Looking to catch a play? You’re in for a treat. Portland has a well-established network of venues and theater companies and an increasingly dynamic and diverse small theater scene. Large downtown theater houses offer full-scale, world-class shows; smaller independent houses take creative risks and scout new talent; a few collectives even cater their seasons to a particular ethnic identity or special niche like comedy, mime or puppetry. There’s really something for everyone.
A great starting point for theater explorations is Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, an umbrella organization that handles booking and promotion for several of Portland’s biggest venues. In Portland’5 online calendar, you’ll find touring Broadway productions, opera, ballet and big-name solo appearances by prominent actors and comedians. The major halls are Antoinette Hatfield Hall, Portland’5 headquarters, and the three theater spaces within it: Dolores Winningstad Theatre, the Newmark Theatre and Brunish Theatre. Other locations include the Keller Auditorium, Lincoln Hall (at Portland State University) and Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Portland Center Stage (PCS), the city’s largest theater company, puts on full-scale musicals and other productions on the main stage and more stripped-down avant-garde plays in its intimate basement space, the Ellyn Bye Studio — both in the historic Gerding Theater at the Armory in the Pearl District.
With two stages just west of downtown, Artists Repertory Theatre favors tense dramas from contemporary playwrights as well as hosting Profile Theatre, a company that devotes each of its seasons to a single playwright.
Third Rail Repertory Theatre has a penchant for dark comedies and a take-no-prisoners acting style, and splits its season between the Winningstad Theatre at Portland’5 and CoHo Theatre in Northwest Portland.
Northwest Children’s Theater offers vibrant, accessible productions that can be enjoyed by kids as young as 4, while Oregon Children’s Theatre aims a bit older, dabbling in rock opera and exploring world affairs.
The beloved kids’ show at Imago Theatre feature acrobatic actors dressed as frogs, cats and a menagerie of other creatures who dance, mime, delight and surprise. Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre productions feature large, articulated marionettes that often overtake the whole stage and act alongside people. Read more >>
Portland hosts plenty of Shakespeare — especially in the summer through outfits like the Portland Shakespeare Project, which performs at Artists Rep, and Portland Actors Ensemble, Willamette Shakespeare and Original Practice Shakespeare — all of which offer free, open-air performances.
But for diehard followers of the bard, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, goes on nearly year-round in Ashland, four and a half hours south of Portland.
Portland Playhouse undertakes critically acclaimed modern works, especially though not exclusively about the African American experience. The “Milagro” or Miracle Theatre Group gives voice to the pan-Latino experience with bilingual productions, and sometimes hosts productions from the Jewish Theater Collaborative.
Small and emerging theaters
Longstanding small Portland companies like Theatre Vertigo and CoHo Productions tackle everything from Dickensian classics to Beckett-esque absurdity, while in adjacent towns Hillsboro and Lake Oswego, upstart Bag&Baggage and veteran Lakewood also bring new twists to the classics.
Several newer theaters are scattered around Portland, and their productions often prove worth the trip. Post5 Theatre knows its way around Shakespeare and has a way of scooping up young, beautiful “triple-threat” talent. Action/Adventure and sometime partner Working Theater Collective bring polish to the postmodern and the absurd, and workshop new scripts. Curious Comedy Theater, which most often hosts standup and improv, shows a few plays, favoring minimal staging, spoof and solo work.