Arena Stage (Washington, D.C.)
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 Producer 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. The regional theater was established in 1950; it 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, DC 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, which was demolished to make way for the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and the Kennedy Center.
In 1960, the company moved into its current building complex, which was built for them. The theater company’s home is near the Washington, D.C. waterfront on the Anacostia 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. Wagersucceeded 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. In 1973, it was the first regional theater invited by the U.S. State Department to tour behind the Iron Curtain. 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.)
Renovation 2008 – 2010
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” and intended for debuting experimental pieces. 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 Fichandler Stage, a theater in the round, seating 680.
- The Kreeger Theater, a modified thrust stage theater, seating 514.
- The Kogod Cradle, an intimate theater with basket-weave permeable walls, seating 200.