Zelda Diamond's husband, Thomas C. Fichlander, a statistician and economist, was a cofounder of the Arena Stage theatre in Washington, D.C., the first integrated theater in Washington. At age 4, she moved from Boston area to Washington D.C. as her father accepted a job at the National Bureau of Standards. At age 8 Fichandler performed as Helga in Helga and the White Peacock at the Rose Robison Cowen’s Studio for Children's Theatre.
She and her husband, Thomas C. Fichandler (August 9, 1915 – March 16, 1997), along with Edward Mangum[who?], co-founded Arena Stage in 1950, in a tiny former art-film cinema. As audiences grew, the theatre moved to "The Old Vat Theatre" which the company created in an abandoned distillery on the Potomac riverside. The Fichandlers were able to build a new theatre complex. Zelda Fichandler served as Arena's its artistic director from the theatre's inception until her retirement at the end of the 1990-91 season. During that time, Arena Stage became known as one of America's premier regional theatres. Under her leadership, the Arena won the first regional Tony award in 1976, became the first American theatre to tour the USSR (1973), as well as the first regional theatre to transfer a show to Broadway.
Fichandler directed numerous plays at Arena Stage including Death of a Salesman, Uncle Vanya, A Doll's House and Six Characters in Search of an Author. Several of her Arena Stage productions toured internationally, including Inherit the Wind and The Crucible.
Since 1984, Fichandler has been chair of the graduate acting program and Master Teacher of Acting and Directing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. From 1991-94, she was artistic director of The Acting Company.
Among Fichandler's honors and awards have been the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in the dramatic arts (1985); the Helen Hayes Award for directing The Crucible (1988); and the National Medal of Arts in 1996. She was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1999, the first artistic leader outside of New York to be so honored.
- Kennedy, Dennis (2003). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance. New York: Oxford University Press Inc. pp. 456–466. ISBN 0-19-860672-9.
- fichandler, Zelda. "Zelda Fichandler profile". Autobiography. Theater Communications Group. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
- GUSSOW, MEL (March 19, 1997). "Thomas Fichandler, Washington Theater's Executive Director, 81". The New York Times.
- "Zelda Fichandler" by Peter Marks, Washington Post, page N7, September 11, 2005.
- Zelda Fichander profile, Americans for the Arts website; accessed June 16, 2014.
"There is a hunger to see the human presence acted out. As long as that need remains, people will find a way to do theater."
- Zelda Fichander profile, NYU Tisch School of the Arts website; accessed June 16, 2014.
- "Zelda Fichandler Wins Drama Award", New York Times, December 1, 1985.
- Quotation, thinkexist.com; accessed
Zelda Fichandler dedicated her early career to the establishment of America’s regional theatre movement. In 1950 she founded Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage and in 1968 she produced The Great White Hope, which became the first production to transfer from a regional theatre to Broadway, winning the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize, and launching the careers of James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Her production of Inherit the Wind toured Soviet St. Petersburg and Moscow and Arena Stage was the first American theatre company sponsored by the State Department to do so. Like many other regional theatres afterward, Arena Stage cultivated an evolving but resident company over the decades that included some of America’s best actors: Robert Prosky, Frances Sternhagen, George Grizzard, Philip Bosco, Ned Beatty, Roy Scheider, Robert Foxworth, Jane Alexander, James Earl Jones, Melinda Dillon, Dianne Wiest, Max Wright, Marilyn Caskey, Harriet Harris, and Tom Hewitt. In 1975 it was the first regional theatre to be recognized by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League with the Regional Theatre Tony Award for outstanding achievement. When Ms. Fichandler retired as producing artistic director of Arena Stage in 1990, she had achieved the longest tenure of any non-commercial producer in the annals of the American theater. Ms. Fichandler is Chair Emeritus of New York University’s acclaimed graduate acting program where she personally taught, guided, and inspired more than 500 acting students, including Marcia Gay Harden, Rainn Wilson, Billy Crudup, Debra Messing, Peter Krause, and Michael C. Hall. She has received the George Abbott Award, The Acting Company’s John Houseman Award, the Margo Jones Award, and the National Medal of Arts, and in 1999 she became the first artistic leader outside of New York to be inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. In establishing this award, named after Zelda Fichandler, a founder of the American regional theatre movement, SDCF recognizes the profound impact of the founders of regional theatre and honors their legacy. This award is given annually within rotating regions of the U.S. The Fichandler Award serves as a complement to the “Mr. Abbott” Award presented in recognition of lifetime achievement in theatre, and the Joe A. Callaway Award for excellence in direction and choreography. The three awards are the only awards given to theatre directors and choreographers by their peers.