J.S. May

Spaces: Arts groups and the Portland real estate game

Artists Repertory Theatre and other performing arts organizations seek space and stability in an era of boom, bust and scarcity 

It’s a rainy evening outside the Tiffany Center, a circa-1928 Art Deco building in Goose Hollow that was first constructed for the Neighbors of Woodcraft fraternal organization. Inside, an elegant ballroom has been transformed by Artists Repertory Theatre, which has long been located across the street but will be itinerant for the next two-plus years while seeking to rebuild its theater building. 

For the play about to begin, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, there are no rows of audience chairs facing the stage. The ballroom is instead configured for dinner, with perhaps 25 circular tables and a no-host bar. While caterers serve a choice of fish & chips, Reuben sandwiches or corned beef and cabbage on paper plates, cast members are mingling with the attendees, remaining in character enough to retain Prudencia’s called-for Scottish accents, but not so Method as to refuse questions from munching ticket-buyers.

For the next few years, Artists Repertory Theatre will be on a tour of performing arts spaces in the city, including the Tiffany Center for The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, as it works on building a new theater headquarters./Photo by Kathleen Kelly


“My prom was here,” an actress visiting my table confesses. But she’s really there to instruct us: We must tear our paper napkins into shreds and, when cued a few minutes later, toss them into the air, simulating falling snow for a scene set in a blizzard.

Dinner theater is not Artists Rep’s stock in trade, but a play masquerading a theater as a pub is perhaps fitting for a theater company using this 92-year-old ballroom and various other locations around town. That’s to say nothing of Artists Rep’s offices, which also have temporarily relocated, in this case to the former Zidell Marine Company building in South Waterfront, as has the group of 11 fellow nonprofit arts organizations renting office space from Artists Rep as part of what’s called the ArtsHub; four of those have relocated here too, including the Portland Actors Conservatory, Staged!, the Portland Area Theater Alliance and the August Wilson Red Door Project, and Boom Arts recently moved in, too. (The actress at my table, a non-speaking member of the cast, was a Portland Actors Conservatory student.) Seven others have had to seek temporary space elsewhere.

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Artists Rep picks J.S. May as new managing director

May, a veteran leader of Portland arts and civic organizations, is charged with guiding the theater through a big transition..

Artists Repertory Theatre, trying to navigate a time of both turbulence and promise, has hired a steady hand to guide the ship. Portland’s oldest and second-largest theater announced Tuesday afternoon that J.S. (John Stuart) May, a respected figure in non-profit management in the city, has been hired as the company’s new managing director.

May is set to start immediately as co-leader of the organization, alongside artistic director Damaso Rodriguez, replacing Sarah Horton, who left the managing director post at the end of 2017. “His impressive management experience with nonprofits in Portland, and his proven marketing and fundraising skills, make him a great fit at the right time for our organization,” Mike Barr, chair of Artists Repertory Theatre’s board of directors said in the company’s news release.

J.S. May, newly named managing director of Artists Repertory Theatre, will steer the big red ship on Southwest Alder Street. Photo: Kisha Jarrett.

“I can’t think of a better choice for ART,” said Jim Fullan, a former marketing director for Portland Opera and former VP for marketing and communications at the Oregon Symphony. “J.S. has always been one of the most respected and effective arts administrators in this region. His warm personality, his smarts, and his extensive experience in the Portland arts arena make him the perfect choice to lead the organization into an even brighter future. I have no doubt that he’ll be very successful.”

With a resume featuring stints at the Portland Art Museum, the Metropolitan Group, the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation and Oregon Public Broadcasting, May brings a broad background in fundraising, marketing, communications, and strategic management. He’s served on boards for numerous non-profit and civic organizations, including the arts-focused Creative Advocacy Coalition.

Such a range of experiences and the connections that come with them could be crucial for Artists Rep, which is in the midst of the most complicated transition in its 36-year history.

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