat theater and the expansion of its 110-seat Parish Hall theater by 15 or 20 seats.

And at Portland Stage, one of production manager Andrew Harris’ immediate tasks in 2014 is figuring out how to accommodate all the directors who want to book the theater’s 75-seat Studio Theater.



At any given time, he juggles requests from the American Irish Repertory Ensemble, Snowlion Rep, A Company of Girls, USM and Dramatic Rep and others, while also finding time for Portland Stage’s own small productions and festivals.

“We’re busy all the time,” Harris said. “There’s a constant stream of bookings in there.”

Through Feb. 9, the Studio Theater hosts Portland Stage Studio Rep, a second-year mini-festival that aims to build ties among Portland Stage, writers and actors, and audiences. This year’s festival features performances by Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Theatre Company, The Improvised Puppet Project and Lanyard Theatre Company.

It is in this environment that Portland Ballet artistic director Eugenia O’Brien launched the dance company’s new performance space on Forest Avenue.

The ballet company raised about $150,000 to create an intimate theater in what had been office space in an adjacent building. The ballet company shared an interior hallway door with the office complex, and over the years O’Brien lobbied the landlord to keep the door accessible. She had visions of a theater and did not want to lose access via the interior lobby.


The theater opened last fall.

Portland Ballet built the theater for its own benefit. The dance company will use its Studio Theatre for its smaller productions, such as “Boy Meets Girl,” a Valentine’s show in early February. O’Brien also knows she can rent it out, and is fielding inquiries from other dance and theater presenters about rates and dates.

“We built it for our needs, and we want to use it for our best advantage,” O’Brien said. “But at the same time, we see this as a real asset for the theater community. We see this as an incubator space for experimental and smaller productions.”

At Portland Ballet, that means adorning the stage with unfixed scenery and uncomplicated sets, to retain the integrity of the dance floor. The raised wooden stage floor is covered with a non-skid membrane to make it agreeable for dance, O’Brien said. The primary goal in building the theater was to put dancers directly in front of the audience in an intimate setting so people can see the activity on stage in detail, O’Brien said.

The theater is somewhat unique to Portland in that it is small but feels like a proscenium because of two large columns that frame the 20-by-25-foot stage. The audience sits on seven rows of seats on risers that offer a clear view of the stage.

O’Brien and her staff have had many inquiries about the theater, and are finalizing rental rates. She expects the theater will be in great demand. “We’re hoping it will be busy three out of four weeks every month,” she said.


Beyland, from Dramatic Rep, loved working there in November, when he and Fenix collaborated on “A Bright New Boise.”

“I couldn’t have been more pleased with the space,” Beyland said. “A lot of thought and time went into creating it. There are some technical flourishes to be finished off, but I know they are working on that.”

In building its theater, Portland Ballet followed the lead of Maine State Ballet in Falmouth. Maine State converted its rehearsal space, office and storage facility into a multi-use, 140-seat theater several years ago. Since then, it has hosted most of its productions at its home theater, while making it available for rentals.


The ability to control its own performances motivated Mad Horse Theatre Company to convert rehearsal space in South Portland into a 50-seat theater. Mad Horse was the anchor tenant at Lucid Stage, and scrambled when Lucid closed on short notice in fall 2012.

Mad Horse moved its shows around for a season, then opened the theater in the former Hutchins School at 24 Mosher St. in South Portland.


This is the second season at Hutchins for Mad Horse, which just opened its latest play, “Vigils,” a drama about memory and death, for a three-week run.

“Things have gone very well,” said artistic director Christine Louise Marshall. “There are some minor adjustments to make. We still have a few challenges, but we’re very happy with how it has worked out. People have found us. They know where we are, and we are thrilled with our parking situation. We have room for people to pull right in and see a show. That’s a big deal for us. It was always a frustration working in Portland.”

Among the adjustments are moving or eliminating structural support poles that bisect the theater, creating sight-line challenges. With 50 seats, Hutchins also is considerably smaller than Lucid Stage, with 25 fewer seats.

But the benefits outweigh the negatives, Marshall said. Mad Horse controls its own schedule, and does not have to cede dates to competing theater companies. If bad weather forces a cancellation, it’s easy to reschedule.

The availability of the theater encourages new work. Mad Horse began a By Local series, featuring new plays by local playwrights.

Marshall said Mad Horse has stabilized organizationally because of the move into a permanent home. It has a long-term lease and security.


“It was a tough, quick transition for us to make. We were almost in performance mode when we learned that Lucid was closing. I know there was a lot of pain in the community in terms of missing what was a lovely performance location. Lucid was a wonderful space to work in, and people miss Lucid and wish it could be open again. That being said, you can’t sit around and wait for that to happen. What has come out of it for us is personal control over our work and our space,” she said.

Mad Horse’s move to South Portland also had a trickle-down effect across the theater community. It freed up 16 weeks in the performance schedule that other theater companies have filled with new work. The spillover of that cumulative effort is more plays, more playwrights, more actors and new performance spaces.

The American Irish Repertory Ensemble, or AIRE, has been presenting shows at theaters across town for a decade. It has made the Studio Theater at Portland Stage its exclusive home for the past two seasons.

The theater provides a professional environment that elevates the quality of the shows, and audiences are comfortable in the space, said managing director Susan Reilly.

At the same time, AIRE has had to pass on some shows it would like to do, either because the theater is too small or dates are not available. While at Lucid, AIRE presented a Christmas show. It cannot do that at Portland Stage because of scheduling conflicts.

Reilly attended “A Bright New Boise” at Portland Ballet, and plans to talk to O’Brien about rentals.


“It would expand our options, and I think that’s always a good thing when you have choices,” Reilly said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:


Twitter: pphbkeyes

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