Molly Smith is the Artistic Director for Arena Stage. Under Molly’s guidance Arena Stage has become a driving force in the regional theatre scene. Her directorial credits include The Light in the Piazza, Oklahoma!, and The Book Club Play, among many others. Later this season Molly will be directing The Music Man. DC area theatregoers are so grateful for what Molly has done. She is truly a living treasure.
When and how did you become associated with Arena Stage?
I was a season ticket holder at Arena Stage in the 1970s, when I was living in DC as a student. I remember seeing Zelda’s work onstage, and learning from her as an artist. I left the area after completing graduate school and moved back to Juneau, Alaska. My family moved to Alaska when I was 16. I founded Perseverance Theatre in 1979, and led it for 19 years. In 1998, I had a call from a headhunter asking if I would be interested in interviewing for the position of Artistic Director of Arena Stage. There was a great synergy on many levels during the interview process; I clicked with members of the search committee immediately and knew that I’d found my new home.
How many years ahead did you start planning for the new Mead Center?
I began dreaming about this building from the moment I arrived. The Board and staff had been dreaming about it years before I came. The Board approved to move forward on Bing Thom’s design in October 2001. We broke ground in January 2008, and officially opened to the public in October 2010.
Was it hard having Arena in two locations during the reconstruction?
It was extremely difficult and also extremely rewarding. In addition to performing at the Lincoln Theatre on U Street and the Crystal City space, our administrative offices, scene and costume shops and rehearsal spaces were scattered across the entire DC Metro area. It’s a blessing to all be together again – under one soaring roof. Now I can have meetings in the morning, pop up to the rehearsal hall and meet with Board members or staff members in our gorgeous kitchen facility.
What are some of your favorite productions that you have directed for Arena or elsewhere?
Oklahoma! will always hold a special place in my heart – it was the inaugural show in the Mead Center for American Theater, so it was particularly sweet to be working on a show about a wild frontier. I’ve fallen in love with the American musical and recently directed a production of My Fair Lady for the Shaw Festival in Canada which ran for four months. I’ve just had a wonderful time directing Karen Zacarías’s new play The Book Club Play, which was a complete joy.
Of all the accomplishments Arena has had, what are you most proud of?
Opening the Mead Center for American Theater was the realization of years and years of dreaming and hard work. Every day, as I drive up to this glorious building, I’m reminded what a huge accomplishment that was – and how we were supported by so many members of the staff, Board and community. Making a center for the production, presentation, development and study of American work has been a dynamic, ever-changing journey.
Arena Stage’s website.