Portland Stage is moving forward with a renovation of its Forest Avenue building that will include a new awning, elevator and lobby redo. The new sign will identify Portland Stage in glowing letters, highlighted by a temporary light sculpture above the door. Rendering courtesy of Portland Stage

Portland Stage will open its 50th main-stage season this fall under a new marquee, a bright spot as performance venues are still recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit theater has raised $5.2 million of a $6.4 million capital campaign, it announced Monday along with the season’s lineup of shows. The fundraising milestone will allow the organization to move forward with a renovation of its Forest Avenue building, which will include a new awning, elevator and lobby redo. The new sign will identify Portland Stage in glowing letters, highlighted by a temporary light sculpture above the door.

Anita Stewart, artistic director, said the marquee will be “a gateway to the arts district.”

“This renovation is just going to shift how people look at who and what we are, and hopefully get curious and decide, ‘Let’s check someone out and see what’s happening in this space,’ ” Stewart said. “People will tell me, ‘You’re Portland’s best kept secret.’ We’ll be secret no more.”

The 50th season will open and close a few weeks later than usual because of the construction project. Stewart said Portland Stage hopes to complete the permitting process in May and then start construction. The first show, “Saint Dad” by Monica Wood, is slated to open Oct. 25.

Portland Stage was founded in 1974 as a touring company called Profile Theatre. The group soon settled in Portland and changed its name to reflect its new home. The nonprofit moved into the building at 25A Forest Ave. in 1982 and bought it in 2000. Stewart said Portland Stage has made significant renovations over the years – a new HVAC system in the summer of 2020, for example – but none so visible as this face-lift. The capital campaign started quietly in 2019. The board decided to put it on hold when the pandemic started but resumed fundraising in 2022.


The project displaced two local businesses: Able Baker Contemporary, which held a farewell show last summer, and Katahdin Restaurant Wood Fire Grill & Bar, which closed in September. A Facebook post at the time promised that the restaurant would reopen but did not offer details on a location or timeline. Stewart said the renovation will expand the theater into part of the former restaurant space, and Portland Stage hopes to find a restaurant to operate out of the kitchen and former gallery space.

Stewart said the majority of the money raised during the capital campaign will go to the renovation and the endowment that funds the nonprofit’s education programs for K-12 students. While the pandemic created budget challenges, she said this project will hopefully draw more people to the theater.

“We were really clear on what the campaign was to do,” she said. “Making the space more accessible and visible and welcoming.”

The news of the renovation and the season’s lineup drew applause and, at times, excited gasps, from the supporters gathered at Portland Stage on Monday night. In announcing the shows planned for the upcoming 2023-24 season, Stewart said the theater aimed for a range of plays that could attract new audiences to Portland Stage – from the “tried and true” to the new and experimental, the lighthearted to the political. The 2022-23 season has seen audiences that are 35%-40% lower than in 2019-20, just before the pandemic.

“We’re trying to hit it out of the park this year and get everybody to come on back to the theater,” she said.

The 50th main-stage season will include:


• “Saint Dad” by Monica Wood, Oct. 25-Nov. 19. A family decided to sell their childhood camp in Maine when their father was dying, but he’s made a miraculous recovery. Now they don’t want him to find out they’ve done. Wood lives in Portland, and her previous plays include “Papermaker,” which debuted at Portland Stage in 2015. “She is a known writer, and people love her work,” Stewart said. “This is the first real comedy that she’s done.”

• “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, Nov. 29-Dec. 24. This holiday classic returns to Portland Stage after four years.

• “The Play That Goes Wrong” by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer; Jan. 31-Feb. 25. The cast of ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’ meets one disaster after another one opening night. Stewart said the show has received “rave reviews” and will be “a fun, fun production.”

•  “What the Constitution Means to Me” by Heidi Schreck, March 6-24. The central character reflects on her teenage years, when she earned her college tuition by winning Constitutional debate competitions across the country. The piece culminates in a live debate to be judged by the audience. Stewart described the show as “lighthearted, open and honest.”

• “Clyde’s” by Lynne Nottage, April 3-21. The formerly incarcerated staff at this truck-stop diner are looking for a second chance and the perfect sandwich. “It puts a face on people who have a tough road in life, who’ve made some mistakes and are now trying to get on with life,” Stewart said.

• “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” by Tony Kushner, co-produced with Dramatic Repertory Company, May 1-26. The play follows six New Yorkers at the height of the AIDS crisis. Stewart called it “a tour-de-force piece.”

• “Manning” by Benjamin Benne, June 5-16. This play was the winner of the Clauder Competition, a playwriting award hosted by Portland Stage and open to all New England playwrights. A father and his two sons are mourning the death of his wife and their mother when a giant zucchini sprouts overnight in their backyard garden. “It’s a beautifully metaphorical piece,” Stewart said.

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