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Arena Stage
Theatre Logo
TypeTheatre group
PurposeAmerican Plays & Playwrights
Artistic director(s)
Molly Smith

Arena Stage is a not-for-profit regional theater based in Southwest Washington, D.C. It was a pioneer in 1950 of the Regional Theater Movement.

It is located at a theatre complex called the Mead Center for American Theater since its opening in 2010 after extensive renovation; this included construction of a third small theater in a complex with two stages: one a theatre in the round and the other a proscenium style. The Artistic Director is Molly Smith and the Executive Director is Edgar Dobie. It is the largest company in the country dedicated to American plays and playwrights.[1]

It commissions and develops new plays through the American Voices New Play Institute. Established in 1950, the company now serves an annual audience of more than 300,000.[1] Its productions have received numerous local and national awards, including the Tony Award for best regional theater.


The theatre company was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1950. Its first home was the Hippodrome Theatre, a former movie house. 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.[2]

In 1960, the company moved into its current, custom-built complex. The theater company's home is near the Washington, D.C., waterfront on the Potomac River, at 1101 Sixth Street SW.

One of the founders, Zelda Fichandler, was its artistic director from its founding through the 1990/91 season. Douglas C. Wager succeeded her for the 1991/92 through 1997/98 seasons. The current artistic director, Molly Smith, assumed those duties beginning with the 1998/99 season.[3]

Arena Stage was one of the first not-for-profit theaters in the United States and was a pioneer of the Regional Theater Movement. Arena was the first regional theater to transfer a production to Broadway; its 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. Arena created The Living Stage Theater Company in 1960's, arguably its most ambitious project as it focused on integrating the cast and staging the most recognized and acclaimed works.[4] In 1973, it was the first regional theater invited by the U.S. State Department to tour behind the Iron Curtain in the USSR. In 1976, Arena Stage became the second theater outside New York to receive a special Tony Award for theatrical excellence. (The first went to Robert Porterfield of the Barter Theatre in 1948.)[5]

During the coronavirus pandemic, Arena Stage launched the Artist's Marketplace as a new delivery method to connect artists to audiences. Arena Stage also produced original films including May 22, 2020 and The 51st State.

Renovation 2008–2010

Arena Stage, 2011
Arena Stage, 2011

A major renovation of the facility was undertaken from 2008 through 2010. The architect was Bing Thom Architects of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada who contracted Fast + Epp consulting engineers to design the main columns for the building.[6] The Fichandler Stage and Kreeger Theater were largely untouched, but the theaters' connecting structures were demolished, including lobbies and offices. The two stages are now surrounded by a glass curtain wall and incorporated into a larger building.

A third, new small theater was added in the renovation, called "The Kogod Cradle," for new and developing productions. This new space seats 200. The new building includes an expansive central lobby and the Catwalk Cafe.[7][8][9][10]

The entire $135 million complex has been renamed "Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater" in honor of supporters Gilbert and Jaylee Mead.[11][12] Arena Stage re-opened for the season in October 2010; the capacity of its three theatres follows:

The three theaters are connected by a large central lobby, and the Center includes a restaurant, rehearsal rooms, classrooms, production shops, and offices. For the first time in the company's history, all staff and operations are under one unifying roof.[9][12][13][14] The three-stage theater complex is now the second-largest performing arts center in Washington, DC, after the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.[8]

Recent production history

2017–2018 season


2018–2019 season


Notable performers

Notable events

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".[17]

See also

Archival Material

A collection of the Arena Stage Records and materials is housed at the George Mason University Special Collections Research Center. Special Collections 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.


  1. ^ a b "Putting the American Spirit in the Spotlight". Arena Stage. Archived from the original on 2012-06-13. Retrieved 2012-06-15.
  2. ^ Peck, Garrett (2014). Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-1626194410.
  3. ^ Paller, Rebecca."From Alaska to DC With Arena Stage's New Director, Molly D. Smith", Playbill: Arena Stage, February 5, 1998
  4. ^ Arena Stage (Organization : Washington, D. C. ). "Guide to the Arena Stage records, 1949-2010Arena Stage C0017". Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  5. ^ "1948 Tony Award Winners". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Bernstein, Fred A. "Washington’s Fresh Coat of Greasepaint", New York Times, 5 October 2010
  8. ^ a b 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.
  9. ^ a b Russell, James (27 October 2010). "Arena Stage 135 Million DC Revamp Makes Concrete Sexy". Bloomberg L.P.
  10. ^ BWW News Desk. "Arena Stage Updates Concessions and Dining Options with Catwalk Cafe",, 10 August 2011
  11. ^ Marks, Peters (10 April 2008). "Arena Stage to Expand Its Season From Eight to 10 Plays This Fall". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ a b c Marks, Peter (February 17, 2010). "A new First Act". Washington Post. p. C1. Archived from the original on February 12, 2011.
  13. ^ Jones, Kenneth.Arena Stage Opens Its Doors to the World at Oct. 23 "Homecoming," With Alumni Stars", October 23, 2010
  14. ^ McDonough, Kathleen."Arena Stage: So Nice to Have You Back Where You Belong!" Archived September 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine,
  15. ^ "Arena Stage Announces 10-Show Lineup for 2017–18 Season". American Theatre Magazine. March 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Arena's 2018–19 Season to Feature New Tom Kitt/Nell Benjamin Musicalurl=". American Theatre Magazine. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  17. ^ "50 Moments That Shaped Washington, DC". Washingtonian. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.

Coordinates: 38°52′38″N 77°01′13″W / 38.87722°N 77.02034°W / 38.87722; -77.02034