Portland Center Stage at The Armory is the largest theater company in Portland, and among the top 20 regional theaters in the country. Established in 1988 as a branch of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the company became independent in 1994. An estimated 150,000 visitors attend The Armory annually to enjoy a mix of classical, contemporary and world premiere productions, along with the annual JAW: A Playwrights Festival, and a variety of high quality education and community programs. Home to two theaters, The Armory was the first building on the National Register of Historic Places — and the first performing arts venue in the country — to achieve a LEED Platinum rating.
Portland Center Stage at The Armory inspires our community by bringing stories to life in unexpected ways.
Theater brings us together, to sit near one another, to hear stories, to lift our voices in song. Theater creates worlds like no others. Its immediacy cannot be duplicated. Its intensity cannot be matched. A playwright’s miraculous words, directed with insight and acted with passion, elicit laughter, sorrow, astonishment, enlightenment and inspiration. Suddenly, we are not alone.
At a time in our history when we all wonder how we can live together on this planet, our need for community feels more important than ever. When we gather in the theater, feelings are magnified, commonalities are illuminated, prejudices are challenged and our hearts are opened.
Theater is communal. An actor speaks a playwright’s words. Another answers. Dialogue begins; melody rises. The audience adds its own energy, rhythm, breath; harmony emerges — all of it entwining together in a shared experience of power and exhilaration.
When we opened our new venue at The Armory, we promised a new vision, new energy, a new attitude and new work. Today, there is fire onstage, excitement in the building and high anticipation as we bring you magnificent writers of timeless stories. And each is offered with the vigor, verve and vitality you’ve come to expect from Portland Center Stage at The Armory.
Portland Center Stage at The Armory began as OSF Portland, the northern sibling of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. After years of planning and preparation, the company was successfully launched on November 12, 1988 with an opening night performance of George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House and a gala celebration. With Dennis Bigelow as Artistic Producer, the company grew steadily in its first four years, producing five to six shows each season at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. In the fall of 1992, Pat Patton was named Associate Artistic Director/Portland by OSF, and guided the company's growth for the next two seasons, its last as a branch of OSF.
In September 1993, the Festival’s Board of Directors approved a recommendation from its Portland advisory committee that the Portland branch become an independent theater company. So after six successful seasons as OSF. Elizabeth Huddle was selected as producing artistic director in 1994 to oversee both the artistic and administrative sides of the newly independent company, Portland Center Stage.
In May, 2000, Chris Coleman, co-founder and artistic director of Actor’s Express in Atlanta, became the theater’s fourth artistic director. In his first season he launched several creative initiatives, including the production of A New Brain, the theater’s first musical, and its first second stage production, Dael Orlandersmith’s one-woman show The Gimmick. Under his leadership, Portland Center Stage received the largest gift in the theater’s history at that time — a $1.35 million, three-year grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust. In the 2003-2004 season, Portland Center Stage expanded the number of productions from six to seven and began presenting works in both the Winningstad and Newmark Theatres.
In April 2004, the company announced a $32.9 million capital campaign to build a new theater complex in the historic First Regiment Armory Annex building, originally built in 1891. The facility would house the 590-seat U.S. Bank Main Stage, the 190-seat Ellyn Bye Studio, administrative offices, a rehearsal hall and production facilities. The company also continued to rent the 20,000 square-foot warehouse on Front Avenue to construct sets and props.
The Armory opened to the public as the new home of Portland Center stage on October 1, 2006, with a community celebration. Since then, the company has continued to grow. It now offers around 11 productions each season, along with roughly 400 community events created — in partnership with 170+ local organizations and individuals — to serve the diverse populations in the city. Portland Center Stage at The Armory has become a major destination in the city, attracting local audiences and travelers from across the country and abroad.