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Molly Smith.

Molly Smith to Retire from Arena Stage

After 25 years and more than 200 productions, Smith will step down in 2023 to make room for a new chapter at the D.C. theatre.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Arena Stage has announced that artistic director Molly Smith will retire in July 2023. Smith has dedicated 25 years at the theatre founded by the visionary Zelda Fichandler.

“I came to Washington 25 years ago with an important mandate,” said Smith in a statement. “We needed to focus Arena on American plays, American voices, and American artists. In that process, we mined a rich vein of talent for our stages. It was a bold move that led to our audiences and programming becoming as diverse as America. And I was fortunate to be able to do it with a remarkably talented, fully committed staff who excel at bringing dreams to life.”

Smith has served as artistic director of Arena Stage since 1998. Her more than 30 directing credits include CarouselOliver!The OriginalistFiddler on the RoofCamp DavidMother Courage and Her ChildrenOklahoma!A Moon for the MisbegottenMy Fair LadyThe Great White HopeThe Music ManOrpheus DescendingLegacy of LightThe Women of Brewster PlaceCabaretSouth PacificAgamemnon and His Daughters, and All My Sons. She drove the design and development of the Mead Center for American Theater and spearheaded Arena Stage’s Power Plays Initiative, which, by 2024, will have commissioned 25 plays over 10 years. 

Arena’s executive producer, Edgar Dobie, has worked with Smith for 13 seasons, and says the two have had “an amazing run for any partnership, especially when spent with an artist and executive like Molly, who knows her heart and mind and remains a pioneer.”

Smith has been committed to new-play development for more than 30 years, with projects including How I Learned to Drive, Passion Play, a cycleNext to Normal, and Dear Evan Hansen. She has worked alongside playwrights Sarah Ruhl, Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, Lawrence Wright, Karen Zacarías, John Murrell, Eric Coble, Charles Randolph-Wright, and many others. As a long-time citizen activist, Smith has engaged the community through creative programming, including the Voices of Now Festival for young artists and Camp Arena Stage. Smith and her partner, Suzanne Blue Star Boy, helped organized the March on Washington for Gun Control after the Sandy Hook Massacre.

She has served as a creative advisor to the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab multiple times between 1999 and 2004, was named to American University’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 2003, named “Washingtonian of the Year” in 2011, and awarded Director of Distinction by the Academy of Arts, Cairo, Egypt, in November 2019. Smith received the Governor’s Award for the Arts from the Alaska State Legislature in 1998 and was inducted into the Washington, D.C., Hall of Fame Society in 2018. She holds honorary doctorates from both American and Towson Universities. Smith made her Broadway directorial debut in 2014 with The Velocity of Autumn.

The Arena board of trustees will embark on a nationwide search to select a new artistic director who will build on Smith’s legacy.

Arena Stage is a nonprofit regional theatre based in the U.S. capitol. As the first integrated theatre in Washington, D.C., Arena strives to celebrate democracy and diversity by welcoming a multitude of voices in its productions and community engagement programs to inspire civic action. As of 2019, Arena Stage had a budget of approximately $27.7 million.

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