Meet Your Neighbor: Anita Stewart, Portland Stage Company, Director, With Fresh Ideas

Anita Stewart, Portland Stage Company, During a Break at the North Street Community Garden

By Carol McCracken (Post # 537)

“Providing high quality theater while using a wide range of material” is the goal of Anita Stewart, artistic and executive director at Portland Stage Company. One of the challenges to accomplish this goal for this charismatic young woman is to manage the budget and stay fiscally responsible while creating fresh programs. Providing diverse programming is a challenge when the funding is limited as it clearly is during this economic downturn.

Stewart hails from upstate New York. She graduated Yale School of Drama where her focus of study was on set and costume design. Her design skills were utilized in major theaters all over the US, including Dallas, TX. When she learned of the opening at Portland Stage Company, she’d been working in New York City for 12 years. It would be the first time she’d served as executive director of a theater, but Stewart felt confident she could do both jobs. “It felt like the previous director at Portland Stage didn’t seem connected to the community and vice versa,” Stewart said at an impromptu interview yesterday afternoon at the North Street Community Garden where she’d been watering her plot of veggies on a hot afternoon. She generously took a break to talk to MHN.com

Because of the economic downturn, Stewart was particularly pleased when Susie Konkel, a local philanthropist, proposed a childrens’ program earlier this year – it’s called “Play Me A Story.” As it turned it, the program was part of Stewart’s longterm vision for the well-regarded theater as well. Rather than rely on childrens’ plays, the program utilizes childrens’ well-established literature to teach analyzing skills, acting skills, etc. The first three weeks of summer camp finished up last month. Children ranged in ages from 8 – 14 years of age. Stewart’s goal is to develop the program within the 5 year window Portland Stage has been given by Konkel, to accommodate high school students. A former college level teacher, Stewart’s said this of this new program: “It’s a great way to expand Portland Stage in a new way.”

As to the upcoming season, the first production of the year is: “The 39 Steps.” It’s an Alfred Hitchcock Thriller with 4 actors in it. Stewart said it’ll open around September 28th and run until October 24th. Next week she’s going to New York City to audition actors for the play. Stewart said that about half of her actors are local and the other half are not.

Stewart lives on the HIll with her family. “I love living here,” she said of life on the Hill. That as she returned to another round of much needed waterng of her vegetable garden. Her predecessor at Portland Stage, Forest Avenue, may not have been “connected” to the community, but clearly Stewart is. She’s “connectable!”

For more information, please visit www.portlandstage.org. For tickets, please call 207 – 774-0465