Zelda Fichandler (pictured here in 1950), Tom Fichandler and Edward Mangum converted The Hippodrome, a former burlesque and movie house at Ninth Street and New York Avenue, NW, into a 247-seat theater-in-the-round. In 1990, Zelda celebrated her 40th and final season as Arena Stage’s Producing Director and became a Life Trustee of the theater.
THE HIPPODROME (1950-55)
Zelda Fichandler, Tom Fichandler and Edward Mangum convert the Hippodrome, a former burlesque and movie house at Ninth Street and New York Avenue, NW, into a 247-seat theater-in-the-round. At the end of the 1954/55 season, Arena Stage closes and begins searching for a larger space.
THE OLD VAT (1956-61)
In 1956, Arena Stage converts the Hospitality Hall of the Old Heurich Brewery into a 500-seat theater-in-the-round. Arena Stage calls its second home the Old Vat, taking the name from the brewery’s huge kettles and playfully referencing Britain’s famed Old Vic theater.
On October 31, 1961, the Fichandler Stage opened with a production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle and is hailed by the New York Times as a "new cultural landmark." Designed by legendary architect Harry Weese, who's credits include the Washington metro system, the Fichandler Stage was the first playhouse to be built in the nation's capital since 1895. The venue offered a thirty by thirty-six feet playing space framed by four tiers of eight rows each to provide a seating capacity of 827.
On January 15, 1971, Arena opened a second performance space, the Kreeger Theater, designed again by Harry Weese and named in honor of Washington philanthropist David Lloyd Kreeger. The Kreeger seats 514, has a modified thrust stage, and a fan-shaped house.
Zelda Fichandler took a sabbatical during the1973/74 season. Alan Schneider, a long-time Arena director, planned the season and led the theater during Zelda's leave of absence.
WHERE AMERICAN THEATER LIVES
Founded August 16, 1950 in Washington by Zelda Fichandler, Tom Fichandler and Edward Mangum, Arena Stage is a flagship American theater. We were one of the first nonprofit theaters in the U.S. and a pioneer of the regional theater movement. We were the first regional theater to transfer a production to Broadway, the first invited by the U.S. State Department to tour behind the Iron Curtain, and the first to receive the Regional Theater Tony Award. Taking a leadership role in extending theater’s horizons, we have implemented groundbreaking policies and programs, promoting diversity in all aspects of theater, from theatergoing to production.
From the monumental to the developmental, we’ve helped build the canon of American theater as we’ve nurtured artistic growth and engaged our community, broadening and intensifying the theatrical experience for one and all. The legacy of world-class productions that Arena Stage has developed and staged includes 17 shows that have had a life on Broadway: Stick Fly; Looped; Next to Normal; 33 Variations; Execution of Justice; Accidental Death of an Anarchist; K2; Tintypes; The 1940's Radio Hour; Loose Ends; A History of the American Film; Zalmen, or the Madness of God; Boccaccio; Moonchildren; Raisin; Indians;and The Great White Hope.
Today, Arena Stage remains one of the most robust nonprofit theaters in the U.S., serving an annual audience of more than 300,000. Led by Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Director Edgar Dobie, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater is a leading center for the production, presentation, development and study of American theater. It is a home for American Voices in the nation’s capital, a showcase of the broad range of work from the country’s leading and emerging artists, a birthplace for new American work, and a space to engage audiences in the history, breadth and legacy of the American theater.
The Early Years
When the Hippodrome Theatre’s capacity proved too small, Arena Stage moved into the “Hospitality Hall” of the Old Heurich Brewery. Arena called its second home, a 500-seat theater-in-the-round, “The Old Vat” – taking the name from the brewery’s huge kettles and playfully referencing Britain’s famed “Old Vic” theater.