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Arena Stage records

Identifier: C0017

Scope and Content

The Arena Stage records consist of material that spans the theater's history from 1949 to 2010, including production notebooks, photographs, audiotapes, videotapes, playbills, scrapbooks, scripts, correspondence, and other production materials, as well as administrative records pertaining to the theater's finances, publicity, buildings, and programs.

Series 1: Administrative records (1949-2007) documents the creation, operation, and maintenance of Arena Stage and its various programs. It is further divided into 6 subseries. Subseries 1.1: Correspondence includes correspondence arranged alphabetically by the correspondent's last name or by organizational name. Some correspondence is further aggregated and then organized alphabetically, such as "Play Correspondence" or "Audience Response." Of particular note are letters from President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and King Kong star Fay Wray. Subseries 1.2: Programs, policies, and procedures, includes records of Arena's programs, such as the "Arena Angels" volunteer program and fellowship programs, policies, such as bylaws, diversity policies, and handbooks, and planning, including season planning and long-range plans. This subseries is broken up into four sub-subseries. Sub-subseries 1.3.1: Financial papers documents Arena's finances and includes stockholder documents from its beginnings as a for-profit theater, grant-related documentation after the theater transitioned to a non-profit in the late 1950s, and records of the theater's development office, some of which were kept by department director Elspeth Udvarhelyi. Sub-subseries 1.3.2: Personnel records includes information on staff at Arena Stage arranged alphabetically. Of particular interest are headshots and/or resumes of a number of well-known actors, including James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Henry Winkler, Edward Hermann, Yeardley Smith, Jane Alexander, Swoosie Kurtz, Victor Garber, Ron Perlman, Annette Benning, Olympia Dukakis, John Lithgow, John Voigt, Sigourney Weaver, and Rosemary Harris. Sub-subseries 1.3.3: Casting information contains notes on casting for productions arranged alphabetically by play. Sub-subseries 1.3.4: Production contracts includes official agreements between Arena and others arranged alphabetically by play. Subseries 1.4: Meeting minutes contains meeting minutes from Arena's Board of Trustees, staff, and other subgroups within the organization. Subseries 1.5: Communications and events, is also divided into four sub-subseries. Sub-subseries 1.5.1: Events documents special events held by Arena Stage, including anniversaries, galas, benefits, openings and press events. Sub-subseries 1.5.2: Communications and Marketing includes records produced by the Communications and Marketing departments, including meeting minutes, planning, research, and correspondence. Sub-subseries 1.5.3: Printed Material includes subscriber materials, mailings, brochures, reviews collected and arranged by play title, and programs organized chronologically. Sub-subseries 1.5.4: Theater Communications Group contains correspondence, reports, and other information generated from Arena's association with the Theater Communications Group, an organization of theaters around the United States. Subseries 1.6: Buildings and facilities includes information about and architectural plans for Arena's various buildings over the years, including the Hippodrome, the Old Vat, the 1960 permanent building, and the Kreeger Theater addition.

Series 2: Production Files (1950-2010) is comprised of records related to the artistic development and performance of Arena's plays. It is divided into 6 subseries. Subseries 2.1: Dramaturgical files documents literary, historical and background research done by Arena's literary department for various plays, including articles, research packets, actor's packets, and scripts. It is generally organized alphabetically by play. Subseries 2.2: Playwright subject files contains research on various playwrights, both living and dead, whose work has been performed at Arena. It is organized alphabetically by playwright's last name. Subseries 2.3: Production files includes scripts, blocking information, correspondence, and other material related to the production of Arena's plays. It is arranged alphabetically by play title. Subseries 2.4: Stage manager's reports includes daily reports by the stage manager of productions for the entire runs of many of Arena's plays from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s. The reports include running times, incident reports, and other commentary on the audience and the performance. Subseries 2.5: Wrap files contains documents collected from throughout the runs of various productions, including reviews that reflect the wider response to the play. Subseries 2.6: Producing director's files contains documents from Arena's second Producing director after Zelda Fichandler, Doug Wager, who served from 1991-1998. It includes pre-production speeches given by Wager, as well as planning files.

Series 3: Photographs (1950-1991)is divided into 3 subseries. Subseries 3.1: Production photographs includes photos of scenes from Arena's productions arranged alphabetically by play. Subseries 3.2: Production books includes production photos collected in books, many of which are by professional photographer George de Vincent. Subseries 3.3: Buildings, staff, and events includes photographs of Arena's buildings, staff and cast portraits, and event photographs, such as prints from Arena's 30th anniversary celebration and from Arena's Soviet Union and Israel tours. Subseries 3.4: Negatives and slides includes slides and negatives of Arena's staff and events, as well as some buildings, sets, and production-related images.

Series 4: Oversize (1949-late 2000s) is divided into 3 subseries and contains a variety of oversize material. Subseries 4.1: Braille programs contains programs in Braille for various Arena productions from the 1990s and early 2000s. Subseries 4.2: Miscellaneous artwork and programs includes posters from Arena productions and events, enlarged photos, costume sketches, and other oversized material, such as a large model of the Mead Center for American Theater. Subseries 4.3: Scrapbooks contains scrapbooks created for each of Arena's seasons up until 1988. It also includes scrapbooks for Arena's tour of the Soviet Union and of visitors to Arena.

Series 5: Audiovisual (1970-2007) contains several types of formats and is divided into 3 subseries. Series 5.1: Performances on VHS contains VHS tapes (a few of which have associated DVDs) of performances at Arena arranged alphabetically by play title. Series 5.2: Reel-to-reel contains production and event footage on reel-to-reel film. Series 5.3: Other audiovisual formats and VHS tapes contains footage of events and productions on audiocassette, Betacam, and U-matic tapes.


  • 1949 - 2010


Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research. Some personnel records in Series 1 Subseries 3 Sub-subseries 2: Personnel, staff contain Social Security Numbers and must be screened by SCRC staff before researchers can view them.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Historical Note

From its opening on August 16, 1950, the Arena Stage has dedicated itself to being a space of imagination and innovation, a tool of "civilization," and Washington, DC's preeminent regional theater. Founded by Zelda Fichandler, with assistance from her husband Thomas C. Fichandler and partner Edward Mangum, the Arena Stage began as a for profit theater under Arena Enterprises, Inc. The original Hippodrome Theatre, located on Ninth and New York N.W. in DC, was revolutionary amongst regional theatres for its theatre-in-the-round construction and would provide the blueprint for all future Arena locations.

Arena began its long and successful life with Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. Arena owed its early successes in the 1950s to its fluid play schedule organization and its willingness to put on works that were not commercial successes on Broadway. In November of 1956, after a year's hiatus, the company relocated to a temporary home at the Old Heurich Brewery, dubbed the Old Vat by company members. The move was facilitated in part by the commitment and drive of Board members J. Burke Knapp, Albert M. Berkowitz, Israel Convisser, Leslie Amouri, and Henry J. Danilowicz. However, financial issues would continue to trouble Arena Enterprises, Inc., eventually leading to its dissolution in 1959, and the creation of Arena's new, non-profit parent organization, the Washington Drama Society.

During the 1960s, Arena garnered international renown in its new space: the Arena Stage Theatre. The new building, located at Sixth Street and Maine Avenue SW, was the first playhouse built in Washington since 1895. Chicago architect Harry Weese designed the space to be as innovative as possible while still maintaining the theater-in-the-round layout. Now a non-profit theater, Arena drew much of its funding during this time from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and generous donations from both the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundations.

The Arena Stage began some of its most ambitious work during the 1960s including forming the Living Stage Theater Company, further integrating its cast, and staging its most ambitious and acclaimed work to date: The Great White Hope. The Great White Hope included twenty five additional guest actors, including James Earl Jones, and was an enormous success, both critically and financially, for Arena. It was the first major resident theater production to be exported to Broadway. Fichandler also began to experiment with casting African-American actors in traditionally white roles during the 1968 season after she published the paper "Towards a Deepening Aesthetic". Fichandler experimented with non-traditional casting in plays like King Lear and The Threepenny Opera, but unfortunately these plays were met with critical confusion and disappointing ticket sales. Arena Stage was incredibly successful in the 1970s, garnering awards and critical approval, and international recognition. Not content with the current Arena Stage configuration, Fichandler and others worked diligently to acquire another stage facility that would collaborate, not compete, with the current Stage. Generosity on the part of David Lloyd Kreeger, and others, led to the construction of the new Kreeger Theater which opened on January 15, 1971.

In 1973 Arena would have the opportunity to take two of its plays, Our Town and Inherit the Wind to the USSR. This was the first ever trip to the Soviet Union undertaken by a resident theater group. The trip was a wild success with Russian audiences giving the cast a standing ovation following their performance of Inherit the Wind at the Moscow Art Theatre. In April 1976 the American Theatre Critics Association bestowed upon the Arena Stage a special Tony Award for resident theaters. The ATCA cited Arena's qualities as a "trailblazer" in theatrical arts and representative of other theaters that had followed its lead.

The early 1980s were a difficult time for theater, but, in spite of this, Arena continued to push the limits of conventional residential theater. The 1982 production of K2, for example, saw the construction of a sheer glacial face on the Kreeger stage according to the vision of set designer Ming Cho Lee. In 1986 twenty-three actors and a thirteen member production staff traveled to Jerusalem to perform Zelda's production of The Crucible at the Israel Festival.

1989 marked the end of an era as Zelda Fichandler announced that she would step down as Arena's producing director at the end of the 1990-1991 fortieth anniversary season. Douglas C. Wager would succeed her as artistic director. Amid financial difficulties and changing times for theaters everywhere, Arena's resident company of actors was disbanded by the late 1990s. Wager remained at the helm until 1998, when Molly Smith took over the position. Under Smith's leadership, Bing Thom architects completed another major renovation of Arena's existing buildings into the Mead Center for American Theater in 2010. Smith is still Arena's artistic director as of 2016.

Many now-famous actors took part in Arena Stage productions during the early part of their careers. Some of them include Robert Prosky, Morgan Freeman, Dianne Weist, James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Christopher Guest, Yeardley Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Ned Beatty, Jane Alexander, and Ron Perlman. Many other set designers, artists, costume designers, and technical workers owe their early success and experience to the Arena Stage.


369.5 Linear Feet (739 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Arena Stage records consist of material that spans the theater's history from its beginnings in 1950 to the present, including production notebooks, photographs, audiotapes, videotapes, playbills, scrapbooks, scripts, handwritten correspondence, and other production materials, as well as administrative records.


The collection is arranged into five series, each of which is further divided into subseries:


  1. Series 1: Administrative records, 1949-2007 (Boxes 1-196)
  2. Series 2: Production files, 1950-2010 (Boxes 197-588, 654-663)
  3. Series 3: Photographs, 1950-1991 (Boxes 589-639)
  4. Series 4: Oversize materials, 1949-late 2000s (Boxes 640-720)
  5. Series 5: Audiovisual materials, 1970-2007 (Boxes 721-739)

Technical Requirements

The Special Collections Research Center does not have the equipment necessary to watch reel-to-reel film and audio, Betacam, or U-matic tapes contained in Series 5.2 and 5.3. Additional time and money may be required to digitize this material for access.

Physical Location

R 5, C 1, S 2 - R 9, C 4, S 7

OS R 3, C 2, S 1 - C 3, S 7

OS R 4, C 5, S 5

OS R 5, C 2, S 3

OS R 5, C 5, S 4

OS R 6, C 4, S 6 - S 7

OS R 7, C 1, S 2

Acquisition Information

Donated by Arena Stage in 2000-2011.

Related Material

Special Collections and Archives holds several collections of personal papers of individuals involved with Arena Stage, including the Zelda Fichandler papers, the Thomas Fichandler papers, and the Ken Kitch papers, as well as the Living Stage Theater Company collection and many other theater collections.

Processing Information

Processed by Harvard Theatre Collection and George Mason University Special Collections Research Center staff. Reprocessed by Greta Suiter, Kerry Mitchell, Elizabeth Beckman, Diane Stancil, and Nick Welsh. EAD markup completed by Elizabeth Beckman in 2016.

Guide to the Arena Stage records
Arena Stage records
Elizabeth Beckman, Nick Welsh, and Jordan Patty
February 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections Research Center Repository

Fenwick Library, MS2FL
4400 University Dr.
Fairfax Virginia 22030 United States
703-993-8911 (Fax)