This summer marks Molly Smith’s 25th anniversary as artistic director of Arena Stage — and it also marks her retirement from the organization, one of the oldest and largest theater companies around.
Under Smith’s leadership, Arena’s national stature and influence increased by leaps and bounds, helping nurture a sizable contingent of new playwrights and plays — including “nine projects that went on to have a life on Broadway,” to quote an Arena press release.
Among those projects: the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, the Tony Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen, and the plays Looped starring the late Valerie Harper and The Velocity of Autumn starring Estelle Parsons.
Now in her final months at Arena, Smith has planned, as part of a farewell tour, to revive a pandemic-born discussion series that ran for a couple of months in 2020.
Among a slate of online programming launched in the early stage of the pandemic, when theaters like Arena were forced to remain closed to the public indefinitely, Smith led “Molly’s Salons,” or weekly online discussions — 56 in all — officially described as “a series of intimate conversations with the who’s who of theater.”
Three years later, Smith will do it again, only this time as a series of “one night only” conversations held in front of a live audience on select Mondays starting at 7 p.m.
Joining Smith will be a dedicated group of people she identifies, in an official announcement, as “artists and doers and thinkers who have been important to me over the past 25 years.” The focus is on producing “conversations about theater’s past, present, and future.”
The lineup includes:
Charles Randolph-Wright, a multi-hyphenate creative working in film, TV, and theater whose many credits under Smith at Arena Stage include directing the musicals Guys and Dolls and Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, the play Ruined, and both writing and directing this season’s world-premiere musical American Prophet. (2/27)
Laura Penn, an Arena Stage alum who now heads the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society union. (3/6)
Tazewell Thompson, another multi-hyphenate creative working in opera and theater whose many Arena credits under Smith include creating the inspirational a cappella revue Jubilee as well as directing A Raisin in the Sun and August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. (3/13)
James C. Nicola, a one-time fellow and producing associate at Arena who went on to serve as longtime head of the New York Theatre Workshop, and is credited with nurturing the musical RENT, prior to his retirement last year. (3/20)
Edgar Dobie, who has been Smith’s partner in running the organization as executive producer for the past 13-plus years. (3/27)
Jocelyn Clarke, a freelance dramaturg and writer who serves as the dramaturg for Arena’s American Voices New Play Institute. (5/8)
The salons take place on Mondays at 7 p.m. in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle in the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW. Free, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Visit www.arenastage.org or call 202-488-3300.
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