Artists Rep's new artistic director Damaso Rodriguez works with cast members on a scene from The Big Meal. Photo by Owen Carey

NOSTALGIA FOR CHILDHOOD is a fool's game, but it's hard to resist when the first day of school rolls around, bringing with it probably-romanticized memories of new backpacks, sharpened pencils, and a momentary sense that anything could happen in the year to come.

The start of the theater season isn't exactly comparable—I will not be buying a new backpack, my old Power Ranger bag will do just fine—but there's a similar sense of anticipation and possibility, after summer's long dry spell.

On the 2013/2014 theater calendar, the really major, life-changing developments—like, we're talking first day of high school here—all seem to revolve around Artists Repertory Theatre, which kicks off their first season under the helm of brand-new artistic director Damaso Rodriguez.

Rodriguez hails from down south; the co-founder of LA's Furious Theater, he's relatively young and adventurous, and he's booked a vibrant season for Artist Rep that includes local favorite Todd Van Voris in Craig Wright's Mistakes Were Made, and a sure-to-be-great production of The Motherfucker with the Hat starring John San Nicolas and Victor Mack. The first show of the season opens this weekend with The Big Meal, which promises to explore the milestones and setbacks of a modern family around the dinner table.

Rodriguez takes the reins from departing AD Allen Nause, whose retirement from Artists Rep is actually great news for theatergoers: it means we'll see more of him onstage, including a starring role in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at Imago. (Imago does interesting work with the classics—remember their popular and oft-revived tilty-stage production of No Exit?)

The mere appointment of a new artistic director would be news in and of itself, but the personnel change seems to have motivated Artists Rep to throw their shutters wide open. Profile Theater, which has the unique mission of dedicating every season to the work of a sole playwright, will take up residence at Artists Rep just in time for their Sam Shepard season. And Polaris Dance is also climbing on board, turning Artists Rep's two-theater compound on SW Morrison, quite unexpectedly, into something of an arts hub.

It's well-timed, because last season saw the demise of another crucial arts center, Southeast's longtime venue Theater! Theatre!, which housed two theater spaces on SE Belmont. (Profile is a Theater! Theatre! refugee.) One of that venue's most high-profile tenants, Theater Vertigo, will be moving into much smaller digs in the tiny Shoebox Theatre until they're able to find or build a new space.

A lot of locally well-known and high-profile actors have cycled through Vertigo over the years (Todd Van Voris, Darius Pierce, Amy Newman), but at this point, most of the faces I once associated with the company are gone. (Kerry Ryan is the sole exception, and she's leaving in the winter to work with Third Rail.) A few weeks ago, Vertigo announced their 2013/2104 ensemble, and the list features a striking number of new names, including Stephanie Cordell, Nathan Crosby, and Holly Wigmore. It's great to see the company aggressively pursuing new talent: By the looks of it, they're not letting their smaller home constrain their ambition. In fact, the move to the Showbox Theatre is hoped to be a temporary one, as the company has the long-term goal of establishing a new Southeast arts space in partnership with the Northwest Classical Theatre Company, who currently occupies the Shoebox.

Watching the theater scene morph and grow every year is fascinating, and this year promises to be more interesting than ever. There's plenty going on in addition to the big changes at Artists Rep: Portland Playhouse has secured solid footing as one of the city's best mid-sized theaters, and their season kicks off presciently on October 2 with Detroit, a show about two couples dealing with economic insecurity. Third Rail, dependably a source of challenging, confrontational work, will present the single most conventional production of their career, with the backstage comedy Noises Off. (At a recent panel discussion about local theater and technology, Third Rail artistic director Slayden Scott Yarbroguh acknowledged that the backstage farce is a "weird" choice for the company, and bluntly explained that it's a bid to expand their audience.)

Action/Adventure Theater returns with the second season of their popular improvised serial Fall of the Band. Out on 82nd, Post5 Theater has a recently remodeled space and a whole lotta energy—they're ones to watch in the upcoming year. And I'm incredibly excited to get a look at Mother Mother, a collaboration between the Portland Experimental Theater Ensemble and Sojourn Theater that explores motherhood in the 21st century. There's a busy season ahead. Sharpen your pencils.