Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater Artistic Director Molly Smith will retire from her position with the Washington, D.C. theatre company in July 2023.
For 25 years under her leadership, Arena Stage has produced more than 200 productions, championing the work of emerging and established playwrights. The Arena Stage Board of Trustees will conduct a nationwide search to appoint a new artistic director to build on the legacy of Smith and Arena Founder Zelda Fichandler.
“I came to Washington 25 years ago with an important mandate: we needed to focus Arena on American plays, American voices, and American artists,” said Smith in a statement. “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.”
“When I think about Molly Smith, these words come to mind: visionary, community builder, artist, provocative, influential, feminist, activist, and leader,” added Tony-winning playwright, performer, activist, and artist V (formerly Eve Ensler). “Arena Stage is a model for American theatre in the way it supports writers, actors, and artists and sustained working relationships with them over time. She has built a magnificent community in Washington, D.C. by her bold ideas, diverse programming, and awe-inspiring risks. She imagined a grand new building and the Mead Center for American Theater was born. She will be sorely missed!”
“Molly Smith literally changed my life and the lives of so many others with her brilliant guidance, impeccable wisdom, infectious laughter, and true joy,” stated stage and screen artist Charles Randolph-Wright, whose new musical American Prophet will kick off Arena's 2022-2023 season. “Her influence is global, her loyalty is unwavering, and her heart belongs in the Smithsonian for the love she truly has given the world with her exemplary artistry. The past two years have seen a much-needed reckoning and hopefully a seismic shift culturally, but Molly has been at the forefront of inclusion her entire time at Arena and before. She has always demanded diverse, intriguing, difficult, and important work, specifically American work and voices and, in doing so, she helmed a revolution. She forced us all to become braver and stronger artists. Thank you for seeing, hearing, and loving us, Molly!”
After earning her undergraduate degree at Catholic University and her graduate degree at American University in Washington, D.C., Smith launched Perseverance Theatre in her hometown of Juneau, Alaska.
As artistic director of Arena since 1988, Smith regularly infused new life into classic American musicals (South Pacific, Anything Goes, and Oklahoma!) while developing or producing Broadway successes, including Tony winners Dear Evan Hansen and Next to Normal. More than 150 new works that originated at Arena, including The Originalist and Destiny of Desire, have been produced around the country.
Smith also drove the design and development of The Mead Center for American Theater as a home for all American voices, past, present, and future. Her theatrical innovations included showcasing American history through the Power Plays Initiative which, by 2024, will have commissioned 25 plays over 10 years, including works by Lawrence Wright (Camp David), Eduardo Machado (Celia and Fidel), Aaron Posner (JQA), John Strand (The Originalist), Craig Lucas (Change Agent), Kenneth Lin (Exclusion in the upcoming Arena season), and Nathan Alan Davis (The High Ground, also in the upcoming season). She made her Broadway debut in 2014, directing The Velocity of Autumn, which earned Estelle Parsons a Tony nomination.
Smith received the Governor’s Award for the Arts from the Alaska State Legislature in 1998, was inducted into the Washington, D.C., Hall of Fame Society in 2018, and was awarded Director of Distinction by The Academy of Arts, Cairo, Egypt, in November 2019. She holds honorary doctorates from both American and Towson Universities. Smith and her partner Suzanne Blue Star Boy, along with a group of Facebook friends, organized the March on Washington for Gun Control after the Sandy Hook Massacre.