Arena Stage

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Arena Stage
Arena Stage logo.png
Address1101 Sixth Street
Southwest, Washington, D.C.
United States
Coordinates38°52′38″N 77°01′13″W / 38.8772°N 77.0203°W / 38.8772; -77.0203Coordinates: 38°52′38″N 77°01′13″W / 38.8772°N 77.0203°W / 38.8772; -77.0203
Public transitWaterfront station (Washington Metro) Metrobus (Washington, D.C.)
OperatorMolly Smith, Edgar Dobie
Genre(s)American Plays & Playwrights
Years active72

Arena Stage is a not-for-profit regional theater based in Southwest, Washington, D.C.[1] Established in 1950, it was the first racially integrated theater in Washington, D.C.[1][2][3][4] and its founders helped start the U.S. regional theater movement.[5][6] It is located at a theater complex called the Mead Center for American Theater. The theater's Artistic Director is Molly Smith and the Executive Producer is Edgar Dobie.[7] It is the largest company in the country dedicated to American plays and playwrights.[8] Arena Stage commissions and develops new plays through its Power Plays initiative.[9] The company now serves an annual audience of more than 300,000.[10][11] Its productions have received numerous local and national awards, including the Tony Award for best regional theater[12] and over 600 Helen Hayes Awards.[13][11][14]


Founding, location, and theaters[edit]

The theatre company was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1950 by Zelda and Thomas Fichandler and Edward Mangum.[1][3] Its first home was the Hippodrome Theatre,[8][2] a former movie house.[4] In 1956, the company moved into the gymnasium of the old Heurich Brewery in Foggy Bottom; the theater was nicknamed "The Old Vat." The brewery was demolished in 1961 to make way for the approaches to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and the Kennedy Center.[15]

In 1960, the company moved into its current complex on Sixth St, which was built for them by Chicago architect Harry Weese.[8] He also designed the Arena’s Kreeger Theater, which opened in 1970.[2] In 1966, Robert Alexander joined the company and created the Living Stage as a social outreach improvisational theater.[4]

Inclusion and diversity focus[edit]

Arena was the first theatre in D.C. to be racially integrated.[16][17][18] It's production The Great White Hope, which opened at Arena Stage in 1967, went on to Broadway with its original cast, including James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander in the lead roles.[2][19] This made Arena the first regional theater to transfer a production to Broadway.[2][19] When Arena Stage reprised the play in 2000 as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Mahershala Ali was cast as the male lead.[20] It was his first professional role.[20]

In 1968, the company received a $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.[21] Part of it was to be used for the training of Black actors.[21] In 1987, Arena hosted a symposium on nontraditional casting.[22] In 1989, the company received a $1 million grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to train minority actors, directors, designers and administrators, and to produce plays from non-white cultures.[22][5]

In the latter half of the 20th century, the company traveled abroad. In 1973, they performed Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Inherit the Wind in the Soviet Union after being invited by the U.S. State Department to do so.[4][5] This made them the first regional theater to present U.S. plays in the former USSR.[2]

Arena Stage also became the first American theater company to be invited to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1980, and then attended the Israel Festival in Jerusalem in 1987.[4] In the U.S., to promote cultural diversity, Zelda Fichandler included plays from the Soviet Union, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Austria, East and West Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Canada, and Australia in the theater's repertoire.[5] In 1991, Arena raised $4 million for a cultural diversity grant.[5] This became the Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship Program.[5]

In 1981, Arena developed Audio Description for visually impaired audiences.[5] This made the company the first theater to create audio-described performances.[5]

In 1976, Arena Stage became the first theater outside New York to receive a special Tony Award for theatrical excellence. [4][12]

Original plays and films[edit]

In 2016, Molly Smith announced the Power Plays initiative to commission 25 original plays and musicals over the next 10 years to showcase American history from 1776 to modern day.[23][24] Including works by Jacqueline Lawton, Eve Ensler, Rajiv Joseph, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Sarah Ruhl, Lawrence Wright, Eduardo Machado, Aaron Posner, John Strand, Craig Lucas, Kenneth Lin, and Nathan Alan Davis.[25][23]

During the coronavirus pandemic, Arena Stage launched the Artists Marketplace as a way for people to commission or purchase work from the artists who have worked with the company.[26][27] The company also produced three films: May 22, 2020, a docudrama that follows D.C.-Maryland-Virginia residents and captures a day in their lives during the pandemic;[28] Inside Voices, which features the stories of kids during the pandemic;[29] and The 51st State, about D.C. statehood.[30]

In 2021, the company released a three-part commissioned music series called Arena Riffs.[27][31]


Date Event Source
1950 Arena Stage is founded as the first racially integrated theatre in Washington, D.C. [3]
1959 Arena Stage becomes a not-for-profit [4][5]
1961 The company’s new complex, designed by Harry Weese, opens [4][8]
1967 The Great White Hope featuring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander debuts [19]
1971 The company’s Kreeger Theater opens [4]
1973 Arena is the first regional theater to tour behind the Iron Curtain [2]
1976 The company is awarded the Special Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater [12]
1980 Arena Stage is the first American theater company invited to the international Hong Kong Arts Festival [5]
1981 The company develops Audio Description for visually impaired audiences [5]
1984 Premier of Patrick Meyes' "K2" [4]
1985 The creation of a resident acting company [4]
1987 The company attends the Israel Festival in Jerusalem and presents The Crucible [4]
1994 The Price breaks existing box office records [4]
2009 Launch of the American Voices New Play Institute [9]
2010 The Price breaks existing box office records [3][32]
2015 Dear Evan Hansen premieres at Arena Stage [33]
2016 Commissioning of 25 original works announced under the Power Plays initiative [3][1]
2017 Dear Evan Hansen wins 6 Tony Awards, including Best Musical [34]

Renovation 2008–2010[edit]

Arena Stage December 2020
Arena Stage, 2011

A major renovation of the facility was undertaken from 2008 through 2010.[32] The architect for the project was Bing Thom Architects of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada who contracted Fast + Epp consulting engineers to design the main columns for the building.[35] During the renovation, Arena Stage temporarily moved to the Crystal Forum and the Lincoln Theatre.[3]

The Arena’s existing theaters, the Fichandler Stage and the Kreeger Theater, were enclosed along with a new theater, the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, under a glass “skin”.[3] The entire $135 million complex was renamed "Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater" in honor of supporters Gilbert and Jaylee Mead.[36][37] The new building includes a central lobby, restaurant, rehearsal rooms, classrooms, production shops, offices, and the Catwalk Cafe.[38][39][40][41] The restaurant, Richard's Place, is closed for the 2021-2022 season.[42] For the first time in the company's history, all staff and operations joined under one unifying roof.[39][37] The three-stage theater complex is now the second-largest performing arts center in Washington, DC, after the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and is the largest regional theater in D.C.[11][39] Arena Stage re-opened in October 2010 with “Oklahoma!”[3][5]

The capacity of its three theaters follows:

Artistic Directors[edit]

One of the founders, Zelda Fichandler, was the company's artistic director[3] from its founding through the 1990/91 season.[8] Douglas C. Wager[3] succeeded her for the 1991/92 through 1997/98 seasons.[4] The current artistic director, Molly Smith, assumed those duties beginning with the 1998/99 season.[3][44] In June 2022, she announced she would retire and leave Arena Stage in July 2023.[3][44]

Recent production history[edit]

2017–2018 season[edit]


2018–2019 season[edit]


2019-2020 season[edit]

Some of the plays from the 2020 season were postponed due to the pandemic. They instead ran during the 2021-2022 season.

  • Ann by Holland Taylor, directed by Kristen van Ginhoven. July 11 - August 11, 2019.
  • Jitney by August Wilson. September 13 - October 20, 2019.
  • Right to Be Forgotten by Sharyn Rothstein, directed by Seema Sueko. October 11 - November 10, 2019.
  • Disney's Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, directed by Molly Smith. November 1 - December 22, 2020.
  • Dear Jack, Dear Louise, by Ken Ludwig, directed by Jackie Maxwell. November 21 - December 29, 2019.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma, directed by Casey Perloff. January 17 - February 20, 2020.
  • Mother Road, by Octavio Solis, directed by Bill Rauch. February 28 - April 12, 2020.
  • Celia and Fidel by Eduardo Muchado, directed by Molly Smith. February 28 - April 12, 2020.
  • Seven Guitars, by August Wilson. April 3 - May 3, 2020.
  • Toni Stone, by Lydia Diamond, directed by Pam MacKinnon. April 23 - May 31, 2020


2021-2022 season[edit]

  • Toni Stone, by Lydia R. Diamond, directed by Pam MacKinnon. September 3 - October 3, 2021. Virtual streaming in Nationals Park on September 26, 2021.
  • Celia and Fidel. by Eduardo Machado, directed by Molly Smith. October 8 - November 21, 2021.
  • Seven Guitars, by August Wilson, directed by Tazewell Thompson. November 26 - December 26, 2021.
  • Change Agent, written and directed by Craig Lucas. January 21 - March 6, 2022.
  • Catch Me If You Can, book by Terrence McNally, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, directed by Molly Smith. March 4 - April 17, 2022.
  • Drumfolk. May 31 - June 26, 2022


2022-2023 season[edit]

  • American Prophet: Frederick Douglass in His Own Words, book by Charles Randolph-Wright and Marcus Hummon, music and lyrics by Marcus Hummon, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. July 15 - August 28, 2022.
  • Holiday, by Philip Barry, directed by Anita Maynard-Losh. October 7 - November 6, 2022.
  • Sanctuary City, by Martyna Majok, directed by David Mendizabal. A co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre. October 21 - November 27, 2022.
  • Ride the Cyclone, by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond, directed by Sarah Rasmussen. A co-production with McCarter Theatre Center. January 13 - February 19, 2023.
  • The High Ground, by Nathan Alan Davis, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian. February 10 - April 2, 2023.
  • Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner, directed by János Szász. March 24 - April 23, 2023.
  • Exclusion, written by Kenneth Lin, directed by Trip Cullman. May 5 - June 25, 2023.


Original Works[edit]

  • Camp David by Lawence Wright
  • Celia and Fidel by Eduardo Machado
  • JQA by Aaron Posner
  • The Originalist by John Strand
  • Change Agent by Craig Lucas
  • Exclusion by Kenneth Lin
  • The High Ground by Nathan Alan Davis


Notable performers[edit]

Notable events[edit]

The Washingtonian magazine, as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration, identified the Arena Stage's 1967 production of The Great White Hope as one of "50 Moments That Shaped Washington, DC".[19] The play received a lot of attention, some of it negative, because it featured an interracial relationship between James Earl Jones, then a new actor, and Jane Alexander.[19] It would go on to become one of the first regional-theater productions to move to Broadway where it won several Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and was turned into a film.[19] Zelda Fichandler worked with the writer of the play for a year to make it production-ready.[2] The Arena did not earn a share of the play’s Boadway and film profits.[2]

See also[edit]

Archival material[edit]

A collection of the Arena Stage Records and materials is housed at the George Mason University Special Collections Research Center.[52] The Research Center also houses materials related to individuals involved with the theater, including personal records of Zelda Fichandler's, Thomas Fichandler's papers, the Ken Kitch papers, and materials relating to the Living Stage.[52]


  1. ^ a b c d Editors, American Theatre (2022-06-11). "Molly Smith to Retire from Arena Stage". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2022-07-08. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Levey, Bob (July 29, 2016). "Zelda Fichandler, Arena Stage co-founder and matriarch of regional-theater movement, dies at 91". The Washington Post.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Marks, Peter (June 10, 2022). "Molly Smith announces an exit after 25 years leading Arena Stage". The Washington Post.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Brall, Susan (2020-05-04). "Theatre News: 'Arena Stage Turns 70' Part I: Arena Stage in the 20th Century-The First 50 Years". Maryland Theatre Guide. Retrieved 2022-07-14.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l lainw. "Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater". Dumbarton Oaks. Retrieved 2022-07-15.
  6. ^ History, The Oscar G. Brockett Center for Theatre; Criticism (2020-08-04). "This Month in Theatre History". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2022-09-12.
  7. ^ Wild, Stephi. "Recipients Announced For The Inaugural Victor Shargai Leadership Award". Retrieved 2022-08-23.
  8. ^ a b c d e Goodman, Mike. "Fiercely Imaginative: Arena Stage at Seventy". Retrieved 2022-07-14.
  9. ^ a b Jones, Kenneth (December 28, 2011). "Part of American Voices New Play Institute Will Exit DC's Arena and Enter Boston's Emerson College". Playbill.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ a b c News Desk (2022-06-11). "Molly Smith to retire from Arena Stage in 2023". DC Theater Arts. Retrieved 2022-07-14.
  11. ^ a b c d Fierberg, Ruthie (August 22, 2019). "What Makes Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage One of the Most Impressive Historic Theatres in the Country". Playbill.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ a b c "Regional Theatre Tony". American Theatre Critics Association. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  13. ^ Editors, American Theatre (2019-05-15). "Arena Stage Tops the Helen Hayes Awards". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2022-07-14. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  14. ^ "Arena Stage Receives 9 Helen Hayes Awards". The New York Times. 1991-05-08. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-09-18.
  15. ^ Peck, Garrett (2014). Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-1626194410.
  16. ^ "Arena Stage". The American Theatre Wing. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  17. ^ "America in the Round | University of Iowa Press - The University of Iowa". Retrieved 2022-09-14.
  18. ^ "Arena Stage | Washington, DC, USA | Entertainment". Retrieved 2022-09-14.
  19. ^ a b c d e f "50 Moments That Shaped Washington, DC". Washingtonian. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Mahershala Ali's Professional Acting Debut Was at Arena Stage - Washingtonian". 2017-02-28. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  21. ^ a b Company, Johnson Publishing (August 1968). Black World/Negro Digest. Johnson Publishing Company.
  22. ^ a b Rosenfeld, Megan (December 30, 1990). "THEATER 1990". The Washington Post.
  23. ^ a b Editors, American Theatre (2016-11-30). "Getting Political: Arena Stage Launches Power Plays Initiative". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2022-08-10. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  24. ^ Rabinowitz, Chloe. "Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith to Retire in 2023". Retrieved 2022-09-19.
  25. ^ Rabinowitz, Chloe. "Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith to Retire in 2023". Retrieved 2022-08-10.
  26. ^ Editors, American Theatre (2020-06-24). "Arena Stage Launches Artists Marketplace". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2022-07-26. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  27. ^ a b "DC Theater Reopenings: What We Know So Far - Washingtonian". 2021-05-21. Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  28. ^ Siegel, David (2020-06-15). "In 'May 22, 2020' from Arena Stage, a day in the life of the COVID DMV". DC Theater Arts. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  29. ^ "Arena Stage presents virtual summer state 'Looking Forward'". WTOP News. 2020-06-08. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  30. ^ Fraley, Jason (September 16, 2020). "Arena Stage tackles DC statehood, racism in streaming film '51st State'".
  31. ^ Cristi, A. A. "Arena's Commissioned Music Series, Arena Riffs, Begins Next Week". Retrieved 2022-09-16.
  32. ^ a b "Arena Stage Renovation and Expansion, Washington, D.C. | 2010-12-01 | ENR | Engineering News-Record". Retrieved 2022-08-23.
  33. ^ "This Is Your Reminder That "Dear Evan Hansen" Got Its Start in DC - Washingtonian". 2021-05-19. Retrieved 2022-09-09.
  34. ^ Staff, LA Times (2017-06-12). "2017 Tony Awards: The complete list of winners and nominees". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-09-09.
  35. ^ Epp, Gerald (February 2012). "Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater: Excellence, Creativity and Innovation". Archived from the original on 30 November 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  36. ^ Marks, Peters (10 April 2008). "Arena Stage to Expand Its Season From Eight to 10 Plays This Fall". The Washington Post.
  37. ^ a b c d Marks, Peter (February 17, 2010). "A new First Act". Washington Post. p. C1. Archived from the original on February 12, 2011.
  38. ^ Zongker, Brett (Associated Press) (October 28, 2010). "DC's Arena Stage opens $135M home with big plans". Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  39. ^ a b c Russell, James (27 October 2010). "Arena Stage 135 Million DC Revamp Makes Concrete Sexy". Bloomberg L.P.
  40. ^ BWW News Desk. "Arena Stage Updates Concessions and Dining Options with Catwalk Cafe",, 10 August 2011
  41. ^ Architects, Thom (February 3, 2011). "Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater". Retrieved 2022-08-24.
  42. ^ "Cafe-Parking - Complete Your Experience". Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  43. ^ Desk, BWW News. "Arena Stage to Start Construction on $125-Million Renovation". Retrieved 2022-09-19.
  44. ^ a b Paller, Rebecca."From Alaska to DC With Arena Stage's New Director, Molly D. Smith", Playbill: Arena Stage, February 5, 1998
  45. ^ "Arena Stage Announces 10-Show Lineup for 2017–18 Season". American Theatre Magazine. March 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  46. ^ "Arena's 2018–19 Season to Feature New Tom Kitt/Nell Benjamin Musicalurl=". American Theatre Magazine.
  47. ^ "Arena Stage announces its 10 play season for 2019-2020". Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  48. ^ FIERBERG, RUTHIE (October 27, 2019). "How Casting Newsgirls and Younger Paper Boys Puts Newsies in a Whole New Light".
  49. ^ Gans, Andrew (September 3, 2021). "Arena Stage Launches 2021-2022 Season September 3 With Toni Stone". Playbill.
  50. ^ "Arena Stage announces robust lineup for September reopening". WTOP News. 2021-06-08. Retrieved 2022-09-19.
  51. ^ Hall, Margaret (April 28, 2022). "Ride the Cyclone, Angels in America In the Round, More Part of D.C.'s Arena Stage 2022-2023 Season".
  52. ^ a b Libraries, George Mason (August 18, 2022). "Guide to the Arena Stage records, 1949-2010".

External links[edit]