Now through November 12, Arena Stage is proudly producing the D.C. premiere of Selina Fillinger’s POTUS, following the show’s celebrated Broadway run last year. One of the founding principles of the resident theater movement was to have an alternative source of theater to the commercially-focused Broadway. Arena is one of the early founders of the movement in 1950.

This is a quote from an Arena Stage Board of Trustees meeting, March 25, 1976:

“Al Miller reported that Arena Stage will become the first theater company outside New York City to be presented a Tony Award. Zelda Fichandler will accept the award on television (ABC-TV) on April 18, 1976. This Tony is one of several special awards made each year, at the same time that the competitive awards (Best Actor, Best Director, etc.) are made. The award will be presented by Al Pacino, an actor of note who began and still works in the resident theater movement. Arena Stage will certainly call the public’s attention to its newest honor, but the Tony will not be overused as a symbol of Arena’s accomplishment—it was noted that the Broadway hit-or-miss syndrome was one of the things Zelda wanted to get away from in 1950, when Arena began; it would now be ironic for Arena to enshrine Broadway’s emblem.”

Here in 2023, we proudly display that Tony Award in the lobby. Where once the resident (or regional) theater movement may have resisted these connections, there is a fruitful symbiosis both in resident theaters sending shows to New York and shows coming from New York. Ultimately what has been created is a nationwide field of theater makers who adapt between the not-for-profit and for-profit worlds.

As you may know, Arena has participated with the pre-Broadway runs of many shows, most recently Sweat (by Lynn Nottage) and Dear Evan Hansen (music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and book by Steven Levenson) and an example from farther back, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (by August Wilson, in 1987). Other examples of Arena producing shows shortly after their successful Broadway runs include Other Desert Cities (by Jon Robin Baitz, in 2013) and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (by Christopher Durang, in 2015).

These post-Broadway productions were not tours of the Broadway creative teams, but rather newly visioned productions of the show—just like this new in-the-round version of POTUS.

Great stories find their way around the country, and it’s heartening to realize that the theater field envisioned by Zelda and her peers thrives by sharing this great theater, from Broadway and to Broadway. As you will see in POTUS, these stories demand to be told and can speak directly to our specific communities in interesting ways.

For me personally, there is another interesting connection. As you may know, I spent many adventurous years as President of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Company. So, I will say my experience with shows featuring giant chandeliers above the stage is that they will be great successes!

POTUS illustration by Loveis Wise.