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.[2] and its founders helped start the U.S. regional theatre movement.[3] It is located at a theatre complex called the Mead Center for American Theater. The artistic director is Molly Smith and the Executive Producer is Edgar Dobie. It is the largest company in the country dedicated to American plays and playwrights.[4] Arena Stage commissions and develops new plays through its Power Plays initiative.[5] The company now serves an annual audience of more than 300,000.[6] Its productions have received numerous local and national awards, including the Tony Award for best regional theater[7] and over 600 Helen Hayes Awards.[8][9]


The theatre company was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1950 by Zelda and Thomas Fichandler and Edward Mangum.[1][10] Its first home was the Hippodrome Theatre,[4] a former movie house.[11] 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.[12]

In 1960, the company moved into its current complex on Sixth St, which was built for them by Chicago architect Harry Weese.[4] In 1966, Robert Alexander joined the company and created the Living Stage as a social outreach improvisational theater.[11]

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.[13]

Arena was the first theatre in D.C. to be racially integrated.[14] 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] This made Arena the first regional theater to transfer a production to Broadway.[2] When Arena Stage reprised the play in 2000 as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Mahershala Ali was cast as the male lead.[15] It was his first professional role.[15]

In 1968, the company received a $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.[16] Part of it was to be used for the training of Black actors.[16] In 1987, Arena hosted a symposium on nontraditional casting.[17] 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.[17][3]

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.[11] 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.[11]

In 1976, Arena Stage became the first theater outside New York to receive a special Tony Award for theatrical excellence. [11][18]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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;[22] Inside Voices, which features the stories of kids during the pandemic;[23] and The 51st State, about D.C. statehood.[24]

Renovation 2008–2010

Arena Stage December 2020
Arena Stage December 2020
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.[25] 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.[26][27][28][29]

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.[30][31] 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.[28][31] The three-stage theater complex is now the second-largest performing arts center in Washington, DC, after the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.[27]

Recent production history

2017–2018 season


2018–2019 season


2019-2020 season

2021-2022 season


2022-2023 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".[36] 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.[36] 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.[36] 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

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 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 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 lainw. "Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater". Dumbarton Oaks. Retrieved 2022-07-15.
  4. ^ a b c Goodman, Mike. "Fiercely Imaginative: Arena Stage at Seventy". Retrieved 2022-07-14.
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ News Desk (2022-06-11). "Molly Smith to retire from Arena Stage in 2023". DC Theater Arts. Retrieved 2022-07-14.
  7. ^ "Regional Theatre Tony". American Theatre Critics Association. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  8. ^ 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)
  9. ^ 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)
  10. ^ 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)
  11. ^ a b c d e 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.
  12. ^ Peck, Garrett (2014). Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-1626194410.
  13. ^ Paller, Rebecca."From Alaska to DC With Arena Stage's New Director, Molly D. Smith", Playbill: Arena Stage, February 5, 1998
  14. ^ "Arena Stage". The American Theatre Wing. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  15. ^ a b "Mahershala Ali's Professional Acting Debut Was at Arena Stage - Washingtonian". 2017-02-28. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  16. ^ a b Company, Johnson Publishing (August 1968). Black World/Negro Digest. Johnson Publishing Company.
  17. ^ a b Rosenfeld, Megan (December 30, 1990). "THEATER 1990". The Washington Post.
  18. ^ "Regional Theatre Tony". American Theatre Critics Association. Retrieved 2022-08-12.
  19. ^ 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)
  20. ^ Rabinowitz, Chloe. "Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith to Retire in 2023". Retrieved 2022-08-10.
  21. ^ Editors, American Theatre (2020-06-24). "Arena Stage Launches Artists Marketplace". AMERICAN THEATRE. Retrieved 2022-07-26. ((cite web)): |last= has generic name (help)
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "Arena Stage presents virtual summer state 'Looking Forward'". WTOP News. 2020-06-08. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  24. ^ Fraley, Jason (September 16, 2020). "Arena Stage tackles DC statehood, racism in streaming film '51st State'".
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Bernstein, Fred A. "Washington’s Fresh Coat of Greasepaint", New York Times, 5 October 2010
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ a b Russell, James (27 October 2010). "Arena Stage 135 Million DC Revamp Makes Concrete Sexy". Bloomberg L.P.
  29. ^ BWW News Desk. "Arena Stage Updates Concessions and Dining Options with Catwalk Cafe",, 10 August 2011
  30. ^ Marks, Peters (10 April 2008). "Arena Stage to Expand Its Season From Eight to 10 Plays This Fall". The Washington Post.
  31. ^ a b c Marks, Peter (February 17, 2010). "A new First Act". Washington Post. p. C1. Archived from the original on February 12, 2011.
  32. ^ "Arena Stage Announces 10-Show Lineup for 2017–18 Season". American Theatre Magazine. March 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  33. ^ "Arena's 2018–19 Season to Feature New Tom Kitt/Nell Benjamin Musicalurl=". American Theatre Magazine.
  34. ^ Gans, Andrew (September 3, 2021). "Arena Stage Launches 2021-2022 Season September 3 With Toni Stone". Playbill.
  35. ^ 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".
  36. ^ a b c "50 Moments That Shaped Washington, DC". Washingtonian. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.