How fitting to have a Power Play premiere as Molly Smith’s final production before she passes the baton as Arena Stage’s resident artistic director. The past 13 years I’ve spent as executive producer at Arena have been full of adventure, challenges, highs, lows, and, most of all, feisty artistic ambition.
I joined Arena while the organization was in the midst of construction of the Mead Center, with offices in Crystal City, shops in Arlington and Washington, D.C., Community Engagement and rehearsal space at 14th & T, and performance spaces in Crystal City and at U Street’s Lincoln Theatre. That time is a world away now. Molly shared her grand vision for the building, and we dreamt about what we could achieve. Then the Mead Center opened with a glorious homecoming and our iconic production of Oklahoma!.
Molly fought for Oklahoma!. One of her great skills as an artist is seeing possibilities and finding the gold hidden inside, particularly with classic American musicals. So many were skeptical of that show choice and she proved that it was THE right choice to open the Mead Center, bringing Arena Stage into the next century while remaining true to Arena’s core values and mission.
I coined the notion that Molly is responsible for ambition and I am responsible for capacity. We work together to keep these in balance—though, of course, I have ambitions and Molly respects capacity. One should never stop an artist—or oneself—from dreaming the big dreams. We do, however, have to take time to consider how to achieve the dreams, and when necessary, how to identify the public good of any venture that uses the resources and capacity our community has made available to us. Molly is open to the process, embraces that challenge, and has been a smart partner.
I also applaud Molly’s and Arena’s commitment to commissioning new work to strengthen the American canon. Both Molly throughout her career, and Arena throughout its history, have a multitude of examples of premiering new plays that have gone on to success. Some of that is well known and includes Broadway, and some may be less seen but equally important as plays that are first cultivated here then move to other resident theaters around the country.
Over the years we’ve had some endeavors that were not always ready for prime time. Sometimes the artists don’t align as we hoped, sometimes audiences aren’t in the mood for what we put on stage, sometimes the plays need more gestation time. However, our batting average has held up well beyond the performance of our neighbors down the street at Nationals Park.
The achievements of Molly’s ambition are too many to list. So, suffice to say I am proud of what we accomplished together over these years and admire all that Molly curated with Arena over this quarter century.
I am personally excited for Molly to make her next adventure. Here’s to you, Molly, and to your future ambitions, whether on stage, in your cabin, or on your continuing explorations and dreams made true!