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|Purpose||American Plays & Playwrights|
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.
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. 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 Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and the Kennedy Center.
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.
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. 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.)
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. 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.
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. 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. The three-stage theater complex is now the second-largest performing arts center in Washington, DC, after the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
For a list of the current season's performances, please visit arenastage.org.
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.