Oregon Children’s Theatre (OCT), the region’s largest nonprofit performing arts company for young audiences, announces its upcoming lineup of productions, which will mark the organization’s 35th anniversary season. Following a short hiatus in the fall of 2023 for strategic alignment and financial preservation, OCT will produce three Mainstage productions beginning in January 2024. The youth-serving arts organization will also produce three productions for older audiences and adults through its Young Professionals Company and continue offering year-round classes for children ages 3-18.

The strategic decision to pause in the fall allows OCT to evaluate the next right steps both artistically and financially for the future success and health of the organization, while engaging in creative problem-solving and strategic planning around its loss of physical space, rising costs to produce shows, and how OCT will move forward. The pause also allows OCT’s new Producing Artistic Director, Jenn Hartmann Luck, to become acquainted with Portland following her relocation from the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX. Despite the ongoing challenges, Luck is arriving with a renewed energy and excitement for continuing OCT’s legacy for high-quality and meaningful children’s theatre productions, and she is eager to begin the real work of supporting OCT and the youth of Portland in her new role.

The pause in programming for the fall of 2023 allows OCT to also focus on fundraising and preserve enough of its financial assets to return in 2024; however, like many other arts organizations, the recovery from the pandemic has been slow and is ongoing. “Like many arts organizations across the country, OCT experienced incredible challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Luck explained. “Not only the loss of revenue and audiences, as well as difficult staffing and leadership hurdles, but OCT experienced some unique challenges that need to be addressed thoughtfully and with intention. We believe it is a critical moment for OCT to take a breath and use the fall as a time for reflection and strategic planning. This time will allow us to be intentional about our new direction and allows me the time to get to know the Portland community and learn how we can best serve the needs of the young people throughout Portland and beyond.”


In addition to its programming pause, OCT will be pursuing additional funding through foundation and governmental grants, as well as soliciting support from the community. Central to this strategy, OCT will launch their Producers Circle, a donation-based benefits program. Through the program, any person who commits to monthly donations for at least one year will receive benefits, such as early access to ticket sales, special VIP events, backstage tours, and more. “The Producers Circle is the easiest way for someone to support OCT right now. By committing to a monthly gift of any size for the next year, the people who care about cementing our place in the community the most will be banding together to provide OCT with a stable, monthly revenue stream that is crucial for our future success,” says Luck. “Plus, the benefits make the barrier to access far more affordable than most comparable membership programs.” More information can be found at octc.org/producers-circle.

Oregon Children’s Theatre’s 2023–2024 Mainstage Season at a Glance:

  • Goodnight Moon, January 14–February 11, Winningstad Theatre; recommended for ages 3 and up

  • The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, January 21–February 18, Newmark Theatre; recommended for ages 8 and up

  • Dino-Light, April 19 & 20, Winningstad Theatre; recommended for all ages*

  • She Persisted, April 28–May 26, Newmark Theatre; recommended for ages 6 and up

    *Dino-Light produced by Lightwire Theater and presented in partnership with OCT

    OCT will kick off its season with the children’s classic Goodnight Moon, a musical adapted for the stage by Chad Henry from the beloved book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. The story follows the bedtime routine of a young bunny, saying “Goodnight” to the simple items in its room; however, the production is anything but simple: with beautiful scenery mirroring the illustrations of the picture book, scenes come to life on stage through innovative staging. Additionally, for the first time, OCT will be sharing production elements with Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT), who will be producing Goodnight Moon in October 2023. Collaborating with SCT’s Artistic Director Idris Goodwin, the two theaters discussed ways to serve more youth throughout Oregon and Washington by creating content that could be worked on together, then share elements to ease the financial burden on each organization. “So often TYA companies do the same show in a season, and our goal was to imagine how much more accessible and affordable it would be to share resources,” commented Karen Hill, OCT’s Director of Production. “By working together with the goal to reduce costs and serve more youth in the Pacific Northwest, we’re excited for the opportunity to work with SCT now and in the future.” While the show will be produced by OCT and performed by local artists, many of the design elements will be shared across the two organizations.

Just one week after Goodnight Moon’s opening, OCT will produce The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical at the Newmark Theatre, based on the best-selling Percy Jackson & the Olympians book series by Rick Riordan. Luck will be at the helm as director, making her Portland and OCT directorial debut. When teenager Percy Jackson discovers he’s a demigod, he and his friends embark on an epic journey to find Zeus’ missing lightning bolt and prevent a war among the gods. The show was originally developed by TYA powerhouse TheaterWorks USA, who has created other well-known, popular musicals such as Pete the Cat, Rosie Revere Engineer, and Dog Man: the Musical, which OCT presented in October 2022. The show features a rock score and shares messages of strength, perseverance, tenacity, and believing in yourself.

For one weekend only, OCT will welcome Dino-Light, an incredible, innovative performance art show originally produced by Lightwire Theater. Co-created by Ian Carney and Corbin Popp, Lightwire was founded on a connection between art, technology, and theater; it has been featured as a semi-finalist on America’s Got Talent and has been a recipient of the prestigious Jim Henson Foundation Grant. Dino-Light tells the story of a famous scientist with magic powers that brings a friendly dinosaur to life; when the dinosaur wanders away from home, he discovers a wonderful world full of creatures that light up the darkness and help him find the true meaning of love. This glow-in-the-dark adventure is visually stunning and has been praised for its cutting-edge blend of puppetry, technology, and dance by audiences all over the world. Public performances for Dino-Light will be shown for one weekend only, in addition to five school field trip productions.

Closing OCT’s season is the inspiring musical adaptation of She Persisted, based on the best- selling children’s book by Chelsea Clinton. Featuring music by renowned composer Deborah Wicks La Puma (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play, Ella Enchanted) the musical follows Fourth-grader Naomi on a field trip to a Women’s History Museum that turns into a time travel adventure where she encounters inspirational women who have overcome barriers and made waves throughout U.S. history. From activists to athletes, artists and more, this musical features the stories of female trailblazers such as Harriet Tubman, Virginia Apgar, Ruby Bridges, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Sonia Sotomayor.

OCT’s award-winning Young Professionals Company will again produce impactful shows for teens and adults alike this year, opening the season with SPIDER, a brand-new work commissioned by the Young Professionals and written by Madeleine Adriance, a former Young Professional and student at Brown University, studying playwriting with Julia Jarcho and Lisa D’Amour. Adriance worked professionally as an actor, dramaturg, and assistant director with the Young Professionals Company from 2016–2019, and as an assistant playwriting and acting teacher with Oregon Children’s Theatre. She has received the Robinson Potter Dunn and the S.R. Steinfeld Awards for her work. The production will explore themes around social media and artificial intelligence, rising gun violence and school shootings, and the effect they all have on teens’ mental health. Spider will open in October 2023 and perform at Curious Comedy Theater in Northeast Portland. Tickets are on sale now at octc.org/spider. Additional Young Professionals Company productions will be announced in the coming months.

In addition to all of these performances, OCT will continue to offer its award-winning classes and summer camps at multiple locations throughout the Portland area. Blake Wales, OCT’s Education Director and a 20+ year alumni of OCT programming himself, leads the Education team in developing new and impactful programming for children and teens. OCT is also excited to offer new in-school residency programs, including an elementary school program focused on social-emotional learning and high school program focused on self-awareness, diversity, inclusion, and acceptance. Previously, OCT received funding through Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools program to facilitate in-school workshops and residencies; however, this program was defunded in early 2020 alongside the COVID pandemic. “While understandable during a global pandemic, the loss of support for this program meant the loss of important social-emotional programming,” explained Luck. “With mental health and social-emotional needs reaching historical levels, it is critical that OCT finds a way back into our schools, to serve and support the needs of our young people and their educators.”

Tickets for OCT’s upcoming season will go on sale to the public October 16, 2023, with early access for Producers Circle members beginning now. Tickets for the Young Professionals Company’s production of SPIDER are also on sale now. Field trips and school programming are both currently available for booking; OCT’s fall classes are also currently on sale. More information about shows and all of OCT’s programs can be found on their website, octc.org.


This article is published courtesy of Oregon Children’s Theatre