Karoline and Tony Nam in Exclusion. Photo by Margot Schulman. Portrait of Molly Smith by Tony Powell.

The arts have always been on the front line of the fight against fear. Learning and understanding dramatic stories of politics and power makes us more informed as a democracy, and can shed light on how we can come together as a nation. Theater illuminates the past, validates the present, and leads us screaming into the future. 

When I first arrived at Arena, I focused our mission on American artists—writers, performers, designers. American work is as diverse as this country is wide, and I aimed to reflect this diversity. Many theater companies had a chip on their shoulder about American writers and looked over to England and Europe for their writers. I wanted to change that without excluding international artists, but I felt their work could be focused on providing a different viewpoint to American work or American ideas (as evidenced in our recent production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches directed by János Szász). 

As we dug into the American canon, I internalized the connection that Arena’s home in Washington, D.C., meant it was a home for American politics. In Washington, D.C., unlike any other American city, we are in the belly of the beast. Politics is Washington, and Washington is politics. These are our blood lines. We are the city that loves to talk politics from the first moment of waking up, to when our heads hit the pillow. 

The Power Plays cycle is a voice for both of these visions—to raise the voices and stories of unheard Americans from all points in history, and to spur political debate as we search for truth and critique power. It commissions one story per decade since the founding of our country in the 1770s up until the present day. 

Enter Exclusion, our 10th Power Play commission, an incisive, scathing, yet hysterically funny exposé of the entertainment business that does just this. A contemporary view of the horrors of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the craziness of Hollywood, it’s about who gets to tell the stories we hear and what happens when the original storyteller gets pushed to the side. 

Exclusion is a very American story told by the brilliant Ken Lin, and brought to life by this wonderful company led by the electrifying director Trip Cullman. Because we should be continuously examining what it means to be American, and the values that are important to our country and our families. 

At Arena Stage, we produce and present all that is passionate, exuberant, profound, deep, and dangerous in the American spirit. How I love that American spirit. This spirit is felt deeply in Exclusion, and I hope in all of you every time you visit Arena Stage. 

I am about to take my own personal journey with my own deep and dangerous spirit…as a subscriber. Thank you for these 25 years. I know we will see each other whenever we hear great stories like this one.