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Portland Playhouse forced out of church, headed for the World Trade Center

By Barry Johnson

July 24, 2011

Zoning problems have forced Portland Playhouse out of its home on N.E. Prescott St.

The Portland Playhouse has announced that it will move its operations, at least for now, from the church on N.E. Prescott St. where it has thrived since opening up shop in 2008.  Here’s what artistic director Brian Weaver said in his press release:

Portland Playhouse will be moving temporarily from the Church on Northeast Prescott until zoning issues with the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) are cleared up. This change is effective immediately… As a result, we are moving our first show of the 2011/2012 Season, GEM OF THE OCEAN by August Wilson, to the World Trade Center (WTC). ANGELS IN AMERICA was already scheduled to perform at the WTC and we hope to be back in operation at the church for FAMISHED and THE BROTHER/SISTER PLAYS. We are committed to being part of the King Neighborhood, our home for the last three years, and happy to work with the City to make this a long-term, sustainable Neighborhood Art Center.

Weaver said that various city agencies are helping out, though he didn’t detail the nature of the problem. As we find out more, we’ll let you know.


I talked to Brian Weaver, artistic director of Portland Playhouse. He said a neighbor complained about access to on-street parking, and the complaint kicked off a chain reaction with the Bureau of Development Services. The church had a conditional use permit in the neighborhood, which is zoned for residential use. The theater, though not a commercial use, is also not a church, so the company had to apply for a conditional use permit on its own. That will take a minimum of three months, if things go smoothly, and possibly as much as nine months. And it’s possible that the theater won’t receive the permit at all, though Weaver sounded confident on the phone. The conditional permit would fit under the “community services” provision of the city’s zoning rules for a residential neighborhood.

Weaver said that the Bureau and other city officials, such as Cary Clarke in the Mayor’s Office, had been helpful, but that it became clear that this fall’s production of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” would have to move to another location. Fortunately, because Third Rail Repertory Theatre has moved its season to the Winningstad Theatre in the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, the World Trade Center’s theater was available. Portland Playhouse had already scheduled its version of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” in the center later in the season, anyway.

The move will cost the company $12,000 in rent for Wilson’s play and more money for the Equity actors in the production. Equity wages are tied to the size of the house, and the World Trade Center’s capacity is much larger than the church on N.E. Prescott St. Portland Playhouse will likely apply for an emergency Opportunity Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council to help defray the cost, though the additional seats in the trade center could increase ticket  revenue.

Weaver was worried that the large community audience that had connected with the company’s hit production of  Wilson’s “Radio Golf,” a play that considers gentrification and neighborhood development, among other things of importance to the diverse and changing King neighborhood, might not follow the company to the downtown World Trade Center.

Still, he said, “We were so lucky to get the World Trade Center.”


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